Safe-to-Ask

Over the past year or so I’ve worked a lot with Cognitive Edge‘s complexity theory facilitation methods and through that work, a group of people and I have seeded into our organization the term: safe-to-fail.  It means creating an experiment to test the organizational response to a certain intervention (e.g.,, a new program, policy or communication method) that may not succeed, but you will learn something from the failure and the consequences to the organization for the failure are small.

Today, I think I need to build a term that comes before safe-to-fail because some people are afraid of creating safe-to-fail experiments so we need a baby step they might be willing to take.  Hence, the birth of: safe-to-ask.

Prior to implementing a safe-to-fail experiment, especially one that worries others in your organization, try asking 10 people (or more if you like) to hypothetically receive a new policy, read it, then tell you what their response would be.  How would they behave? What would they think?  What would they do?

By going through the safe-to-ask simulation you are in effect poking the system to test for success or weakness of your idea, but you aren’t actually doing anything to the larger system.  If those 10 people give you the responses you were looking for, then you have the preliminary data you need to proceed to a larger trial implementation.  If those 10 people tell you all the reasons why your idea wouldn’t work to produce the outcome you desired, then you’ve got more information to use to improve the policy before you try to implement it again.  Either way, you learned something about your system and brought yourself closer to making a change that will create the outcome you want, and likely sustain itself better that a change implemented without a safe-to-ask or safe-to-fail step included.

So, my gift to you this morning: Safe-to-Ask experimentation.  Go forth and drive your change!

Why not try?

Note:  If the people in your organization are unwilling to agree to allow you to do a safe-to-ask experiment, then you’ve just learned that any change you attempt is going to fail. How can I tell? Because they have revealed that they don’t actually want change, but rather the illusion of it.  That’s a hard reality for a lot of people to face.  For years they thought they were making change when all they were doing was making lots of promises to change.  You, and they, can take heart in the fact that the “say-do” gap has capture plenty of good men before. Now your only concern should be: How do we actually do what we say?  If you can’t answer that question, then you’re never going to change.

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