By Rachel Happe, Co-Founder of The Community Roundtable.
How do you react when you receive a perfectly crafted report? Hear an adamant and decisive opinion from an expert? Read Ikea instructions? Watch a TV show?
Do you jump in and edit it or immediately mash it up into something different? Unless you are unusual you accept it or reject it but you probably don’t engage deeply with it and make it your own. It’s not structured for interaction. The subtext is that the work is done, the messiness has been cleaned up and it has been delivered to you in a perfect state. It is a product, not a discussion – take it or leave it.
But this zeal for perfection might just be our undoing. It is certainly part of what steals our joy as individuals. I think it is where a lot of our education, processes and perspectives go wrong. Instead of including the recipient of our work in the process we try to craft something perfect to give to them. We have the arrogance to think this is even possible. But no matter how well-crafted, something given to someone else is something open to rejection. It’s a transaction.
At the Business Innovation Factory Summit listening to Barry Svigal, the architect of the rebuilt Sandy Hook Elementary school, this hit home in a visceral way. Any architectural firm could have built a fine school but those kids were scared and scarred. Any school would not do. They needed a school where they felt safe and comfortable in their environment so they could heal. The process was as important as the outcome. Barry’s Svigal’s team included the whole community in envisioning and building the school. Being part of the solution gave the community a vital sense of control over their destiny, which had been ripped away.
Most CRM, customer experience and employee experience approaches try to envision and deliver a ‘perfect’ solution – completely missing the opportunity to collaborate. We miss this opportunity when building products. We miss this opportunity when we market and sell. We miss this opportunity in employee on-boarding and training processes. We miss this opportunity in children’s education and sports. We attempt to be smarter than the people we deliver solutions to and, in so doing, deliver transactions and not shared experiences. Theses solutions can be easily accepted or rejected – or accepted and then rejected later. They are nicely packaged gifts, not a journey requiring the investment of time and energy – the building blocks of establishing trust and shared ownership.
This perfection is the enemy of engagement – but we are too scared to offer partial answers because we fear being seen as incompetent. We risk being seen as incompetent when we don’t have a trusting relationship. Poor engagement is a symptom. Poor relationships are the cause.
Poor relationships also leads to critique and judgement in response to delivered solutions or information and reinforces a transnational dynamic; one side delivering the other side critiquing in a never ending game of ping pong.
Mentoring children in my 20s helped me see the problem with this – critical feedback is both ineffective and harmful if children don’t believe you love them and have their best interest at heart. This is true of adults too – leading with criticism makes people ignore you or defend themselves, neither of which leads to constructive collaboration, change or trust.
When you trust the person you are trying to help and vise versa there is room for incomplete thoughts and critical feedback. You can also throw a lot of half-a**ed ideas around, which is often what triggers playing with new ideas, joyful riffing off of each other and the generation of something interesting and valuable out of something very rough. It is where the magic of innovation happens. It’s messy process that in the beginning seems like a waste of time because it is not predictable and not linear.
In our organizations we try to be relentlessly efficient regarding day-to-day activities – but that leaves us wholly inefficient at evolving in meaningful ways that address rapidly changing markets. People are not explicitly given time to play with ideas or to build the trusting relationships required to really innovate. Why? We don’t budget for it.
Our culture tends to reward the perception of perfection. It often disappoints. We need to learn how to appreciate the process and reward those who can help us connect to others who matter to the problems we are trying to solve – if we don’t we may find that we very efficiently become obsolete.