‘Yes or No’ is not fast enough





69 days, 8 hours.
The time it took to rescue 33 men trapped more than a mile underground after a mine explosion in Chile.




157 days, 16.5 hours.
The time it took to stop the BP oil leak more than a mile down in the Gulf of Mexico.

Apples and oranges, you ask? And what could this possibly have to do with your business?

Jonathan Franklin released his book, “33 Men,” in February. It delved into what happened in the mine – the harrowing fear of cannibalism and stories of prayer, hope and despair. Before we become obsessed with salacious details of survival, let’s take a moment to learn from the rescue efforts.

Consider this: Within hours of discovering the miners were alive, the Chilean government and the state-owned mining firm, Codelco, had formed six teams each charged with simultaneously pursuing separate ideas for a rescue. There were at least four different drilling teams, a fifth team looking at a dramatic blast plan and one team looking at what would happen if the miners will still alive and there was no realistic way left to save them.

All six teams were let loose to find an answer. Not necessarily the answer. An answer.

One of the teams turned to NASA for help, another inquired with a South African mining firm and one found a special drill bit developed by a Pennsylvania company being used in the Middle East. Would that bit work in the Chilean rock? Well, let’s give it a shot. Can you get it here tomorrow? Whatever it takes. The team that had been working with NASA stepped forward and said, “hey we can make some changes to our rescue capsule to fit your drill bit.” That’s a little bit simplistic, but as we know, the rest is history.

Now let’s look at the efforts to close the oil leak in the Gulf. Late last year I heard Marcia McNutt, Director of the U.S. Geological Survey, talk about her management of the science around the Deep Water Horizon oil spill. She kept talking about the scientists’ search to find “the Answer.” How she brought together all the top minds and listened to them, one after the other. Everything she talked about had a sequential nature to it. First this, then this. When this didn’t work, we turned our attention to … Here’s a good quote, “No research had been done on this, so we had to rely on every technique possible. We’d try one. If that didn’t work, we’d go on to the next one.”

I’m not a chemist or an ocean biologist so I can’t say with authority that the oil leak could have been stopped any sooner. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here, though, by saying that if the Chilean leaders had taken McNutt’s approach, the miners would still be down there.

What’s the difference? And what does it mean to your business?

Our institutions tend to view issues through a binary lens. Things are either right or wrong, black or white, yes or no. When I ask audiences what exists between black and white, the vast majority of people say “gray.” Unfortunately, that’s only true if you’re a reptile, a dog or a computer. For humans, the answer is the full spectrum of colors – black is the full saturation of all colors and white is the complete absence of color.

You might think “yes or no” is the quickest way to deal with something. Often, however, the finality and weight of “yes or no” slows the process and magnifies the importance and impact of the yes and the no.

Humans are one of only a handful of animals to have developed prefrontal lobes and, along with that, the ability to see multiple possible consequences from a single behavior. That means we can piece together an alternative solution from a number of possible solutions. This is an ability we see companies rarely tap into when times get tough. Probably the most famous example of using this capacity is the Apollo 13 mission control team that, together with the astronauts, made a new air filter out of a hodge-podge of available parts, keeping the astronauts alive.

At RapidChange, we call this full-spectrum thinking. The purpose is to take maximum advantage of our intellectual and emotional resources to find effective, efficient and creative answers to the challenges we face. To use it, leaders have to learn how to purposely frame challenges as having multiple answers, not binary ones. As the world gets more complex, it is a skill we sorely need to learn and embrace.

To learn more about full-spectrum thinking … go to www.rapidchange.com

– Dan Suwyn

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