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Observation, Progress, and Momentum


I just wanted to leave that out there so you can consider what the word means to you. Mistakes slow things down, create difficulty and extra work, spur conflict and discontent, and slow momentum, but mistakes are a part of risking, growing, and learning.  

In knowledge work, especially knowledge work where boldness is necessary, mistakes are inevitable. Everyone can relate to watching someone do something wrong and wanting to step in, assist, or explain. Those that had the pleasure of driving while I was a passenger know that I can assist quite a bit, so everyone is aware of what the other drivers on the road are doing- you’re welcome.  

When I’m assisting a driver, some claim I detract from their ability to be effective. As a passenger, I can’t help myself; as a leader in organizations comprised of bright knowledge workers, I have to muzzle the inclination to jump in.

We believe there are many ways to get to a solution (though when driving, you should begin slowing down long before you get to a stop sign, if only to engender your passenger’s confidence that you do, in fact, see the stop sign) and when people approach tasks in an innovative way, we may be on the path to creating something better. This means that people are going to make mistakes… and we have to sit there and watch. Prescription works against the seeking system and forces focus on the detail of instructions at the expense of focus on the impact sought by the activity. Effectively, over-prescription pulls the employee away from knowledge work toward manual work.

Ideally, mistakes forge new neuro-pathways, but unchecked mistake-making reinforces the neuro-pathway, therefore, further engraining the misguided behavior. Observation simultaneously provides the space for creativity and the opportunity to assist, so off-base activities aren’t habituated.

Learning from mistakes should accelerate the problem-solving process in the future. This experience solidifies knowledge or process overlooked in the prior attempt, allowing for more informed conceptualization (Kolb’s experiential learning theory). An outcome of this approach is the employee expands their understanding of why an approach doesn’t work. The prescriptive approach, on the other hand, creates greater reliance on managers or instruction givers because the employee doesn’t understand why something worked or it didn’t beyond failure to follow instructions properly.

It's not just about how work is completed. In contrast to interference, observation helps adults be adults. Stepping in absolves employees to problem solve with each other, mentally reverting to the days when telling a teacher or parent to put people in their place. This also detracts from the seeking system because employees are encouraged to look for others to engage in problem-solving instead of within themselves.


In summary, please drive safely. I’ll try to keep my mouth shut.