Friday, January 14, 2011

Love the Questions

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart
And try to love the questions themselves.
-- Rainer Maria Rilke

To effectively lead, knowing the answers shouldn't be a necessary prerequisite for action. In fact, many questions can only be answered by first taking action in the face of ambiguity.

Acting on an educated guess can provide far more useful data than waiting for all the research to come in first. While I am by no means suggesting all decisions ought to be made without any research or forethought, what I am saying is advance analysis is largely a theoretical exercise. Observing the results that come from our actions is reality-based. While scenario planning can be useful for strategy-making and preparing for "what-if's," the best way to answer the question "what if we do (fill in the blank)?" is to do it. Actual results eliminate the need for hypotheticals.

Of course, the level of risk involved, particularly regarding questions of health and safety, may require more careful forethought. But for most decisions, acting -- whether we take the best action or not -- will provide more and better data than extensive research can provide.

From experience, we all know that we learn as much or more from our "failures" as we do from our "successes." I became a more effective public speaker, for example, after I embarrassed myself in front of a group when I failed to prepare for a presentation. I had taken hours of speech classes and read books on public speaking that had emphasized the importance of preparation, but they were not nearly as effective in teaching me as this single twenty-minute direct experience was.

Before there were any trails, early explorers had to just begin pushing their way through the forest until the path began to present itself. When we lead, there won't always be a trail blazed for us; in fact, if we are truly leading, then we are the trailblazer. When that's the case, we need to walk into the forest, trying different routes until the way through presents itself.

In the end, it's the question "what's on the other side of this forest?" that drives us forward, not knowing the answer.