Chapter 8 Experiment and Take Risks

That’s right up my alley. I love to experiment and take risks.

Kouzes and Posner provide examples to innovation in Practice 6, Challenge the Process, through this commitment: Experiment and Take Risks. After creating opportunities, we must challenge ourselves through experimenting and risk taking to improve on past successes or failures. It’s rare that one could take a giant leap to success without taking baby steps.

I have many aspirations to make big positive changes, for both me and my family, my work and yes, even the world. I am a big dreamer, but I do realize that I could not make progress towards these goals without experimenting, taking risks, and learning from failures. Everyone has personal goals, such as learning a new instrument. We know that with practice, through trial and error, we will continue to learn. But what about a larger goal? Say if you want to learn well enough to play in an orchestra or you want to challenge the existing way an instrument was created to be played. And what about more global challenges?

As we read in class, there are so many examples where the innovation journey is reached by small wins and builds on the success of others. I’m inspired by innovations that empower people to help themselves, like creating jobs within an impoverished community or by innovations that connect people to understand the place within which we live, to understand decisions we make. For instance, Microsoft Research just announced a world wide telescope 2 that will be available this spring. This innovation will connect us to the Universe by allowing us to travel to a seamless virtual observatory gathered from real world observatories. Be it personal or global, the same principals are used: we build off others’ experiences, paving the way to achieve success; we take risks into the unknown; we challenge ourselves and our colleagues to new directions.

Kouzes and Posner discuss (206-210) the way we view stress during our challenges and how people handle this “psychological hardiness? , generally meaning a healthy attitude when working in stressful situations. I was happy to see I fit into the leader model but as they’ve stated it is something that can be learned. I work very well under stress and work to give manageable goals to people on my team when those individuals become “stressed out?. We work to improve our skills, improve our processes and minimize issues so that stressful situations become easier to manage.

I agree with Kouzes and Posner that “leaders have a responsibility to create an environment that breeds hardiness on a regular, not an occasional, basis.? (211) Yes, leaders need to provide the tools and responsibilities to challenge their constituents but they also need to provide time to learn from mistakes, encourage growth and move forward.

Often in Information Technology projects that I‘m involved with, a team will asses how the project went and document both the positive and negative outcomes to use as a learning tool. While we do build on past experiences, our infrastructure often changes so much from project to project that we rarely implement a very similar project to build on. Even so, we find them useful. Comparing to Kouzes and Posner’s pre-mortem (213-214) document, we do a fair amount of planning and risk assessment for new projects and that too proves to help guide situations we encounter.

Overall, as most people state, Kouzes and Posner’s book reflects on simple steps to achieve success and this chapter is no different. Experiment and take risks! I do this so much in my personal life and in my work organization -- it’s how I learn and grow. Do you have a personal example which proves or disproves that small wins and learning from experience move an innovation or project forward?

1 Kouzes, James M. and Posner, Barry Z. The Leadership Challenge: How to Get Extraordinary Things Done in Organizations. 4th ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007.

2 The World Wide Telescope, 02 Mar 2008

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