The Benefits of Letting Go

4 Jun

Here is a thought which may or may not challenge. A lot of time, resource and effort is placed into managing change, but significantly less time, resource and effort is placed into the process of “letting go”. This is what I mean-

For decades research has been carried out on the confirmation bias (Kahneman, 2011 provides a good resource). The confirmation bias is about how once human beings reach a conclusion, form an opinion, create a plausible story they selectively search for information to prove the conclusion correct, whilst disregarding and explaining away any information which contradicts it. In other words, human beings have a tough time letting go.

Change management as a discipline and a subject is fraught with problems, many of which are based on resistance to change, of people (the followers) not being able to let go of a belief which forms a barrier. Change management is equally, maybe more significantly, fraught with leaders who couldn’t let go of an idea which was demonstrably bad, frequently in the face of overwhelming evidence.

You could examine the UK government’s Poll Tax proposal, you could examine New Coke, or you could examine the accounts of Enron for years before the fall. All of these examples have one thing in common-they all involved people unwilling to let go of something, both leaders and followers.

Gary Klein’s latest book, Seeing What Others Don’t (2014) suggests that one way people gain insight is to suddenly let go of a belief which they was holding them back. In other words, these people unlocked some form of the confirmation bias by removing something. The result is adaption, insight and innovation. For a company this could mean a more flexible approach to change and greater levels of innovation. It could also mean picking up risks faster and responding quickly.

A resource for learning how to let go is to examine people who operate on the edges of uncertainty. An example would be a climber. A climber has to start out with a plan, and this plan, because potentially their life is at stake, needs to be built around the question “what could go wrong”? This immediately focuses the mind and what needs to be let go.

Once the plan is executed, feedback is immediate; each action produces data on how well the plan is working. Because feedback is immediate, adjustments and adaptions can be made. These adjustments may deviate significantly from the original plan, but holding onto it in the light of contradictions would be fatal.

In certain professions, hobbies and activities the participants simply have to know how to let go in order to survive and succeed. By exploring the mental models these people use to frequently let go we can learn a lot about how to approach change, innovation, uncertainty and risk.

Reading

Kahneman, D. (2011) Thinking Fast and Slow. Penguin
Klein, G. (2014) Seeing What Others Don’t. The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insight. Notable Books.

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