Daily leadership activities to leverage complexity. 6th – Response, never React.

How Response & React help with complexity?

In his book thinking fast and slow Daniel Kahneman discusses two different systems that operate in our brain. He called them system one and system two. System one is the fastest system but fast comes with a lack of thinking. System two is a slow system. It’s using a lot of resources to think through before deciding, but the time it takes makes it too slow. 

In a world without restriction, we would like to use system “two” all the time. Depending on system two required a huge size of brains, something that evolution rejected. The reason is simplicity. To survive in a simple but life-threating environment, you need to decide fast and the human body needs to be agile enough to escape dangers. 

The solution is to let the brain work on fast mode as a default, and just when it’s really needed to switch to slow mode. The question is how we can change behavior from reaction to respond when the need arises.
So far, we discuss those two systems in the context of people. How are they working in social systems reacting to external events? 

System one (the fast-thinking) is what we call “React”. System two (the slow thinking) is “Respons”. The same as our brain, when we react we are not thinking. Reacting is performing automatically with a pattern we kept as successful in the “event” we thought happened. Without thinking, we jump to a conclusion about the event and immediately react. This behavior pattern fits simple or complicated scenarios but not complex scenarios.

In a complex world, we want to use responses as much as we can. We want to make sure we understand the event and its impacts on us and our ecosystem. We also want to execute actions appropriate to the event and won’t impact us negatively. When we ran away from a predator, react was the right behavior. In today’s world, a response is a better alternative. The problem is that choosing response is harder than reacting.

As you probably guess, it is the role of the professional manager to drive more responding and less reacting behaviors of teams. There are five steps that any leader can follow to generate more responses:

1) Define which events and patterns required a response. We can’t expect people to respond to events when their default is to react. We need to define events, events types and event sequences that required a response no matter what. Those definitions need to be part of the expectation of a role. Events should be publically available and subject to comments and concerns. Defining which events demand a response won’t install a response behavior, but it’s a crucial part of the solution. You can’t expect people to know of something if you didn’t communicate it.

2) Define rules and modules to follow in an event. For each event that requires a response, you can define rules and models to help people know what they need to think about. If an event requires a set of comprehensive thoughts because of multiple dependencies, we define a module. A module is basically a set of rules that need to follow. Defining rules and modules to help people with what they need to focus on and think when a certain event happens. It helps them to respond. When we don’t have a clue what to do, we react! 

3) Use feedback loops (or create one) to see if actions resulted positively. I discussed feedback loops last post. Make sure there are feedback loops that can not just alert on defined events, but also can give indications if the actions as the outcome of thinking provided the wanted results.

4) Install awareness and response. This is the hardest part, but the most effective one. If you want people to respond, writing and talking is not enough. You need to train them by walking them through rehearsals that imitating real-life events. Just practicing, again and again, teach people that they need to respond to certain events. So, you need to think all the time not just about the events but also how you can test them.

5) Root cause analysis for reactions that should be a response. Learning from mistakes is the best way to learn. Understanding what causes the mistake and fix it is the best way to operate. If someone does not respond and react (in a real event or rehearsal) ask him to learn. Request a root cause analysis, find the root cause, find a way how to fix it and share it with the group. Those basic steps of becoming a learning organization will increase the adoption of new behavior.

Like all the previous steps this is a daily work that you as a manager/leader need to perform daily to deal with complexity. The benefit is that you are creating emergent properties that are creating a competitive advantage. When a real event will happen and everyone reacts, you’ll response and collect all the fruits. 

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