Building Expert Teams to Fight Against Learned Incapacity

With innovation cycles becoming shorter and shorter as we entered the digital era, companies were constantly faced with the need to reinvent their business models. This is more relevant than ever, and the stories of how some business failed to adapt to market changes for the stupidest reasons have become famous.

Take Hasselblad, the company that built the camera they first took to the moon, as an example (http://www.slideshare.net/Christiansandstrom/hasselblad-from-the-moon-to-surviving-disruptive-innovation). When the digital camera was invented, they rapidly identified it as a game-changer, and started working on a digital camera of their own. With a staff versed in mechanical engineering, and not electronics, by the time they had a product ready, they decided to kill the project, deeming it too bulky and too different from what people were used to. When they finally came out with a hybrid camera that offered digital conversion, they were four years too late.

While Hasselblad weren’t able to enter the digital market, Kodak started the revolution that lead to their own demise (http://www.forbes.com/sites/avidan/2012/01/23/kodak-failed-by-asking-the-wrong-marketing-question/ https://luminous-landscape.com/the-rise-of-digital-imaging-and-the-fall-of-the-old-camera-industry/). Indeed, they built the first digital camera, but their business model was entirely dependent on the sale of film, so they abandoned the new format shortly after. They made the mistake of seeing themselves as a film company after having invented the product that would kill the film industry.

These are great examples of what Karl Albrecht calls Learned Incapacity in his 2005 book “Social Intelligence, The new Science of Success”. Large organizations tend to breed some forms of collective stupidity. Even though they might be comprised of highly intelligent, motivated individuals, all with the company’s success in mind, organizations tend to develop fundamental habit patterns that prevent them from remaining reactive and agile.

One of the main factors in this problem is directly linked to group thinking, or lack-thereof. It is a well-known fact that a group of 10 skilled people will not usually produce solutions that are 10 times better. In fact, in most cases, people working together tend to push against each-other, hardly ever reaching consensus and destroying each-others ideas instead of coming up with alternatives. The worst part is that when people do reach a consensus, they get a false sense of success, even if in most cases the consensus is built on compromise. They will come up with an idea and immediately kill it before it can be tested.

You can see how this is a problem, and how it can make your company ineffective and uncreative: a company’s success is dependent on its members’ ability to collaborate. This is what Karl Albrecht calls the organizational IQ.

 

In fact, in a business, most critical errors happen when highly qualified individuals come together to work as a team. For a business to learn to adapt and evolve, individuals must learn to work together towards the same goal and get past risk-averse decisions. And in this, effective decision making and communication are key.

With knowledge becoming more accessible thanks to the Internet, team members can no longer rely on their hard skills to be a valuable part of the business, they must also make use of soft skills to become part of an effective team. The question is how we can transform a team of experts into an expert team.

 

Critical and time pressured situations can be recreated in a training scenario, so that processes, routines and procedures can be established and communication and collaboration problems can be identified and improved upon.

Effective training requires practice — actually getting hands-on experience and facing real challenges. Critical and time pressured situations can be recreated in a training scenario. Think of it as a variation on the simulations used in medical and aeronautic training: we use technology to simulate an environment in which you can practice your skills without risk to your business.

With this approach teams and individuals can start, stop, repeat, and replay the scenario as many times as necessary until processes, routines and procedures are established so communication and collaboration problems can be identified and improved upon.

In fact, it is always the unpredictable that challenges most participants during critical decision making. One major benefit of scenario simulations is that they can scale in difficulty so that participants can practice the setting of priorities and experience how they choose to exercise their judgment as leaders or parts of a team, which will reveal strengths and areas where additional focus is required.

Take The Heist for example, we put a team in a stressful, problematic situation that they have to resolve together. The simulation is designed so that teams will fail (cf.How to create business impact through failure?”). This failure is what drives the fight against collective stupidity: it forces them to look together for alternatives and take individual strengths and weaknesses into account during the decision-making process.