“Well, I kind of tinkered around with a few things, and I think I messed things up,” I sheepishly confessed to my golf instructor.
I had bought a package of five lessons to learn the game and was just about to start the fifth. I’d been doing well — making progress and, most of the time, hitting the ball fairly straight. But, as with most golfers, I was just wasn’t happy with my distance. My instructor, not surprisingly, would blast the ball so, next to him, I felt like a kid giving it a little whack. After our fourth lesson, I picked up some golf books my wife had acquired and dove in.
I focused on one instructional classic, “The Five Fundamentals of Golf,” by Ben Hogan, and started underlining tips and making notes in the margin. I saw that, rather than just taking a nice and easy backswing (which my instructor had taught), I could bring the club all the way around behind my back and then really let loose on that little white ball. I would blast the thing into next week.
Of course, it didn’t quite turn out like that. Rather than simply adding distance to what had largely been a straight shot, I could now barely hit the ball and, when I did, it went all over the place. Perhaps one in 10 times I got a hold of it for something special. But while that might work on that range, you can’t take that game to the course.
In an effort to move the ball forward (so to speak), I’d taken quite a few steps back. So many, in fact, that I didn’t even know where I was and, thus, felt need to make the above confession before my instructor would see the damage for himself.
Now, while it may appear that my message is: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, or: stay away from the sun if you’ve got wax wings, that’s not really how I feel. You see, if you make something (such as a golf swing or business practice) sacrosanct, you might be able to improve incrementally, but you’ll never get better exponentially, and I think shutting off that possibility forever is depressing.
I’m ok with the fact that I’m back to square one because I’m not stuck there. My willingness to mess with the status quo means I will never be stuck anywhere I don’t want to stay. I can keep tweaking my swing until I really like it, and then work and work to groove it into my neural pathways for some muscle memory.
As you can imagine, I believe there are some takeaways here for the world of work, especially when it comes to innovation. Often, we don’t have the luxury of experimenting with innovations in some sort of removed environment, but must incorporate it into our daily workflow. We must test the innovation we hope to realize in the real world, which means disrupting many current neural pathways and leaving just about everyone irritated. And we must remember that these disruptions may not have a positive outcome, especially not initially. But many times, the experiments are iterative steps to the right place and a necessary evil of improving (or taking strokes off your game).
So go out there and bust up what may be just good enough if you think it could be a heck of a lot better, because that’s your job. And don’t be frustrated or forlorn if you don’t get it right, right out of the box. The risks of taking a step back are real, but the risks of never realizing someone moved your cheese until it’s too late are greater. Throw some innovation into the “I” of chief information officer and it will likely give you more security than being married to the tried and true. Remember, even Tiger Woods was willing to accept the significant risk of destroying what was good for the chance of finding something exceptional by dismantling his swing more than once, and it served him pretty well.