Running in Place

In one of many clever moments in Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll depicts Alice running hard but remaining in the same spot. Alice is both exhausted and exasperated. The Red Queen, lounging under a nearby tree, is amused.

Alice looked round her in great surprise. “Why, I do believe we’ve been under this tree the whole time! Everything’s just as it was!”

“Of course it is,” said the Queen, “what would you have it?”

“Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else—if you ran very fast for a long time as we’ve been doing.”

“A slow sort of country!” says the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

The year was 1871, and in the Red Queen’s Race, Lewis Carroll was alluding to an evolutionary theory of the time which proposed that organisms must constantly adapt and evolve to survive while pitted against ever-evolving opposing organisms in an ever-changing environment. Sound familiar?

If the Red Queen was right about how fast we needed to adapt in the nineteenth century, what would she say today?

A bias for innovation recognizes the world is complex and ever changing, and learning is active and iterative.

If you are a leader in today’s environment, you may not find yourself responsible for the outcome of an ongoing evolutionary contest, but you will find yourself responsible for the outcome of a contest for the success, the trust, and the confidence of those who follow you in an ever-evolving, ever-changing environment.

To prevail in that contest, you need to develop a bias for innovation, a leadership instinct based on the belief that in order to decide, you have to learn, and in order to learn, you have to alter the status quo.

A bias for innovation recognizes the world is complex and ever changing, and learning is active and iterative — we act, we assess, and we act again. It also recognizes that speed matters in the Era of Digital Echoes.

While a bias for innovation won’t solve all of your leadership challenges, it will energize your organization, keep you alert for both vulnerabilities and opportunities, and illuminate the often-hidden cost of inaction.

Alice would say running in place is exhausting and doesn’t get you anywhere. At Blanchard Group we say: “activity doesn’t equal progress.” That’s a bias for innovation.