Listen to the humans – even the naysayers
by Jeremy Nulik
Back in the early 1970s, an international group of non-governmental organizations dispatched agricultural expert teams to fertile valleys of the Zambezi river. Their mission was to more locally combat issues of hunger and malnutrition by showing locals how production agriculture works. They wanted to sustain a new practice and change the culture.
Upon arrival, the teams felt prideful. They saw that they could easily build infrastructure that would support rows of fresh vegetables. However, they ran into a problem. None of the locals were interested in agriculture. They showed a degree of reticence in wanting to be helpful to the experts. Assuming that this was due to a lack of knowledge, the experts decided to pay locals to attend seminars and workshops. But even with this incentive model, the locals were not enthusiastic for change.
In terms of production, the teams were amazed. Cucumbers and squash reached enormous sizes in short periods of time. The Italian tomatoes swelled to a ripe red.
One evening as harvest time loomed, from out of the Zambezi river, a pod of hundreds of hippos emerged and consumed nearly all of the crops.
Shocked, the international team gathered in the wreckage the next morning. They went to the locals asking them why no one informed them of the hippos. “No one ever asked us” was the resounding reply.
While this story is not completely apocryphal, of course, certain poetic license is taken.
I share this story with you because it is likely you felt both the schadenfreude-like humor at the expense of the international team as well as the heartbreak of the situation. Leaders of organizations or entrepreneurs who have compelling ideas are often in that position.
New ideas combined with good intentions can be thwarted easily. It is also likely that someone has tried the idea – the new business unit, the innovation strategy, the brand position – and it has failed. This does not mean the new idea will fall victim to the same fate. But a person of vision can build plans that are more flexible and anti-fragile if they engage first in a simple step: listen to the humans.
Under all of the brilliant systems and outcomes surrounding a vision are humans – some of them have tried something like the new idea before, some of them will be needed, some of them are just naysayers. It is tempting to take a “haters gonna hate” approach to the idea. There is a natural predisposition to protect the idea. However, much can be gained with an attitude characterized by genuine intellectual curiosity about your possible assumptions and the implications of the strategy.
A canvas on which this curiosity can take place is the future. By placing humans into the future, they (and you) can begin to leave behind preconceived notions. Instead of asking them only about the past, ask the humans who will be most impacted by the new idea to interpret some future scenarios. What humans will begin to do is to tell you why those futures cannot happen, unintended possible consequences, others who have tried it before.
New ideas are fragile. And if you hope for the thing to live beyond you, it is likely you will need the help of humans. No strategy. No plan. Indeed, no vision can be fully realized unless you cross the chasm and align a set of humans to help you with your vision.
Jeremy Nulik (firstname.lastname@example.org) is evangelist prime at bigwidesky, a human business consultancy, in St. Louis, Mo.
Submitted 2 years 219 days ago