Posted: 02 Sep. 2020 5 min. read

To harness ingenuity, make a mess

(This is the third post in the Breakthrough Manifesto series, an exploration of Business Chemistry and how to tackle solving really tough problems. If you missed the introduction, read it here.)

“A stumble may prevent a fall.” – Thomas Fuller

The third principle of the Deloitte Greenhouse Breakthrough Manifesto is make a mess, by which we mean to move quickly from talking about possible solutions to actually trying them out. 

Imagine yourself in your recently cleaned kitchen discussing with a friend how to create the world's best lasagna for a school fundraiser. Now imagine yourself several hours in, trying and testing different ideas. Is your kitchen still clean? Probably no. Are you closer to cracking the code on a delicious lasagna? Probably yes, even if what you've mostly discovered so far is what isn't delicious. 

When trying to solve a really tough problem, creating a prototype, whether it’s a back-of-the-napkin sketch or a full-size, three-dimensional model, is likely to tell you far more about what might work, or not, than endless discussions will. Derived from the Greek language, prototype means "primitive form," and prototyping is a way to test a concept before fully committing to it. Sticking with our lasagna example, you probably wouldn't want to go straight from discussing what might make the tastiest lasagna to investing the time and ingredients required to produce 20 full sheet pans of the stuff. Better to whip up a single, smaller pan and do a bit of a taste test first.

And while it's great when a prototype provides evidence of what is likely to work, perhaps even more valuable are those that demonstrate what's not likely to work—the prototypes that fail. James Dyson created more than 5,000 prototypes of his bagless vacuum cleaner before he finally got it right. Imagine the mess that made! When he was interviewed by Fast Company magazine, he said: "We’re taught to do things the right way. But if you want to discover something that other people haven’t, you need to do things the wrong way. Initiate a failure by doing something that’s very silly, unthinkable, naughty, dangerous. Watching why that fails can take you on a completely different path."

So prototyping isn't just about trying what you think will work. It's also trying things that are not likely to work, because you can learn a lot from that too. And that means you might need to get comfortable with failure. But more on that in a moment. 

Making a mess by trying things out can offer something that appeals to each of the Business Chemistry types, but that might not be equally apparent to them all when you first suggest it, so get ready to do a little convincing.

Let's start with how to convince Pioneers. the most exploratory type, they might not take much convincing. Prototyping can be a means of moving briskly from the often analysis-based phase of understanding the problem toward the creative phase of generating solutions. So Pioneers are likely to embrace prototyping in earnest, as they typically prefer to test the water by jumping right in rather than using thermometers or toes. Where they may need help is in sticking with subsequent cycles of experimenting, testing, analyzing, and improving a prototype over time, once the shine of novelty wears off.

Drivers, too, are likely to appreciate how prototyping can advance a problem-solving effort. It can quickly move a team from the conceptual realm to the concrete, where Drivers often prefer to be. It can also be an efficient way of identifying the flaws in a solution, and efficiency can make a Driver swoon. But since they tend to be both disciplined and focused, Drivers may find the idea of "making a mess" less appealing than they would "experimentation" or "trial and error"—especially those Driver-Scientists who may think in terms of testing a prototype through a more structured, scientific method. So consider trying different ways of talking about moving quickly from concept to model. Rather than calling it “making a mess,” consider asking Drivers to move swiftly to the stage of developing and testing their hypotheses.

Speaking of structured ways of testing things, Guardians, too, may be more attracted to the idea of prototyping if it’s presented in the context of a methodical test-assess-improve process. Left to their own devices, Guardians might tend toward perfecting before building. One reason for this is they're likely to give themselves a hard time over a mistake; more than other types, they say that making a mistake leads them to spend a lot of time thinking about what they should have done differently. The great thing about prototyping, which you can emphasize with Guardians, is that you don't have to ruminate over a mistake, because you will have invested much less than if you went straight into full-scale production. It's a way to reduce risk, an appealing concept to many Guardians.

Moreover, if you do identify something that doesn't work as you’re prototyping, you can move right on to trying again, rather than spending too much time thinking about it. After all, as writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, "By seeking and blundering we learn." Perhaps even better, identifying the various things that don’t work across multiple experiments may be more effective than considering them one by one. When you move to prototyping more quickly, you likely end up with a larger data set, and you just may discover the right solution by considering what doesn’t work in aggregate, based on all the past experiments.

Integrators might appreciate how a prototype can provide an easy way to gather input from others, something they often highly value. A prototype allows you to show someone how something will work rather than tell them (or to taste rather than imagine how your lasagna recipe will turn out).

Actions in summary for encouraging your team to make a mess:

  • Encourage Pioneers to stick with the process after the shine wears off
  • Use the language of "experimentation" to appeal to Drivers
  • Present prototyping to Guardians as a process of testing-assessing-improving
  • Invite Integrators to try prototyping as a way to gather input from others

For more on understanding a problem deeply before attempting to solve it, read my next post, which focuses on the fourth Breakthrough Manifesto principle, live with the problem.

And if you simply can't wait to learn more about our Breakthrough Manifesto or how the Deloitte Greenhouse Experience might help your team attain breakthrough results, explore and get in touch here.

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Suzanne Vickberg (aka Dr. Suz)

Suzanne Vickberg (aka Dr. Suz)

Research Lead | Deloitte LLP

Dr. Suz is a social-personality psychologist and a leading practitioner of Deloitte’s Business Chemistry, which she uses to guide clients as they explore how their work is shaped by the mix of individuals who make up a team. Previously serving in Deloitte’s Talent organization, since 2014 she’s been coaching leaders and teams in creating cultures that enable each member to thrive and make their best contribution. Along with her Deloitte Greenhouse colleague Kim Christfort, Suzanne co-authored the book Business Chemistry: Practical Magic for Crafting Powerful Work Relationships as well as a Harvard Business Review cover feature on the same topic. She also leads the Deloitte Greenhouse research program focused on Business Chemistry and is the primary author of the Business Chemistry blog. An “unapologetic introvert” and Business Chemistry Guardian-Dreamer, you will never-the-less often find her in front of a room, a camera, or a podcast microphone speaking about Business Chemistry. Suzanne is a University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate with an MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business and a doctorate in Social-Personality Psychology from the Graduate Center at the City University of New York. She has lectured at Rutgers Business School and several colleges in the CUNY system, and before joining Deloitte in 2009, she gained experience in the health care and consulting fields. A mom of two teenagers, she maintains her native Minnesota roots and currently resides in New Jersey, where she volunteers for several local organizations with a focus on hunger relief.