Transcript – Heuristic Podcast with Jim Bower

Link to Heuristic Podcast #9 – Sometimes There is One Right Way, but Probably Not This Time with Jim Bower.

Alicia Parr: Hi, this is Alicia Parr with Performentor for another Heuristic Podcast. And today, I’m with Jim Bower. And Jim is the principal at the Bower Group. He is an exceptional strategist and a change maker, and he works in both the public and the private sectors to harness positive change. Welcome, Jim. Anything you’d like to add to that?

Jim Bower: No, it’s great. Great to be here. Thank you for the invite. Yeah, the rearview mirror now of what I do in the world is really accelerating social innovation. So I’m in search of extraordinary innovators and innovations that are stuck. Then I step in usually with a very, depending on the project, but a pretty significant team to help figure out how to get project traction in the real world. So I do a lot of projects and a lot of work in that kind of domain.

Alicia Parr: Well, then you know how to make things happen. And that’s, I think, a wonderful segue to the heuristic, which is sometimes there’s one right way, probably not this time. Certainly, an innovator like you would agree with that, at least to a certain degree, I guess, you know. What is your reaction to that heuristic?

 Jim Bower: Well, it just spurred in me, you know, the really important work in whether you’re in a private sector, nonprofit, or public sector to figure out what kind of problem you’re working on. And lots and lots of problems are, the big categories are, you know, the nomenclatures, tame problems and wicked problems. Tame problems are problems that can be complicated to get done. But you apply resources, you play expertise, and they pretty much react the same way, you know.

 Alicia Parr: So you said not team problems, but tame, T-A-M-E.

 Jim Bower: Tame. Tame. T-A-M-E.

 Alicia Parr: Got you.

Jim Bower: Like I’m backing up a boat into the water. If I don’t have a lot of skill at that, that’s a complicated thing to do.

 Alicia Parr: It is.

 Jim Bower: But it’s largely an issue of physics, which is, you know, if you turn the wheel this far, the boat will go this direction. And eventually, you can crack the nut. And then, even problems like building the Hoover Dam is ultimately a tame problem. You can, I mean, just a ridiculous amount of human beings had to apply themselves, you know, engineers and designers and construction managers and to knock that one to done. But it largely cracked it by the sheer force of expertise applied. And then there’s a whole category of problems that don’t react that way, and we have them all over our lives. Being a parent is not a tame problem. Most challenges within organizations are not tame problems, they’re complex problems. And your heuristic really speaks to that category of problem. And we certainly give more detail on what those look and feel like. But you’re speaking my music in the sense that there’s very little of what I do in a day that can be considered ordered or tame in any form or fashion. Just the nature of the work that I do in the world of innovation.

 Alicia Parr: Yeah, well, as you know, the book’s got ten heuristics. I’ve got a few dozen more. But I did pick this one in particular, because I know heuristically interacting with you, there’s one thing that you’d like to argue with, it’s a set answer to something. Now, there’s one right way to do something.

 Jim Bower: This is an important framework though to understand that any kind of problem that you can get into that tame, ordered bucket. You do. You know, a long time ago, I did an interim CEO gig. That’s kind of what I used to do. And this company, a large company, had a property management function, and I walked in and there was not a written standard operating procedure in the entire stinking company. Not a piece of paper anywhere, of activities that they repeat over and over and over again, thousands of times. With human beings coming and going from roles, they were doing it with oral tradition.  And, you know, we immediately implemented a dramatic effort just to get standard operating procedures written down. And in trying to wrangle something that did not need to be that complex into a set of activity that can be repeated by a whole set of human needs. 

Like, how do we deposit checks? There should not be twenty ways for our company to deposit checks. Or you make it up one way, and I make it up another way. You do it one way, I do it another way. No, we should have this as an ordered problem. And so, there are lots and lots of problems like that, that really are important to codify in an algorithm or rules or standard operating procedures, or they’re a little more complicated best practices. Because there starts to be not one right way, but there is certainly the right way that we as an organization have chosen.

Alicia Parr: Right.

Jim Bower: And so every problem that you can shove into that category, you should. There shouldn’t be all of these loose ends that don’t need to be loose ends.

Alicia Parr: Yeah, I see that, well, we’ve worked with companies and organizations that are going from really small, where oral tradition or osmosis, as I call it, works great, you know, up into a point where it no longer does, but they’re not ready for everything to be codified and everything to be processed, because it will steal away that ability to innovate and change or respond to the environment. So, I know that. Like I was talking to, I guess, an operations lead, or the integrator, and she was talking about how the founder was very loose and open, right? And she’s like, it’s time for systems, you know. And I’m like, well, it’s time for the right amount of systems, it’s time for the right amount of processes. And I think that was a little bit of a reframe for her. I think she was seeing it as like, one or the other not necessarily. That there’s a, I don’t know, transitional period.

Jim Bower: Right. Right.

Alicia Parr: But so the wicked problems, though, I mean, I guess, like what sorts of you mentioned families, I mean, I would imagine things that involve people probably…

Jim Bower: Where two or two or more gathered. It’s almost always a complex, adaptive domain. How do we come to an agreement on anything? We are sorting our way through an incredibly complex conversation, power dynamics of what makes sense, who has decision authority, how do we feel our way into a good enough decision. 

In the domain of complexity, the reality is that we can’t see around the corner. We don’t even understand the problem until we engage the problem. And as you engage the problem, you start to find your way forward in ways that can make sense. And I oftentimes tell people that most decisions just emerge, good decisions emerge in conversation, in relationship with one another. There, versus there is a decider, that there is someone deciding what to do. 

Well, no, I mean, most every complex decision, I mean, think about the work you do on the HR side, you know, how do we wind our way through a really complex decision about, what do we do with this person who’s underperforming. That’s a complex problem. How long have they worked here? What are their strengths? What do we as an organization need? Who has a relationship with this person? Is this person able to grow their way into the role? I mean, there are dozens if not hundreds of variables that you’re sorting your way through in your head to try to find yourself a path forward on a decision. I mean, how do you see this working your way, its way through the organizations you work with?

Alicia Parr: Yeah. Well, I mean, if you just take that example, which is a common but narrow, and that one that people would relate to, yeah A lot of times people think HR is just the compliance side. Well, yeah, the variables in terms of like, what’s going to get us unnecessarily into trouble here is like a very very small part of that formula. What is this person actually getting feedback? Are they even aware they’re not performing? Yeah. Do they have the resources? Or do they have the time? Do they have the training? Do they have the capability? The people that are in the position to be giving this feedback, are they doing so in a way that’s understandable? What are the changes afoot? Is this role expected to change in any way in the company and then your future? How do we heuristically…, I mean, like, you know, there’s just so many different things, while there are certain principles that you would apply. Like, in particular, what we do in this situation. 

Another thing that came up, which is, I would say a combination is for that hybrid between, there are some parts that are tame, and some parts that are wicked is in a smaller organization, decisions about compensation are made ad hoc in response to somebody asking for more, or maybe it’s been clearly identified that you know, okay, now the business can actually afford to pay a little more. There are all sorts of different dynamics that kind of go into this. So a lot of it is emotional. And then at some point, it’s time to say, well, you know, maybe we should have at least some set of standards by which we are actually making a decision. Maybe there should be some sort of schedule by which actually, we’re revisiting somebody’s compensation so that we’re not just prioritizing the people that are bold enough to ask. But that doesn’t make it a tame problem, necessarily. Maybe just slightly more tame, less wicked.

Jim Bower: Yeah. When do you start to advise companies or organizations to start to codify their problem in either standard operating procedure or some more structured ruleset versus just small organization everything flows?

Alicia Parr: There’s no one point in time, it’s not necessarily going to be even in the same order that we addressed, although certain things do tend to pop up. A lot of our clients might, although we have some that are smaller than this, around twenty, things feel enough momentum in 2020 headcount. And we engage in on an ongoing issue resolution, and we kind of do that root cause kind of like, you know, what are the pain points. And, okay, well, the pain points point to maybe we start to systematize this. Well, I do it, and I’m teaching my team, I mean, more to co-author rather than tell them here’s the one right way, I guess back to the heuristic is figure out, you know, here’s their background of experience, here’s a hypothesis of what might work based on what the behavior science and all this other stuff might say. But what works here, what can we build so that there’s enough structure so that we’re getting rid of the unnecessary churn, the twenty different ways of depositing a check. And in saving that brain power for the variables that actually are worth attending to. And so we’re continuously iteratively adding structure as it emerges as the larger pain point.

Jim Bower: What are the sub-heuristics of working with complex problems is continuously apply safe-to-fail experiments and methodologies? In other words, don’t try one experiment even. I mean, you tried multiple experiments to begin to engage the problem. But don’t try to change every policy. Let’s change one, or let’s change two, or let’s change three, and see how it goes. 

The rhythms of working with complex… well, the worlds that I work in, where everything is new. There’s nothing, there’s no trail to follow, there is no best practice because the innovation is brand new, never been done before. The best practices are all about tame problems. And also you apply those best practices in a one-off, or one-of-a-kind scenario that cannot be repeated.

Sort of like the whole issue of school reform is dominated by best practice literature. The problem is, that every single school is an utterly unique organizational environment. And whatever best practices work to make this school extraordinary over here, don’t apply here, because we’re in a different place of growth, we have different problems set, we have a different demographic, we have different politics, we have different resources. It just goes on and on and on. And the challenge that oftentimes I hit is,  in some ways you’ve developed a heuristic for this is, people don’t want to accept this reality. That is the important work in the world. 

Think about parenting, back to something that many of us can relate to. There is no single path and it changes by the day. We have a boatload of teenagers in our household and I’ll be danged if they’re not different human beings every three, four, or five months. And our relationship with them has to shift accordingly. You can have some ways you think about who you want to be as a parent, but who you are as a parent today is not who you were as a parent, two or three years ago. And almost all problems that we face, fall in that… Or think about losing weight, right? The many people, you know, we desperately want– or getting into shape or whatever I mean those are complex problems in the sense that, you know, what will work for me won’t work for you. My motive structures are different, you know, what I care about, what I like to do, what I value, you know, all make that a complex problem that I have to win my way through and figure out on my own, I mean, ultimately. 

You can drop experts into that world, and sometimes they help and sometimes they confuse. A lot of experts don’t, you know, like most of the big consulting firms, they have a formula, they have a process that they’re selling, and that’s how they make their money. You hire me, and we will apply this analytical model to your problem. 

Long, long ago, I was hired by a big consulting firm. I won’t mention their name. I became project lead to set in motion, developing the economic growth strategy for a state, an entire state. I was sort of the point of the spear and I was out trying to figure out where the tea leaves were running, where the leadership in the state was, where the thought leaders were, where there was leverage, where there was energy. And behind the scenes was an army of analysts, like this consulting firm, churning out, ultimately a 500-page report.

Alicia Parr: Oh, gosh.

Jim Bower: Every facet of the economy and the nooks and crannies of how to analyze the capacities of the state, they churn through probably $400,000 or $500,000 of budget, applying their model to the problem, which was really, how do we engage the leadership of the entire state and coalesce political leadership around a direction on what we should be doing to grow our state’s economy. $500,000 went down the rabbit hole of the consultants, the experts, applying their methodology to a problem that was not the problem. And I swear, there was probably not a single human being, including me, whoever read that report.

Alicia Parr: Who can read that 500-page report? That would be awful.

Jim Bower: Yeah.

Alicia Parr: Well, I mean, I say the same thing at a much smaller scale at these small growing businesses and organizations. It’s to me, maybe this is my lens, but I mean, a lot of things are fundamentally, you know, people issue a leadership issue, you know, how do you move a mindset? How do you shift a culture? How do you disseminate it beyond just a core group? How do you, you know, because a lot of us, you can give people processes, great, you know, if you involve them in creating them, they’re more likely to use them and put them into practice. But fundamentally, everything is the question of behavior change and behavior change is a function of norms and culture within the organization. And you move that, like, you don’t move that through the best practice.

Jim Bower: Right. Right.

Alicia Parr: So you know, and so every solution, this is one of the ones that I’ve always kind of throw it up at the team is that every solution is first a hypothesis. Like, even if it’s the same organization, it might be at a different stage of the game. What might work here, might not work later. What might work here in this organization that went perfect, won’t work over here in a separate organization, even if there’s same industry. I mean, you just different people, different things, like all the things that you said, but at the scale of a particular organization.

Jim Bower: Yeah. What I appreciate about learning more about your work is that you come to the problem with an enormous toolkit and ways of thinking about and approaching the issue of whatever the organization wants to get done. But you’re not coming in with a methodology. That’s how most consultants, or hired guns, which is what consultants are, do, and they have their thing, and that’s where they apply their thing. And there’s a role for that. I mean, there is a role. I mean if you need to get your invoicing, your billing system figured out, or whatever, there are people who can come in and do it.

Alicia Parr: That is right. Yeah, I’ve run into that, like, I’m selling maybe to an organization that might be an intermediary to the end. They’re like, what is your methodology? What do you think about this acronym thing that I don’t even know what it is? And I’m like, how do I explain? That is our approach? Maybe I just need to like, codify it into some model. And then I can say we have the Performentor model. I don’t know.

Jim Bower: You saying it all depends, doesn’t sell very well?

Alicia Parr: Oh, well, I think in some cases, they want to know what box to put you in. And if you can’t be put in a box, then… I mean, but if I’m selling to small business owners, I don’t want to put you in a box. I mean, why are they running a business? Because they’re anti-box. 

Jim Bower: Five years ago, I did a huge project in healthcare sector and it was ultimately, we had probably 200 practices all across the United States, trying to figure out how to insert this innovation around PubMed managing the populations of people under the care of docs. That’s a huge hole in the fabric of how to do health care management. And the organization, you know, we were essentially trying to pitch this to, wanted a detailed work plan. 

So I said, oh, we got one or two directions. I can do that. And they want to understand the deliverables and I said, we can do that. But we’re probably not your crew to do that. That’s a million-dollar contract, and that’s a McKinsey. What I can do is put together a pretty decent scope of work for three months, sort of the direction we are heading. But I’ll tell you in our scope of work, we are going to put in there and you’re going to agree to it, that we’re going to complete other activities as agreed to. I said, your job and my job are to navigate in real time where the leverage is, and how do we get traction. And we’re going to work our butts off, as are you to get there, but there is no defined path. Again, I’ll give you three months’ scope, but I said, sort of like the old adage, no plan survives first contact with the enemy. I think it was a Patton quote. 

The moment you engage the problem is the moment the problem shifts, is the moment your understanding of the problem shifts, is the moment you begin to realize what B is. And it’s a little bit like hopping across a lily pad, you know, you kind of gotta get to B before you know, whether or not you’re going to C or F or whatever. I mean, you just, you have no idea what the next step is until you’ve taken that next step and are standing on that lily pad now looking at the world anew because you’re at a different point. 

So much of the skill or the capacity to engage complex problems is about how do you keep moving? How do you keep making good enough decisions and take action that’s tangible? A colleague of mine is just a brilliant innovator. I mean, he’s a serial innovator, prior 40 years. He goes, “You got to capture the ground, when you can, and speed matters. And you capture that ground and you hold it. And then from there, you can figure out what the next step is. But that ground is under foot now.”

 Alicia Parr: Can you give me an example of that? Because I think I’m tracking but I just wanted to be sure that I am. 

Jim Bower: So we’re involved in a project. It’s about a $40 million project, to create a center of Black culture and excellence.

Alicia Parr: Cool.

Jim Bower: And every part of the project is unstable. I mean, there’s nothing about it, there is no direct path to the project being completed. And you’re grabbing ground everywhere you can that is solid. Okay, we have got to get a site plan, that shows the structured parking solution, and shows the elevations, it shows the grade changes. Because that’s a necessary piece to get in the grant application for $5 million grant. We’ve got to capture the ground of getting that site plan done. 

I mean, it’s literally it comes down to that simple of movement. Once we have that site plan, we then have the capacity to greenlight the grant application. Once we have the grant application in, that ground is seized and then the next step is how do we shape the politics of aligning the municipality, the county, other entities around getting the state to make the decision. So every step, you know, what is it that we can get done now, that will give us a better vantage point for tomorrow to engage the problem. Now, believe it or not, have we not gotten that stupid site plan done, we would not have been able to submit the grant.

Alicia Parr: Okay.

Jim Bower: You know, and that’s the rhythms of innovation that people just don’t understand you think. Now, where did that problem come from? Well, it just literally came up that I am raising it because it came up this morning.

Alicia Parr: Yeah.

Jim Bower: And why and that is the problem that needs to be solved by a piece of our project team by the end of today. If not, we cannot seize that ground, we cannot codify that action. We will have literally lost that opportunity.

Alicia Parr: You get the grant in any situations, it doesn’t, there’s a deadline. That’s what you’re saying. And then once you submit it, is it like in a black box? Or can you influence the outcome when you submit it?

Jim Bower: Then there’s the next set of ground. Then you have a whole crew of people who will understand that game of influence, of engaging in a complex political environment. And so parts of our team are brilliant at that and have deep work experience and connections to do that work. And then they’re off trying to seize that ground, so that we can get to the decision makers to get them to make the decisions. In a complex innovation, there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of those points, or thousands actually. 

Alicia Parr: You may not know in advance exactly what all of them will be?

Jim Bower: You know hardly any of them. You literally know hardly any of them. And the moment you get too far ahead of yourself, I mean, like work plans, we have very tight work plans. I mean, our work is about a week ahead of ourselves. That’s how far into the future we can think productively. We can scan. We know where we gotta be in six months. But where the leverage is, is what is the highest leverage now, this week, today, this week, that we got to mobilize the entire team around or elements of the team to get done.

Alicia Parr: Even if you’re only a week ahead, in terms of concrete actions, still you have a sense of kind of the direct vector you’re headed, because you certainly don’t want to be taking concrete direct actions that lead you away.

Jim Bower: Yeah, yeah, it’s concentric circles of thinking, I mean, or you’re constantly scanning into what the project really is and where it needs to go. I mean, for example, eight months ago, the project was a $22 million project. Now, it’s a $40 million project. What happened? Well, a lot of things got defined. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of things got defined to make it a $40 million project. And in turn, a lot of people weighed into the idea that it is a viable project at 40 million. And it can get done.

Alicia Parr: Was that part of the intention at the beginning to secure more funding for the project, or was that just become evident later?

Jim Bower: The project evolved. The project people are starting to draw in experts or starting in this case, designing a structure, designing a program. And you start getting the project more and more real. So it mutates, I mean, it’s a good example of just how much problems mutate, or how much projects mutate as you start to lean into them. 

You take any societal problem, again, you pull it back to the kind of stuff that I’m interested in. You can’t get your head around what the problem even is until you’ve start to engage the problem and start to understand the opportunity and how to feel your way into what it is we’re actually going to try to get done.

Alicia Parr: How do you get started on one of these big, wicked problem projects?

Jim Bower: How do we get started?

Alicia Parr: How do YOU get started?

 Jim Bower: Oh, how do I get started? Scan the environment for really transformative social innovations. So it’s a lot of just talking with people. I mean, the world is full of millions upon millions upon millions of ideas that are stuck. 

I used to teach a class at the University of Wisconsin on social entrepreneurship and would tell the class, repeat after me, great ideas are a dime a dozen. Great ideas are not hard to think of. Actually getting them done, creating them in the world is where the extraordinary difficulty lies. 

So I just scan the world of my networks and my conversations and they’re everywhere. They are everywhere. We’re now in a world, if you want to kind of the 30 seconds on social innovation, we’re about 30-35 years into the development of this as a field globally. So every university in the country has a program on social entrepreneurship. Even organizations, companies are doing social innovation work. The entire field has burgeoned up over the last 30 years to create breakthrough solutions to unbelievably complex problems all across the planet. The problem is, with technology, we are launching people up Mount Everest by the legions, and almost all of them die up as they are climbing up their mountains. 

Alicia Parr: Okay, now explain that analogy for me.

Jim Bower: So someone has an aspirational idea. I want to climb Mount Everest. I want to create X, Y or Z. They’ve never climbed that. They’ve never climbed mountains. Maybe they’ve climbed some hills, but they don’t, you know, almost every innovator that I know, he’s never done it before, doesn’t want to do it again. They don’t want mastery of the craft of social innovation. They just want their innovation done. 

And so I get in my noggin, I want to climb up Mount Everest. Now, if I climbed up Mount Everest, I mean literally climbed up Mount Everest, I would out of 100% die. The way people climb up Mount Everest even world-class climbers but just the you’s and me’s and because they have hundreds and hundreds of people climbing Mount Everest. It is unbelievable infrastructure and logistics. The field of mountain guiding is well formed and the infrastructure is available there that allows people to climb mountains that otherwise would be absolutely unattainable. 

So what happens in the field of social innovation is, that there are innovators who are or have an aspirational idea. It’s no different in the business world, writers, business people. It’s sort of like the classic case of, I love to bake pies, therefore I’m going to go into the pie baking business. Three months into the pie baking business, you haven’t made a baked pie in three months, as you’re in the back room cutting checks and trying to hire someone. You’re doing nothing of what you love. 

So even in the world of business organization formation, people have these ideas, and then they decide they’re going to go and create an organization around them. And that’s not really what they want to do or what they’re good at. It’s a whole stew of complex problems that they have no experience at. And so almost all of them die, almost all of them.

Alicia Parr: Oh I see. So a lot of ideas die on the vine, for sure they do. 

Now around here in North Carolina, in particular, the Raleigh Durham area, but I think is extending across the state, there’s a lot of support organizations, there’s like, entrepreneurial development councils, and there’s the SBTDCs, which I think are everywhere. There are a lot of incubators, venture capital, like all this stuff seems to be associations that are affiliated with your community colleges, that just is just tremendous. And there’s even a National Association for Community College entrepreneurship, which is kind of an interesting beast, where they’re trying to teach entrepreneurial abilities to people who are running community colleges. But so it’s kind of interesting that while there are in many ways for an entrepreneur, some things get harder and harder to do because of compliance tax and just there’s just a lot of barriers to that. There’s also this set of supports out there that are funded by, they’re either nonprofits or government funded or some hybrid and trying to take away some of that complexity that you’re talking about. 

I assume that this is happening in a lot of places or across the country. Are you seeing quite a bit of that yourself?

Jim Bower: Well, yeah, there’s an enormous amount of infrastructure already available to certainly, especially business entrepreneurs. I mean, SBTDCs, small business development centers are Federally funded and really extraordinary. Yeah, that doesn’t mean you’re wired to line yourself up to learning how to do something that you don’t really want to learn how to do. I mean, how many true business owners, I mean, business creators do you run across. I mean, the ones that survive are the ones who have it in there. 

If you’ve ever been around someone who is wired for business, that’s a different cat. I mean, that’s a different cat. I mean, that someone who can found an organization and grow an organization over time around a particular mission. We think that they are everywhere. They’re pretty, they’re fairly rare birds. I mean, they’re like anything, they’re in the 5% category.

Alicia Parr: Is that solopreneur is not the same thing. Yeah, like, I’ve joined this Women Business Owners Group, and I’ve joined their peer group, and I was disappointed to discover, oh, gosh, I’m recording this. I think there’s a lot of people who are solopreneurs, very, very small, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But that’s it’s a different game.

Jim Bower: Yeah. And there’s nothing wrong with that game.

Alicia Parr: It’s a great game.

Jim Bower: Right. I do not build an organization around me in the sense that every project I’m drawing in, 5-6-7-10 organizations. So my side of the equation is really lean. I am not wired or interested in sustaining a larger-scale organization that I need to care and feed because I value nimbleness and maximum flexibility. So constantly creating a new nonprofit, or new LLC, or whatever the form is around the project that we need to form. And I’m standing up a nonprofit right now on a major project and about ready to stand up another nonprofit. So it’s all part of the work. But who needs to do that? We need to bring the lawyer in, and that’s going to cost you 3-4-5 grand to get done or pro bono. And you stand it up, and you put in place the policies, you get the board functioning, and you’re off and running. But someone after me has to be ready, willing and able to care and feed that organization because that’s just not me, that’s not my role.

Alicia Parr: We have to find them. Or you find, or you have someone who…

Jim Bower: Absolutely, you’ll find them. Yeah, no, I mean, that’s part of the job. That’s part of my job is to insert the right leadership.

Alicia Parr: So are you like a hub? Or I guess, how would you and I’m looking at the time, so I’m mindful that we probably need to wrap up soon. What’s the analog here, like, you tend to be like a hub? I’m looking, I’m struggling for the right analogy or visualization, in terms of how you operate.

Jim Bower: Project by project. And so you know, the role, the particular part of the types of problems I’m involved in and my role as sort of that accelerator role almost always puts me right at the center of the wheel. And we drop a name on it, like Project Director, whatever name serves the project. And you have the visionary who’s out front. But then, I just sort of serve as the orchestrator and desperately try to get off my plate everything I can possibly get off my plate to other entities. But in this new world, you can bolt on capability like nobody’s business. There’s the world class capability everywhere. And zoom is good enough for the vast majority of working on really complex problems.

Alicia Parr: So if I were to take some of these insights in terms of, how you function, because maybe how you operate can be instructive to business owners who are maybe trying to, like summon a little bit more of that innovation driver, change maker kind of energy, is scanning the environment, finding your levers, not getting too far ahead of yourself. I guess what other takeaways might be?

Jim Bower: Fast iteration. Yeah, I mean, you’re constantly grabbing ground that you can grab today because you do not want to get too far ahead of yourself. 

Safe to fail experiments. In other words, let’s make this change and see how it plays through. And it’s not the only thing, we’re doing fifteen other things at the same time. But it’s tight cycles, is super tight cycles of action, and you’re constantly stepping into the unknown, with the ground you can capture today. Let’s make this decision or let’s prototype this, or okay let’s hire that, or let’s spend an hour trying to figure out how we’re going to approach this particular part of the problem, or the opportunity, however you want to frame it. 

There’s just a completely different way to rhythmically and conceptually approach complex problems. They do not crack by applying more experts.

Alicia Parr: No.

Jim Bower: They do crack by sort of relentless movement forward or movement that creates a tangible next step that makes the best sense that we can possibly make right now. You can’t think your way through these problems because the problem keeps mutating. So you just have got to tighten up your focus to what’s in front of you and then relentlessly get done the tasks that have to get done to keep you moving. 

Like, the site plan, you know. I’m just using that as a tangent. It gets down to that level of simple things that have to get executed. And that sounds like oh, why is that on my plate? Well, it’s on my plate, because …

Alicia Parr: It’s a blocker.

Jim Bower: What?

Alicia Parr: It’s a blocker. It’s a contingency.

Jim Bower: It’s a block. And so my job is to get through whatever that is, that’s not moving at the pace we need to move. And if I can do that, then it doesn’t matter how much time it takes. I got to get that done. If I don’t get that done, we have slammed the door on $5 million opportunity just by not doing that. So that’s where these kinds of problems crack open by just keep moving forward with relentless tangible next steps.

Alicia Parr: I love this as, I guess, a prompt or a mindset shift, not just for business owners or nonprofit owners that we work with, but also for my team. You know that because the more that we can take the iterative, innovation-friendly… Everything’s a hypothesis test. Keep testing, testing, testing. I just think that that’s just a better way of approaching it. Like we said, what’s a complex problem but the situation that’s got humans in it. And we’re in human resources. Go figure.

Jim Bower: Right. Go figure.

Alicia Parr: So anyway, thank you so much. That was amazing. I appreciate your time and energy and brain.

Jim Bower: You bet. Happy to be here.

Alicia Parr: Yep.  

Contact Us

We’re not your standard blocking and tackling HR professionals, therefore, we’re quite easy to talk to and level with. Schedule a consultation with us if you’re seeking an HR partnership for the long haul. Whether you need us for an hour or a standing meeting to build and run the leanest and simplest people practices, we’ve got you!
Contact Us

Contact Us

Phone

Address

2 Drakesway Court
Durham, NC 27713
Scroll to Top