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The great challenge of the decade for leadership is to work out how to lead rapid change; for employees, how to accommodate it.

The phrase ‘bias to yes’ appeared again last week in an article about Australia’s Macquarie Bank, in which CEO, Nicholas Moore is quoted:

“We have to encourage our people to be looking at new opportunities … and getting them to talk about it… when people do have ideas there is a bias to yes.”

Where change is now the norm – in our marketing/communications sector it’s a monthly event – a bias to yes is a condition of survival.

But it’s not easy. In a current (terrific) article in Wired about change within the New York Times, Gabriel Snyder describes the difficult change of attitude amongst journalists from ‘Can’t’ to ‘Can’ following the leaking in 2014, of the Innovation Report:

“The newsroom has historically reacted defensively by watering down or blocking changes,” read the report, “prompting a phrase that echoes almost daily around the business side: ‘The newsroom would never allow that.’
“You couldn’t read that report and think that the status quo was an option. Once it’s clear that that is not an option, then the conversation all of a sudden becomes much more productive. It’s not should we change, it’s how do we change.”

Of course, journalists are right to view change cautiously as at stake is their ability to interrogate and publish freely – critical in a successful democracy. And change carries more risk when the environment is chaotic. Snyder also quotes a former publisher of the paper, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Sr., way back in 1994 having the prescience to observe about the internet, “Far from resembling a modern interstate… (it) will more likely approach a roadway in India: chaotic, crowded, and swarming with cows.”

Successful change requires a good idea, nimble research, clever strategies, and then the element that is often most resisted – clear, open, engaging communication.

Which brings us to a place where change is long overdue, and frought; politics in democracies. Mostly, it appears, politicians around the world have been repeating the same old tricks and hoping for different outcomes. Persisting with negative campaigns and debates, in which opposing parties have a bias to ‘No’, replete with innuendos, exaggerations and dishonesty, seems to me to be a sure-fire recipe for disaster.

Witness the stress in Australia in getting a political decision that reflects the majority opinion on same-sex marriage.

Would it work for a prime minister to have, the idea, strategy (as stated above), and then a recurring engaging message, that ‘can’t’ is a recipe for failure and a ‘bias for yes’ is a recipe for success? Of course it would also require the PM to walk the talk, but if he did, might it reverse the current destructive outcomes?

As Jeff Bezos has observed: nowadays “you have to somehow make high-quality, high-velocity decisions.”

Author Peter Wilkinson

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