How to cultivate a bias for action

I’m a huge proponent of smart action. As the intelligence researcher Robert Sternberg put it, “The essence of intelligence would seem to be in knowing when to think and act quickly, and knowing when to think and act slowly.” Our culture rewards fast action and I’m naturally attuned to that. I like to move fast and have had to discipline myself to intentionally think slowly.

How to cultivate a bias toward action

But even the slow thinking that Sternberg has in mind is not absent of action. In fact, it supports it by forcing clarity about which decisions require which kind of thinking and corresponding action.

So often, however, we’ve allowed habits to creep into our work culture that are neither fast action nor slow—they are habits of inaction, often tied to fear or unclear responsibilities. You can turn the tide of inaction by cultivating a culture with a bias for action. Here are some ways:

  • Call for the owner. Ask “What’s the next step and who owns it?” Meetings can get so bogged down in exploring issues that this simple question is so often overlooked. Don’t leave an issue unassigned without a next step and owner, even if it’s to go away and report back after someone has thought slowly about it.
  • Stay on your feet. Reduce the number of unproductive meetings with your team by implementing a “standing” meeting where everyone stands for the duration of the session. The singular objective is to give each team member two minutes (or less) to answer the question, “What do you need to push forward your most important task?” With everyone on their feet, scope drift is less likely to happen and you’ve reinforced the importance of action. For added emphasis, call them weekly “Push Forward” meetings, “Tiger Teams,” or something similar.
  • Shine the light. Our eyes are naturally attracted to light, so when you shine the light on someone else’s initiative, others soon learn that action-based discovery is culturally more important than discussion-based discovery. You may have to go on the hunt to find examples, but probably not for long. And putting yourself on a mission to promote other’s actions in your organization strengthens your own bias for action as well. Win-win.

Not everyone is naturally wired with a bias for action. That does not make them lazy or bad employees. It simply means they are more comfortable knowing what’s expected before they bring out their best. When you signal trust in your team members by cultivating a bias for action, you bring out the best in them and in yourself.

What are some of the ways you’ve cultivated a bias for action?

Comment on this post

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.