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"Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try." Yoda

Try: to make an effort to do something. To attempt to accomplish or complete something. Trying is effort - but sometimes, we don't need effort. We need results. Luke Skywalker used Yoda's wisdom to fight the Empire; can you use it to help your organization thrive?

Attempt vs. Accomplishment

What Yoda is really asking Luke is, "Are you committing to a result? Or are you committing to an activity?"In that instance, Luke needed to deliver. He said was going to "try." Not good enough. He either had to do it and get results, or not. End of story.

In this sense, "try" can be disadvantageous to goal completion. The word implies that the result is in question. Board certified counselor Michael J. Formica writes, "As soon as we say we're "trying" to do something, we build into our intention the potential for failure, or, at the very least, limited success. When we say we are "doing" something, it sets us up to succeed right out of the gate."

Is Trying Ever Enough?

The short answer: yes. In 5 Steps to Expert, Paul Schempp outlines the five steps from novice to expert (beginner, capable, competent, proficient, expert.) If we give a beginner a completely new type of task and expect significant results, we're fooling ourselves - and setting them up for failure. At this stage, we are truly looking for them to try. To begin, to learn.

On the other hand, if you have someone who performs at a competent level, or higher, we don't expect effort. We expect results.

Consider a kid on the Little League field. He's trying. He's missing pop flies, striking out, or getting tagged out at first. Great; next year, he'll miss less, strike out less, and run a little faster going into first. A MLB player who pulls in a multi-million dollar paycheck can't do this. It doesn't matter if he's trying. He's an expert; he needs to produce.

Room to Fail

What if you give that pro baseball player a basketball or a football? All of a sudden, this "expert" becomes a beginner. He has to try; the result is in question - he might fail. This applies to anyone within your organization: the junior account executive who you ask to take a client meeting for the first time; the direct report you want to head up a team project; a new hire who has to acclimate to everything and everyone.

If they "fail," then it might be that they attempted to do something new, something outside their comfort zone. The trying is what matters at this stage. They'll fail less next time, and when they become competent, they'll produce results consistently.

Most people need this learning curve. The movies make it look easy: get dropped into the Andes, figure out how to make fire and get food from a source other than the grocery store for the first time in your life. Got it. Get shipwrecked, learn to spear fish, talk to a volleyball, build a raft and escape. Win.

The rest of us try and fail. Then we try, learn, and fail. Then we try, learn, and succeed. Then we do. Trying has its place - and it is up to leaders to determine where that place is.

A Culture of Try and Results

The reality is that we do need a try/attempt culture; innovation and divergent thinking comes when people have room to fail. But that needs to be balanced with a results-oriented culture. Knowing when to ask for attempts and when to ask for accomplishment is critical.

For example, you need your accounting function to put together your monthly financials. They're competent; they know what to do. They can't "try." They must do. On the other hand, you ask a team to put together some ideas for improving an established process. The result is in question: they may turn out some great ideas. They may not. The goal is the learning.

If we're honest, we always want good results! But we have to be realistic about getting them. Are our people still learning? Are they competent, proficient, or expert? Are they handling tasks which are new to them or which they've completed countless times before? Do they have to stretch or is it within their grasp?

We want our people to step outside their comfort zones and try. There are some folks who are content to come in at 9:00, do their usual work, and leave at 5:00. Today, we're moving too fast; you can't afford people who want to live in their comfort zone. You need people who can try, learn, succeed, and then do.

There is a try. It just can't replace the do in every case. Sometimes effort and learning matters; other times, you need results. Decide when and to whom each applies, and the force will be with you.


Larry Hart

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