You don’t know until you do

It is easy with hindsight to explain why improvement interventions had an unexpected result, missed the mark, or did more harm than good, and yet organisations seem to launch into them with the confidence that they will work.

I think some of this stems from the persistence of the fallacy that the world (or at least our workplace) is a simple linear system. And some comes from necessary false confidence from those who know it’s not predictable but they have to motivate the rest who still believe the fallacy.

As consultants, at Teal Unicorn we tell it like it is. We don’t know what the answer is, we don’t know what will happen if we try something, we can’t guarantee results, nor even that the results will be positive, let alone zero risk. All work is an experiment. We don’t know until we do. In that lovely saying, “suck it and see”. Given the range of possible outcomes, it makes more sense statistically to assume it won’t work and take steps to prepare for that:
● Resilience to cope with negative consequences
● Learning to capture the value from failure and success
● Agility to take advantage of these learnings

Reactions range from puzzlement to horror, with a smattering of amused acknowledgement from those who know about the fallacy.

It’s all part of the learning journey. You can’t advance towards better modern Open* ways of working if you are going to advance with certainty, in big-bang planned changes. If we are going to adopt better ways of work, we need to use those ways to execute the adoption.

(Do we always come on this strong? No. Sometimes it is necessary to exude more confidence than we feel, if only to convince an organisation – especially senior executives – to take the first steps.but it’s not a comfortable mode and we quickly move beyond it)


  • Open” is our word for Human Systems Adaptability, the whole range of domains of better ways of working that are emerging as society advances.