Karl Weick and the power of small wins

In January 1984, Organisational Theorist, Karl Weick wrote a paper entitled:

Small Wins: Redefining the Scale of Social Problems,” American Psychologist.

In this seminal paper he suggested that often large-scale problems appear so big (e.g. climate change) that they feel too intimidating and hence we feel powerless to solve them.

On this point Weick notes,

“The massive scale on which social problems are conceived often precludes innovative action because the limits of bounded rationality are exceeded…People often define social problems in ways that overwhelm their ability to do anything about them.”

As a result, little or no action takes place.

Which means paradoxically that the problem is not addressed and can appear even bigger which results in even less action — and so on and so on…….

To overcome this inertia he suggested adopting a small wins strategy.

Which he defines as a “series of concrete, complete outcomes of moderate importance [that] build a pattern that attracts allies and deters opponents.”

This strategy of focusing on “a series of controllable opportunities of modest size that produce visible results”, works directly on the construction of a problem and indirectly on its resolution.

Applying small wins to innovation

I believe the exact situation occurs with leaders of medium to large organisations.

They know that innovation is important (it is ranked among the top 3 priorities in most management and leadership surveys).

But feel that the scale of building an innovative culture for example is simply too big hence nothing gets done.

This is why adopting Karl Weick’s small wins strategy to innovation might be a breakthrough idea.

Suddenly the scale of the challenge is smaller and more achievable.

The language is more positive.

And the perceived risk and cost reduced.

Small wins innovation feels more accessible and engaging for more people.

A definition of small wins innovation

This is my definition of small wins innovation.

‘The continuous process of making people’s lives, a little bit better — everyday.’

The features of this definition include:

– It has a continuous, cumulative & cultural impact

– Engages more people in innovative behaviour.

– Appeals to self-interest

– Helps consumers, clients, partners, peers or suppliers — everyday

– The aim is to build a simpler, more productive & profitable organization.

Small wins innovation is a new approach that can complement the the bigger, disruptive form of innovation.

I would love to discuss with you how to introduce this approach in your team and organisation.

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