To Improve Performance We Need To Do Two Things

Most organizations claim—and sincerely believe—that they want to increase insights and put them to use. But organizations stifle insights because they value predictability, the absence of errors.  The predictability trap is to arrange projects to run as smoothly as possible. The job of managers is much easier if they can accurately predict the workflow, resources, and schedules.

Insight is the opposite of predictable. Insights are disruptive. They come without warning, take forms that are unexpected, and open up unimagined opportunities. They are dis-organizing. Insights disrupt progress reviews because they reshape tasks and even revise goals. They carry risks —unseen pitfalls that can get managers in trouble.

Some studies found that people have an aversion to creative ideas, because if an idea is novel people automatically assume it isn’t practical, reliable, or error-free. Novel ideas are associated with failures. Creativity was connected with uncertainty. When people were motivated to reduce uncertainty they gave lower evaluations to creative ideas. Managers dislike uncertainty and unpredictability, and therefore distrust creativity.

The performance equation shows that to improve performance we need to do two things: we need to reduce errors and uncertainty and we also need to increase insights.


Ideally, reducing mistakes would at least help us gain insights but that’s not how it works. When we put too much energy into eliminating mistakes, we’re less likely to gain insights. Having insights is a different matter from preventing mistakes.

Summing-up: Most organizations care more about reducing errors and uncertainty than making discoveries. These forces―the desire for predictability and perfection ―aren’t values that organizations choose. They seem to be inherent in the very nature of organizations. This is the innovation dilemma most organizations face, manage the present while also creating the future.

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