To move quickly, go slowly (at first)

I (re)learned a valuable lesson this week. We design and guide new networks to move quickly, to be come more agile. The paradox, however, is that you cannot rush the formation of these trusted networks. Let me set the stage.

This week, a team from the Purdue Agile Strategy Lab traveled to NASA Ames Research Center. Our challenge: Develop a more productive approach to stimulating translational research between two NASA units. Space Biology focuses on basic research in life sciences: the scientists perform research on everything from cells to small animals. The second unit — Human Research Program — focuses on applied research. They are trying to “burn down” the risks of humans traveling in space.

There’s good reason to believe that the two units, with closer collaboration — can improve the productivity of each other’s research. But how?

That’s where our agile strategy workshop came in.

We designed the workshop using principles of Strategic Doing, a proven protocol for designing and guiding complex collaborations. In two days, we set ourselves the goal of designing a research roadmap for collaborations between the two units.

All went well through the first day and a half. We identified 20 collaboration scenarios. We distributed these scenarios to four teams of 6 scientists and program managers. We asked them to characterize each scenario using characteristics that were important to both units and to NASA overall.

At the tale end of the workshop, over the last two hours, we tried to speed the process. We brought everyone together to discuss priorities across the twenty collaborations. This task is exceptionally complex and difficult for scientist to undertake. We largely failed to get enough insight during the last two hours to move closer to our roadmap.

We would have been better off keeping to our original design. Slowing down and moving at a more deliberate pace. By speeding up, we created a bit more confusion and uncertainty.

The lesson: To move quickly (eventually), go slowly (at first).

Ed Morrison is Director of the Purdue Agile Strategy Lab. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. For the past five or six years, he has been developing new, agile approaches to strategy in open, loosely joined networks, a discipline he calls Strategic Doing. Prior to starting his economic development work, Ed worked for Telesis, a corporate strategy consulting firm. In this position, he served on consulting teams for clients such as Ford Motor Company, Volvo, and General Electric. He conducted manufacturing cost studies in the U.S., Japan, Mexico, Canada, Italy, Sweden, and France. Ed started his professional career in Washington, D.C., where he has served as a legislative assistant to an Ohio Congressman, staff attorney in the Federal Trade Commission, and staff counsel in the US Senate. He holds a BA degree cum laude with honors from Yale University and MBA and JD degrees from the University of Virginia.

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