In a recent issue of FastCompany, Hamdi Ulukaya, the Founder and Ceo of Chobani (yogurt) describes how after he had purchased a decommissioned Kraft Factory with a loose idea of making yogurt, he wasn’t certain where to start or what to do or how to guide his employees. He settled on sending them to the hardware store for paint and supplies to paint an exterior brick wall the company colors.
When one employee offered, “Hamdi, tell me you have better ideas than this one,” he responded, “Mike, I don’t have a second plan. I just thought the wall needed paint!”
He later confessed, “I did not know any other ideas as how I was going to make it to the next month.”
The example of painting the wall became a critical value that pushed people to take action, to do something, while searching for the next thing.
I love Hamdi’s honesty. He says what most people in positions of leadership know but don’t talk about:
- There isn’t always a clear, visible path forward.
- In most cases, there’s never a clear, visible path forward.
- We’re going to have to flail a bit while we figure out how to get it right.
- Sometimes, you have to do something completely off-script to gain a sense of direction.
Most people don’t tolerate ambiguity very well. For much of our lives, we are taught to take instructions and implement them.
- Color in the lines.
- Follow the rubric or your grade will suffer.
- Play according to the rules.
In reality, we should challenge our children and students and team members to turn appreciate the opportunity inherent in ambiguity. The challenge isn’t to fill in the ambiguity with clarity, but to bring creativity and innovation to bear by coloring outside the lines, ignoring the rubric and writing their own rules. (See: Are Your Management Approaches Stifling Creativity?)
When the rules or the rubric are not pre-defined, innovation and creativity emerge.
Learning to accept and embrace ambiguity and finding ways to turn it into an advantage is critical for leading in today’s environment.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
Effective leaders are inspired by the flexibility to create according to their rules. They inspire the same in their teams. Even if it starts with painting the wall.