Building a great business is no easy feat.

As leaders, we need to know how to motivate, encourage and get the best out of your staff. Makes sense, right? At the end of the day, your business is only as successful as your people.

But rigidity in business is something I've always struggled with. I often wonder how much creativity and ingenuity is lost in the workplace because we enforce rigid structures, systems and rules on our employees.

"Show up at these specific times," a boss might say. "Sit at one specific desk, work with people in your own department, don't question leadership, listen to your boss, deliver on these set KPI's."

The list goes on.

Sure, many businesses have come a long way from what I just described. But are we genuinely fostering a creative environment? Is rigidity killing your business without you even realizing it?

I recently read Algorithms To Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths. I was impressed--it has a great message that has made me start questioning the impact of rigidity on the "modern" workplace.

So together, let's explore the consequences of enforced rigidity and see how we can learn from the tragic mistakes of others.

A Story Worth Remembering

U.S. law enforcement officers, especially FBI agents, are among the best drilled in the world. Some positions require decades of experience.

Whether it's repetitive line of fire training, hand to hand combat, hostage situation drills or multi-distance range targets, every movement and motion is choreographed and coordinated to become second nature. After a while, muscle memory kicks in and these professionals can perform challenging tasks in a matter of seconds

Sounds great, right? Not necessarily.

In Christian and Griffiths' book, the duo explores how rigid drills can cause "training scars" that lead to counter-intuitive outputs. The FBI apparently learned this first-hand. As part of their pistol training, Christian and Griffiths write, FBI agents are drilled to fire two shots and holster their weapon--regardless of the outcome and whether or not there is still a present danger.

After one death of an FBI agent, a number of reports started to surface that didn't seem to make sense. The agent had fired two shots and holstered his weapon, despite the fact that his target still posed an imminent threat to his life. Incredibly, muscle memory took over and cost the man his life.

Shortly thereafter, stories emerged of another officer who had been killed in even more dramatic circumstances. This FBI agent disarmed his assailant and then handed the gun straight back to him, just as he had done time and again with his trainers in practice.

As a result, the FBI was forced to change their training methods. All of which got me thinking... are we doing the same thing with our businesses?

How to Detect and Avoid Over-Fitting

Rigidity and over-fitting could be costing you big time. But how can we detect rigidity? And is it even possible to cross-validate the value of free, intelligent thinking?

Think of it this way: Teams sometimes work to deliver key metrics, but fail to achieve the practical, real-world objective that you're trying to reach.

For example, say a web team is tasked with driving traffic to a new website and their success is solely measured on page views. The team overlooks key performance and quality controls in a bid to drive more people to the site.

They succeed in doing so, but the website itself lacks proper functionality. So is that really a success?

If you're looking to see how your business stacks up, here's a concrete strategy that you can use to detect and avoid over-fitting in your own business:

1. Cross-validation. If you give your team eight known key performance indicators, hold back two extra separate data points to check against. If your team's work outputs hit all eight regular key performance indicators, but wildly miss the two hidden ones, then there's a very high probability that counter-productive over-fitting is at play.

2. Improve contributing attributes. To discourage rigidity, break down the components of an objective and find ways to measure what needs to be improved in order to reach that goal. For the FBI, this meant measuring reflexes beyond the repetitive movement of disarming an assailant over and over again.

In business, instead of measuring overall sales performance, you could test listening and observation skills or problem solving and time management, for example. If your team scores poorly on different tests, you've probably detected another area of over-fitting.

Published on: Jan 27, 2017
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