Leaders, Empty Your Cache
- By Robert Pater
- Feb 01, 2010
Is your cup empty or too full? This expression refers to a well-known
Zen teaching story of a "wanna be" with a mug so filled to
the brim there's no room for fresh tea. "Knowing it all," like "Ain't
been invented here," gets in the way of acquiring new information
Relying on old information can have adverse impacts. For example,
when crossing a road — even if you checked and the street was clear
just 30 seconds ago — a "suddenly there" vehicle can still hit you. Don't
get caught believing what you thought was true some
time ago is still accurate now. It's a dynamic world as
worker morale changes, the market swings, customer
In a similar vein, those who work with the Internet
may have discovered their Web browser can get clogged
with old data, to the point it doesn't show updated
information. The old has blocked the new from coming
through. This can be a "cache" problem. Designed
to save time, a cache is a temporary location where a
browser saves webpages on your computer in order to
reload the same address quickly. But when a site is continually
updating — akin to changes in a fluid company
— caching can lead to seeing stale data, then mistakenly
believing it's fresh.
The solution is simple on a computer: periodically
empty the Web browser's cache with a mouse click.
Similarly, leaders should also "empty their cache" if they
want to make best decisions and strategies that are based
on most-current pictures. Here are common leadership cache problems
— and what to do about them:
- Is what you think you see all there really is? Am I missing something
potentially important? First, develop a "most-resistant strategy." I.e., find
those managers and workers who vocally or quietly dig in their heels
to changes you want to make. Privately poll them, either individually
or as a small group (be cautious about the latter), to hear their fears and
concerns. In addition to getting needed info, this also helps promote
When they're talking, write down what they say. This sends the
message that you're listening, that you value their thoughts — and it
takes the pressure off you to make continuous eye contact, especially
with "pointed" communications. If you find yourself getting defensive,
take notes, reminding yourself to consider these later when you feel
more calm. Above all, don't shut off the stream of feedback because 1)
it may be accurate, and strong leaders always welcome even bittersweet
reality, and 2) you don't want to send the message that honest feedback
is forbidden. Squelching critical feedback will shut down the flow of
needed information you receive and also diminish leadership credibility.
Second, lower your LOAR (Level of Accepted Risk). Ask yourself,
what am I assuming or taking for granted? What have I accepted as
unchangeable because of past inertia? Where are the limits I don't
question, the caved-into governors on our speed of change? Again, a
task group of truth-tellers (Yes-people need not apply) can be a critical
resource here. Find those who are capable of enlightening the emperor
he has no clothes.
- Are previous cultural "realities" blocking us from change? Update older
company self-images. Even though a strategy didn't work several years
ago does not mean it wouldn't now be eff ective if updated and applied
to our current situation.
You and others within your company are likely now
more battle-tested and capable than 10 years ago. Staff
may have changed. So you may be able to tackle difficult
challenges that held sway in the past.
Consider the "Wash it off " strategy. One of my
martial arts instructors remarked that, when looking in
the mirror each morning, he mentally washed off his
old way of performing techniques because, "If I do the
throw today the same way I did it yesterday, in twenty
years I'll be doing it the same as yesterday." Best leaders
consciously wash off old habits that only worked to an
- Are biases limiting us from going to the next level? For
example, if you define ergonomics only as redesign and
retooling, this blocks you from even considering behavioral
methods for workers better fitting with their tasks.
Similarly, I've heard some proclaim, "If it can't
be measured, it doesn't exist." This limiting attitude
makes the flawed assumption that right now we have
all measurement tools that will ever be available. Carried further, this
bias would deny that quarks and other subatomic particles existed a
hundred years ago, as then there wasn't technology to track these.
Strong leaders employ a wide array of measurement devices, including
their own read of small cues, as Miyamoto Musashi wrote, "perceiving
those things that cannot be seen." Similarly, there are remarkably
eff ective techniques for preventing slips/trips/falls and strains/sprains
that are too small to externally monitor.
- Is there technology for change we don't know about? Every day, there
are numerous scientific breakthroughs. And other staff may have access
to information that hasn't yet reached you. Be sure to benchmark
with those in diff erent sectors, as well as reading/listening to industry
competitors. Oft en, in interviews, leaders will reveal useful information
they wouldn't otherwise dispense.
Also poll within. "Is there technology we're not currently using that
might help us break through to a higher level?"
By emptying their cache, best leaders refresh themselves, their view
of workers, competitors, customers, and the world. And craft new and
best-fit solutions for critical decision points.
This article originally appeared in the February 2010 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.
Robert Pater is Managing Director of Strategic Safety Associates and MoveSMART®. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.