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Home » Leadership, Teams

How to Challenge the Process – Gangnam Style

Submitted by on Sunday, 21 October 2012One Comment

challenge the process - gangnam styleThose familiar with The Leadership Challenge will know that the third practice of exemplary leaders is to Challenge the Process. Yet in Asia, the leadership practice of ‘Challenge the Process’ is often the most difficult to promote. Here’s why:

· Asians as a whole are much more risk averse than peoples from other continents. This means that to ‘challenge’ anything often has negative connotations and, more importantly, induces feelings of fear. So there is a bias to avoiding ‘challenge the process’ when it comes with so much risk. Obedience instead is more highly valued.

· ‘Challenge the Process’ is about continuous improvement – usually by trial and error. This means that mistakes are inevitable. But in Asian societies mistakes are associated with fear, partly because of the bullet point above, and partly because the education systems in Asia are obsessed with ‘right/wrong’ outcomes, to protect the ‘face’ of teachers. This carries through to adult life and so adults become used to a culture where mistakes must be avoided. This cramps risk-taking and it also cramps action.

There is the added whammy of the organisational dilemma covered in this previous article. So what can companies do to promote risk-taking?

Understanding the importance of ‘Challenge the Process’

Challenge the Process in The Leadership Challenge is about:

  • Experimenting and taking risks to drive continuous improvement
  • Searching for opportunities inside and outside of the organisation
  • Generating ‘small wins’ to successful change

Why does this matter in business?

It’s because we need to create regular feedback loops (a great example of a tech development feedback loop can be found in Efraim Pettersson’s presentation here, and there’s no reason this cannot be applied to more traditional businesses too).

Leadership Training Thailand

These feedback loops enable us to participate in ‘reality testing’. Basically, are the ideas we come up with just ideas, or are they opportunities? Can we improve on what we’ve got? How can we test that? How readily can we apply our hypothesis?

Following these feedback loops are as essential for traditional businesses as they are for tech projects – if not more so. And inthe Leadership Challenge, it’s part and parcel of the third leadership practice of ‘Challenging the Process.’

The trouble with Challenging the Process in Asia

The problem with ‘challenging the process’ in Asian societies, as we have seen, is that can be a damn painful undertaking. I mean – we’re trying to get people to take risks, make mistakes, and even disagree with each other – all things that Asians naturally really don’t like – OK OK – hate doing!

So how do we encourage this behaviour when there are no roots for it to grow from?

Here’s one solution…

How to Challenge the Process – gangnam style!

Gangnam style right now is big and, let’s face it, fun.

Fun is what you need to look to if you want to get risk averse Asians over a barrier. Fun is why Thai adverts regularly score highly in Cannes Advertising Awards (these guys have spent billions of dollars researching this and know their onions!) And fun is the energy that helps Asians forget the serious of risk aversion, the fear of making mistakes, and all those cultural constraints they have grown up with.

And fun can help your people challenge the process. Here’s how:

 1. Next time you’re stuck in an unproductive meeting or brainstorming session or ‘fear doom loop’ switch to youtube and play a gangnam video (we have included 2 below).

2. When you’ve all had a laugh watching it, explain that you’re going to play it again, and by the end of the video want everyone to be able to dance ‘gangnam style’.

3. Get everyone up dancing, then stop the video after one minute has elapsed. Split your team into pairs and encourage them to improve each other’s technique. They have one minute to do so.

4. Play the video again, for another minute. Take another break as above. Then repeat the process for a third time.

5. Ask ‘has there been any improvement?’ – ‘How did we improve?’ – You’ll find that those who improved followed a ‘trial and error’ process – or feedback loop between observe – idea – test – apply.

6. Now you can relate this to your task in hand – explain that mistakes are part of progress and something healthy and even fun – not something to be avoided.

….Voila! – You have just improved innovation and problem-solving in your team – gangnam style!

Try this at home!

As promised, here are the videos. And if you would like to break out of ruts similar to this with your team, why not look at The Leadership Challenge? It’s packed with great techniques and hands-on activities to help you lead – like the world’s best! You can contact us for more details here.

Gangnam Style – Videos

Here’s the original by Psy:


And here’s a hilarious take by Eton College in the UK:




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