How Experimental Are You?

The concept of this book originated ten years ago whilst the authors were watching a baseball game on television (and no doubt drinking beer).  Who would have thought that their idea of sharing insights and best practices has touched so many people in the world who aim to create a shift in culture, change the status quo and increase the practise of leadership?

Leaders need to: find different ways to approach working and challenging their talent, engage people who aren’t concerned about climbing the ladder and influence those where authority doesn’t come into play.


If you are like many people I encounter, you might be too busy to take out a week to experiment with the dynamics of Adaptive Leadership. So, here’s a suggestion, read this book. Take all the time you need and do participate in the endless supply of reflection and action activities.

I found this book on my iPad; it was a great surprise when I realised Sunday night that I hadn’t started my week’s read. So, whilst attempting to speed read it, I kept being interrupted and being pulled into the vortex of experimentalism … wanting to reflect and then try out what is suggested.


This is a ‘hands-on’ practical guide containing stories, tools, diagrams, cases studies and worksheets to help you develop your skills as an adaptive leader, able to take people outside their comfort zones, assess and address the toughest challenges.

Grab a notebook and work through the five parts. Immediately you’ll identify that it will take courage and conviction to participate, that viewing the challenge as a System is half the challenge and taking the lead yourself is the only way to get people following you knowing that you’ll be outside of your repertoire.

Adaptive Leadership is an iterative process involving three key activities:

1.      Observing events and patterns around you,

2.      Interpreting what you are observing – developing multiple hypotheses about what is really going on , and

3.      Designing interventions based on the observations and interpretations to address the adaptive challenge you have identified.

To simplify these activities, the metaphor, ‘On the Balcony’, above the dancefloor, is used to help us depict the distance required to gain a perspective of ‘what’s really happening’; asking us to reflect and answering questions. And to experiment with our reflections, ‘On the practice field’ – asks you to put these thoughts and ideas to the test.

Like in Your Leadership Edge, (one of my recently reviewed books), we differentiate an adaptive challenge from a technical challenge: Adaptive leadership is the practice of mobilising people to tackle tough challenges and thrive. They can only be addressed through changing priorities, beliefs, habits and loyalties, whereas technical problems, albeit varying in complexity and criticality, have known solutions and can be implemented by know-how.

Like the useful ‘balcony’ metaphor, we are reminded throughout the book of concepts which we may have stored in our ‘tool box’ yet forgotten to use and continue to use the same instruments rather than experimenting. We are habitual, and we have defaults and this is a new habit forming guide.

With the use of ‘highlighter’ in my reader app, I think I identified half the book as useful. So, to select a few highlights to share is a challenge in itself!


We view leadership as a verb, not a job.

Leadership is necessary when logic is not the answer.

Shared Language – is important in leading adaptive change. When people begin to use the same words with the same meaning, they communicate more effectively, minimise misunderstandings and gain the sense of being on the same page even when grappling with significant differences on the issues.

Orchestrate Conflict – in a world where most people sweep conflict aside or hide it, rather than addressing it and potentially using it to your advantage, it should be treated as a discipline. Being aware that we all have varying conflict tolerance capacities we must surface conflicts if we’re falling short of our aspirations.  Tease out the unacknowledged differences in perspectives and acknowledge the many competing visions values and views.

System – we are a system, made of a system and part of a system. Our ability to see issues as systemic rather than being personal, allows us to have multiple interpretations of how to solve the challenge.


What’s your purpose? Difficult if you love being immersed in day to day operations rather than holding yourself to your higher purpose.

Engaging above and below the neck – connecting with all the dimensions of the people you lead, their mind and their heart.

Video yourself – leading a team meeting. Watch it with your team and track your tone, volume, emotion, and energy. Pinpoint the moments when you seem most engaged and when the audience seems engaged and unengaged. Brainstorm ways you can improve our ability to speak from the heart. (I do this in my Presentation skills workshops – it works a treat.)

The critical message jumping out of this book is the need to live life as a leadership laboratory. Seeking out opportunities to experiment, potentially before actioning a challenge before you and importantly, reflecting continuously.

I hope you do take on the challenge to read The Practice of Adaptive Leadership. I know many of you will struggle to do this. As I type these final words, I have a bottle of wine waiting for me. (It’s Friday night at 5pm) It’s been my reward to push through and finish reading, practising and writing.

I believe a team read might work best or like many, you can outsource your practising to work with a Coach. Connect with me and I’ll hold you accountable to work through the experiments!

LOUISE THOMSON is endeavouring to read 52 Business/Professional/Personal Development books in 52 weeks. Yep, that’s one a week. As I read each book, I’ll share my thoughts, learning, and recommendations. If there is a book that you’ve been meaning to read, let me know and I’ll read it for us!”


Louise is passionate about leadership. She is excited by observing great leadership in action and regularly blogs and tweets about her observations.

the flow

Keep up to date with Flow Leadership news and upcoming programs.