Confusion: The Force That Powers Meaningful Change

The wisest leaders will welcome the discomfort of confusion as an opportunity that provides reflection, learning, and organizational alignment.

Untold billions of dollars are wasted every year through misguided investment in training systems and software that don’t work.

The impact of wasted spending totals well into the trillions of dollars every year, considering the costs of poorly led organizations, inefficient workflows, and human capital that’s deployed improperly.

This creates an existential challenge for nearly every enterprise. The underlying challenge that faces any business isn’t access to capital, the creation of exciting products, or the development of clever marketing plans. Businesses succeed—and failbecause of their people; human psychology is the most critical component to business success.

Teams that thrive bring a deep understanding of human psychology and—even more importantly—put that understanding to work in the moments when it will be most effective.

The Discomfort of Confusion

Most often, the best learning moments lie within times of confusion. Organizations that understand and take advantage of the opportunities provided by moments of confusion are building stronger teams. Those that go a step further, knowing how to predict confusion and knowing how to put systems into place to convert potential confusion into learning, are creating the bedrock for business success.

We don’t want to be confronted by our blind spots, our mistaken beliefs or the awareness our mental maps have proven to be wrong. Because confusion feels so awful, we want to move quickly to make the confusion go away.

An example: The sales director tells the CEO the company is about to have a big revenue miss this quarter—$80 million in sales instead of the $100 million everyone expected. Confusion is the immediate result. Nobody feels comfortable. The CEO jumps into problem-solving mode, reviews tactics that served him well over the last two decades and begins firing off solutions such as a short-term boost to the marketing budget.

Smart organizations and the coaches that advise them, however, recognize that confusion doesn’t result from a momentary issue that can be solved with in-the-moment orders fired off by top managers. This confusion, like in most instances, is a systems problem. It’s a lagging indicator of months or years of decisions about products, staffing arrangements, distribution channels, and a multitude of other issues.

The Opportunity of Confusion

In lieu of resorting to familiar narratives to resolve issues, successful leaders view the discomfort of confusion as an opportunity to learn new ways of doing things. They use the fuel of confusion to take a fresh and honest look at themselves and the systems that are integral to their businesses.

The most important systems, of course, are those that support the organization’s people.

Far too often, managers fail to design roles that will meet the organization’s changing needs. They design positions based on their past experiences, which often don’t reflect today’s reality.

When they recruit, managers often fail to recognize the biases that are deeply rooted in human psychology. They’re more comfortable when they hire people who look, sound, and act like themselves.

New employees often begin work with a loose idea of their goals and expectations of them upon their initial onboardings. When problems arise, managers fail to search beyond superficial answers to discover the true, systemic roots of an issue.

Focus on Leaders

Far too often, training focuses on workers and mid-level supervisors. If we’re honest with ourselves, the problem in most organizations starts with the highest level of leadership at a company.

Training courses and workshops seldom help when facing a crisis that focuses their attention on learning. Textbooks and self-help manuals provide equally limited help. It’s rare that leaders mired in a confusing situation are reading a truly helpful book at that exact moment.

The most effective training makes coaching available to leaders at the moments they are most confused. It anticipates points of potential failure and provides a path to fix them. It draws on the findings of evolutionary biology, neuroscience, and psychology to teach leaders to unleash the potential of their people. It’s based on data about people’s real-world behavior within an organization—not their wishful sentiments—to help leaders keep their teams well aligned.

Leaders of increasing numbers of growing companies ranging from startups to established organizations within private equity firms’ portfolios are adopting these processes to unlock the potential of their teams. They’re facing the discomfort of confusion about asking the right questions to generate a competitive advantage.

Funding to Move Forward

New, leader-focused training modules require the right financial partners to support and validate this method. Decathlon Capital Partners, a leading funder of growth companies, recently made a substantial investment in this method to help bring about greater learning in times of confusion. The revenue-based financing, which will support further development of a talent development platform, will be repaid from future revenues and didn’t require any exchange of equity.

This type of financing is beneficial to support initiatives that will drive new revenue. Those new revenues, in turn, can be used to repay the advance. It’s helpful, too, to work with a financial partner whose interests in revenue growth at our company are so clearly aligned with our own.

Embracing the Confusion

Every leader will confront a confusing moment. The wisest of them will welcome the discomfort as an opportunity that provides reflection, learning, and organizational alignment that delivers organizational brilliance.

Jeff Hunter
Jeff Hunter, an award-winning technology and services entrepreneur, writer, thought-leader, and CEO coach, is founder and CEO of Talentism Inc.