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Positivity Kabuki and optimism bias destroy innovative product management

Getting clients to understand the necessity of failure in an iterative process is the most difficult task for any consultant. In a collaborative build--or in any collaborative relationship really--every element cannot be shiny and perfect. Success is built upon failing fast and moving on.

The literal definition of iterative is “doing something again and again to improve it.” There must be acceptance of what the Japanese call Kaizen, or continuous improvement. All too many C-Suitess have succumbed to ‘positivity kabuki’ where every presentation, report and conversation must be “Up and to the Right.”(McKinsey Partners Chris Bradley, Martin Hirt and Sven Smith extensively study this phenomena in their book Strategy Beyond the Hockey Stick.) Writing about Jeffrey Immelt’s departure from GE, Erik Sherman pinpointed the obsession that all news must be good news as a critical failure.

The "bad news blinders" approach isn't unusual. I've seen it repeatedly, whether in companies I was writing about or working at. There is a mania in American business that praises unbound positive thinking, as if a smile and can-do attitude will overcome everything. But they can't.

That article from Inc. Magazine is over two years old and the problem has only gotten worse. In fact since 2018 'Positivity Kabuki' has become a systemic issue that could cripple business decisions. That biased corporate culture now extends beyond the boardroom and into middle management within many Fortune 1000 companies. Sadly the demanding timelines of venture equity means that 'Positivity Kabuki' has also overtaken the vast majority of start-ups as well. At this point in our economic cycle (43 quarters of sustained growth), the ultimatum for every project to be perfect-out-of-the-gate is hampering true innovation.

Rarely is any one company or individual actor truly nefarious. and a tremendous amount of improvement could come from simple meeting management. Innovation can happen within large organizations is you set up the right permission structures. Removing non-stakeholders and people outside the project success chain creates a bond of solidarity where appropriate risks can be managed and rewarded. Nothing is perfect out-of-the-gate and truly creative solutions need a virtuous critique feedback loop. There is over four decades of evidence from education to manufacturing that these processes work. Freehand Circle is simply calling for a return to common sense, untethered from the inanity of 'Positivity Kabuki.'

Finally concepts like 10x and Industry disruptor are important goals--but have become boardroom weapons that kill critical modest improvements. Depending on the field a 1% improvement could yield staggering results.

Yet because of their composition and goals Fortune 1000 C-Suites are by -and-large not equipped to think about users first. True innovators like Elon Musk, Jack Dorsey and Indra Nooyi are few and far between.

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