Responsible Experiments LO10163
Wed, 25 Sep 1996 09:17:58 -0400

Replying to LO10077 --

> From: Rol Fessenden <76234.3636@CompuServe.COM>
> ....
> One manager said, after a failed experiment, "You knew this was going to
> happen didn't you? Why'd you let me do it?" My answer was, in essence,
> that my experience told me it wouldn't work. On the other hand, I have
> seen others do things I had failed to do, so my experience was not the
> final word. Third, it would be destructive to her for me to say no, or
> alternatively, for me to avoid the destructive impact would literally take
> a lot more effort from me than giving permission to try. Next the cost of
> a failure was not cheap, but it was manageable. Next, our management is
> more trusting of us than ever, so we can fail without losing our
> credibility. Finally, I thought she would learn more from the 'try' than
> from the 'no'. When I told her my reasoning, she responded, "Oh. I'll
> have to try that, too."


Thanks for your in-depth response to my query. I want to highlight
several points, just to make sure I've read you correctly, and to tell
another "experiment" story.

1) Leadership by example. You have allowed your supervisees to see your
process, not just the finished product.

2) This stuff is not for everyone. You tried to hire people who could
catch onto the concept easily, and people who really could not understand
were eased into other positions.

3) The experiments were kept relatively "safe". You protected your people
to allow them the safety to fail without disasterous results (both
interpersonally and financially). I see this as one sense of

4) The experiments were about responsibility. You gave up control to your
people so they could experience and experiment with responsibility in
limited ways so they could become better at assuming responsibility in the

Great stuff!!!

Here's my story (actually, a supervisor's story):

"A man had a son, who was often sick as a toddler and needed to get
repeated injections from a doctor. The son developed a phobia about
needles, which did not diminish. When the boy was ten years-old, he got a
splinter and asked his father for a needle to get the splinter out. The
father was surprised by the request (the son had always asked an adult to
get the splinter out), but complied, and watched as his son worked to get
the splinter out. The father felt the urge to intervene at several
points, especially when the splinter could have been removed easily and
the son persisted in digging into his finger. The father's inner tension
resolved, however, when he realized that the son was working more on his
needle phobia than on getting the splinter out. By struggling with the
needle himself, the son was gaining experience with control over a needle
(something he had not had as a toddler) and working toward a sense of

I've used the above story several times with clients (and with myself with
my work with clients), and I think it captures an important principle.
Your example has helped me extend my "model" from control and mastery to
include responsibility. Thanks!



Jeff Brooks <>

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