Perry Timms
3 min readSep 9, 2023

I think we’ve underestimated this little word for, perhaps, ever.

Photo by Pixabay: https://www.pexels.com/photo/architecture-black-and-white-challenge-chance-277593/

I mean, what word is more inviting to think, act, do, test, reveal, and deploy than this:

“If that’s not worked/going to work, what do we do instead?”

I mean, that’s powerful, right? When we’re stuck, what can we do instead of being stuck?

I see a lot of people calling things out, shooting them down. And perhaps, you, know, when we’re being sold duds, that’s great.

I see less of what they’d suggest we do instead. How do we stop believing in doing and using the dud thing, and what do we do instead of that dud thing?

I like to think that if we don’t agree, dislike, cast doubt on, and wish to erase something not useful, mildly harmful or even dangerous from our “tools” we need something else instead. That thing exists to do something, and when we find out it isn’t as useful as we’ve been told, or led to believe or even experienced ourselves, we need an alternative. Something else instead of that thing.

I’ll give you a pertinent example — and yes, here I go again.

The hierarchy in working life.

It (hierarchy) can serve a purpose that’s good. Controlled and efficient efforts, decision-making lines, and the like. A career pathway even.

But it can also oppress, and create power dynamics not in service of the noblest sort, distort people’s behaviour to be toxic and biased and slow things down.

So instead of a hierarchy, there’s more dispersed power, agency and autonomy in self-managed systems of work.

Both have their plusses and minuses. I see more plusses in the self-managed ways of working and through 15 years of research, experience and application, it’s my instead.

I’ve evidence (from others and my own) of the difference it can make. The developed individuals willingly give their best to something they believe in.

I don’t just say “hierarchies are bad” I have an alternative, “instead”. And there’s merit in the instead. OK not dominant as there are more hierarchies than not, but it’s still an “instead”.

Here’s another.

Mechanistic performance reviews.

I recall the fanfare of organisations that dropped all manner of elements of their performance appraisal system.

But instead of?

I’m not sure they’d really thought that through. And indeed, in 2016, this HBR article said “Let’s not kill the performance review yethere.

The “instead” wasn’t really that well-conceived it seems.

And another one where instead becomes a bit weaponised and used as a smokescreen.

We are struggling a bit, perhaps underperforming. We then become “whataboutists”. We could be working things out for ourselves, we spotlight allegations about others to “instead” the conversation towards them. “But they don’t…” “And they haven’t…”.

A good instead would be “Sure, I see it differently, but I’d like to know how to improve. I’m doing things this way, what should I be doing instead of that?”

So there’s my agitation. We don’t think “instead” enough especially when we’re being critical of something that’s “not working”.

  • Something’s not working for you? What do you do instead? How might that be for other people not like you?
  • Something that has been a lauded pop-culture piece that you doubt? And you find research that supports your view it’s a bit naff, lame or over-hyped? Well, what do you suggest instead of just tearing down that thing?
  • Critical thinking isn’t just criticising something. It’s calling for you to think and be imaginative in what instead of the thing you’re criticising. Not just willful destruction but the crafting of an alternative.

So if we’re not using instead enough, we’re shouting at the clouds a bit.

So we could say in a hypothesis sense Instead of accepting this mediocre outcome, what else can we do?”

This leads me to close with my hero Russell Ackoff again:

“In problem-solving, it’s essential to explore and appreciate a wide range of alternatives before settling on a solution. The best solution often emerges when we’ve thoroughly considered the full spectrum of possibilities.”

Alternatives — instead. A small word with big power.



Perry Timms

CEO PTHR |2x TEDx speaker | Author: Transformational HR + The Energized Workplace | HR Most Influential Thinker 2017–2023 | Soulboy + Northampton Town fan