photo by Imapix - Gaëtan Bourque, flickr artist
photo by Imapix - Gaëtan Bourque, flickr artist

you might say: “wait, what do you mean?! i thought this was a blog about good management? pushing people beyond their limits sounds entirely contradictory.” and to that i’ll reply: often times people set their limits before they know what those limits are. by pushing them beyond their limits, you’re actually helping them find out their true capacity for great things.

in sociology, there’s a concept called a “breaching experiment.” a beaching experiment is when you intentionally do something that may be considered taboo or otherwise go against — or breach — society’s generally accepted definition of what is ‘right’ or ‘proper’ behavior, with the intent to find out just how far someone (or some people) may allow you to push the envelope. for example, funny hats. it’s perfectly acceptable to go out in public on a regular basis with a baseball cap, or a beanie in the wintertime, even if that team is the oakland athletics or your beanie is a bright pink. some may question your choice in team or color, but they won’t question your choice in hat. if you, however, on a regular basis were to wear a baseball cap with clapping hands, or one of those hardhats with the beer cans on the side, people may begin to question your choice of hat. that all depends on the company you keep.

in sociological breaching experiments, you see the boundaries and you overstep them intentionally to see what kind of reaction you’ll get. a good manager will see the boundaries that people set for themselves and intentionally try to push them beyond their limits.

of course, it goes without mentioning that it’s important to keep these miniature experiments in a controlled environment. you wouldn’t want someone working on an important client deliverable only to become completely flustered and make mistakes. start off with small, personal tasks at a quickened pace or demand higher quality. then move to larger yet internal deliverables. and if your subject passes with flying colors, then you can be confident that when the times comes you can count on that person to perform at their very best because you helped them discover just what that means.

push people beyond their limits, and you might just be surprised with how they respond.