February 24, 2018

Archives for June 2016

Dangerous questions

Worried manBeen reading Daniel Kahneman’s excellent and very useful “Thinking, Fast and Slow”…

He says: If asked a difficult question we don’t know the answer to, we will normally pick an easier one we do have an answer to, and provide the answer to that one instead. And we do that without realising we’re making the substitution. It’s an unconscious process.

That rings true, I believe.

Moreover, it seems to me…

If the question asked requires a yes or no answer, then our search for a seemingly related question we can answer in those binary terms may take us an especially long way from the starting point, with unpredictable results.

Maybe we should take more care with our questions.

We want you to step up (except when we don’t)

GatheringLeaders in businesses and organisations often say they want their people to step up and take more initiative.


Some, in the next breath, will say they want certain things done a certain way, and they’ll end up directing the action they want. Other times, they’ll push back when the to-be-empowered folk come forward with some new and different idea that doesn’t quite fit with their view of things.

In other words, they want their people to step up—except, that is, when they don’t.

Quite a difficult thing to get right: stepping up some of the time, and only then in someone else’s preferred manner.

Could you be in this predicament?

The right review arrangements might be what you’re missing.

Taking people along with you

Group working on a projectIt’s remarkable how often this comes up as a theme: the challenge of getting a group of people on board with a course of action.

Our natural inclination is often that the hard task in a situation is working out what to do and the easy bit is taking other people along with us.

But really…

It’s the other way round: Working out what to do is the easy bit and taking everyone else along with us is the hard part.

And so it makes sense to put that first: To recognise that time spent in the “social” process is worth it in the long run, and that we should organise around that.

This seems rather obvious but still we often do the opposite: We revert to working out the solution ourselves and then trying to sell it, which actually is much harder.

Much better to get the group to develop the solution and apply our expertise in guiding them in that process. Then we don’t need to sell the plan to them… because it’s already theirs.

It’s a fundamental trait of human nature not to resist things we say ourselves—and one that’s worth making use of.

Then it’s easy to take people along with us.

If we let go of the big goal…

Mount EverestIt’s seem slightly paradoxical, doesn’t it? If we put our big goal out of our mind and just focus on getting small things done, it’s easier to take those minor steps—to do the mundane. And so we make more progress towards our main objective.

The tasks we put in hand do need to contribute to the aim, of course. They need to be part of the plan. And we do need to have a clear idea of what our big goal is.

Assuming that to be the case…

Sometimes it’s easier to make progress if we stop worrying about the big thing we need to accomplish. Then we relax. And then we can get started.

This is worth remembering both for ourselves and anyone we might hope to lead.

If we stop worrying about the big goal; if we calmly accept its existence, and indeed the possibility that we might or might not get to the ultimate outcome, it could be that we will make more progress towards it.

That’s true even if “failure is not an option” funnily enough—perhaps especially if failure is not an option.

Can a business leader sell with the same approach as a salesperson?

Four people, two shaking handsThe processes of selling are well-known, though, of course, what’s most effective and appropriate varies from context to context. And there’s always room to get better at it.

An important question is whether it’s entirely open to a leader with more rounded responsibility for the business or organisation to sell in the same manner. Can they adopt conventional sales techniques? Or do they need to modify their approach?

Of course, you might be thinking business leaders don’t need to sell. They have somebody to do that for them. That’s not my experience. For the most part, business leaders need to at least get involved in bringing new business into their organisation. Indeed that’s often the most important part of their role.

And in comparison with the specialist salesperson, the business leader needs to meet different customer expectations. In particular, the customer infers the organisation’s values from its leader. And these need to match what the customer expects.

And also, because the leader has responsibility for delivery as well as sales, and everything else besides, they need to be convincing about the whole of the business in an end-to-end way, not just that they will be the customer’s representative in the company’s processes.

And it’s very definitely a relational sale if the leader is involved.

What do you think?

How should a business leader approach the sales process? As if they were a salesperson? Or something else?

The importance of sifting

The importance of siftingIt’s surprising what a difference it makes, thinking over our experiences and learning.

You’d imagine that if we put all that stuff into our heads the process would be automatic after that—that we could rely on our brains to process everything comprehensively; to form all the connections that there are to form; and to generate all the ideas there are to generate. After all, we’ve put it all in one pot.

In my experience, it doesn’t work like that. The “stuff” mostly just lies there.

Instead, to make the most of what we have—all that accumulated wisdom—we do need to find ways of sifting through our experiences and new things we’ve learned. We do need to do that deliberately. And we do need to create the opportunity for new patterns to emerge.

In other words, both time to reflect and some particular approach to reflection are important.

Talking things over with other people is obviously one way, especially if they have some skill in listening and questioning. Another is writing a journal. Whatever the specifics, expressing what’s inside stimulates new realisations. Particular frameworks and models and new ways of looking at things help.

It’s like we need to cross and recross the ground in different directions, connecting up the pieces in new ways, and sorting out what is most important.

In other words, we need to sift.

So much, so obvious maybe.

The question is: Are we sifting enough?

Learning our lines

Four people speaking in front of a laptopWe often invest a considerable amount of time learning about a new skill or way of thinking. We might read a book, for instance.

But then we tend to fail to go that little bit further that would bring us a real return on our investment of time and effort: We don’t take the trouble to commit the practical details to memory so that we can actually deploy them. We don’t learn our lines.


We could summarise the essentials of the new source of expertise and then take the trouble to memorise them. Then we would know them as well as know about them.

It makes all the difference…

Firstly, because we can use the insights effectively in practice…

And, secondly, because other people are impressed by the trouble we’ve taken.

That’s odd, really, because the extra effort to learn something isn’t so much really—more a change of mode of study.

But, as they say, “it’s never crowded when you go the extra mile.”

For example, often when I give a talk, people remark on the quotes I know and refer to. They ask, “How do you know these quotes?” The answer is quite simple: I learn them.

What lines could you do with learning?