We all do it. Rushing to Judgement is easy to do. We observe something, make assumptions, draw conclusions, believe in those assumptions and take action. This morning a co-worker and I were volunteering offsite and had a call to take. We agreed to take the calls from our parked cars, then afterwards we were going out for a coffee. The call started, and I had not noticed where Jeff had parked. Later on in the call, I assumed Jeff was driving, as I heard car blinkers, etc. and I wondered why he had left. As I obediently stayed in my car, as was the plan, Mollie walked by and I took a moment to rat on Jeff for breaking our deal. The call ended, however, and there was Jeff walking up to my car window. “I thought you took off,” I said. “No, been here the whole time,” Jeff responded. Harvard Business Professor Chris Argyris branded this process the Ladder of Inference, a metaphorical ladder of steps we go through as we process observations (Jeff must be driving and not sitting in his car), draw conclusions (Jeff broke the deal, that jerk) based on what we assume (he didn’t want to have coffee with me), and take action (make sure Mollie knew what Jeff did to me). There’s an inherent danger in doing this because it can create bad judgement. In this case, it did. I was wrong. So what do I mean? This process of moving up the ladder can go pretty quickly. It supposes that if we don’t take the time to collect all the data, or all of the facts, we can pretty much justify in our own minds that what we observe is true, because we believe it to be true based on our previous observations. Why did I select the data that Jeff was in his car instead of actually confirming that he had left the parking lot? Why did I assume that the blinker sound was coming from his car instead of seeing who else was on the call and could have been driving? I should have stopped myself. To avoid this selective bias, we must stop ourselves and work harder to collect more data and facts about the situation. Ask ourselves, what am I missing? Why did I only select this data to use to draw my conclusions but didn’t seek more data? These are good reminders that when we feel ourselves rushing to judgement, the more appropriate thing to do is pause and see what may be on the other side of that story. And as my mother always told me, there’s always two sides to every story. I’m interested to hear from you on this topic. Shoot me a comment/reply/DM. Here’s a 3 minute video on the topic that I’ve sent people before that is a very brief and a good overview.
I get energy from curious people at work. It seems that from my experience, curious people can typically help you get things done in a better way. Curious people ask the question “why?” multiple times until they understand the root cause of something. Curious people respond when you ask them for feedback on what could get better.
But what happens when your workforce seemingly has lost its ability to be curious?
Curious people ignite the flame of critical thinking and problem solving; not-so-curious people can extinguish that flame.
For me, lack of curiosity typically relates to general apathy. In the workplace, that could mean not raising your hand, or letting someone else raise their hand, or just going through the motions. Your calendar may be full from 8-5, but logging into that conference call to have your name show up in the panel that you were there—even though you didn’t contribute anything to the meeting—makes you feel busy.
It can also point to another sign—that you are too comfortable. This happens after years of steady employment where you’ve been allowed to just go through the motions, show up when you needed to show up, but nothing externally or internally is creating a sense of urgency to do anything different. Perhaps you tried at one point but became de-motivated when things didn’t work out the way you envisioned them to.
One flaw in all of that is that it assumes that motivation can only come externally—from someone or something other than yourself. The boss passed you over for a promotion. The Department reorganized you into a new area. The company decided to continue to invest in the legacy technology that you’ve worked on for decades, so you should be set.
I think there is too much risk to behave this way in the workplace. Leaders are searching for curious people as it demonstrates a different level of engagement. Leaders what to know how to make things better, and curious people are motivated to contribute to that outcome. And finally, leaders need curious people. Without them, something externally will disrupt the situation, without a doubt.
Curiosity equates to motivation. Motivation equates to making things happen on your own terms—not the boss, the department, or the company.
I’ve learned this perspective over time and through experience. I observe people across the entire spectrum of curiosity and motivation. Re-framing to putting things on your own terms, and taking control of your own motivation and curiosity can not only lead to a happier work life, but one that has a higher potential of success and satisfaction.
I’ve said before, “All ideas are great ideas, but which great ideas are you going to prioritize into projects?” A father of one of the kids on my basketball team and I were talking after practice one day. He is the CEO of a small company. He said, “the ideas you implement should do one of two things–increase your revenue or decrease your expenses.” Beautifully simple, I thought.
Think of your organization’s ideas for projects as the water coming out of the bathtub faucet. The controlling mechanism to the flow of ideas is the constraints in your system, or in this metaphor, either slowing down the water, or increasing the size of the drain.
If the ideas are pouring into the tub at full speed continues, but your constraint—the drain–(e.g., people, dollars) is not getting bigger, then you’ll end up with a mess. Too often I’ve seen organizations not realizing the impact of the faucet part of the equation (idea generation); and under appreciating the constraint side (ever heard, “just figure out how to make it all work!”)
Prioritization is like a 4 letter word, and I often wonder why it tends to scare people. I guess saying yes to everything is easier initially, but its shortcomings become very evident later. You need an organizational culture that appreciates both the merits of generating new ideas AND the value of determining the right approach to vetting and prioritizing those ideas—not one or the other. Additionally, prioritization can be about saying “no” to certain ideas as well, but that’s much harder to do.
Here are three of my keys on how to approach the topic:
Ideas should tie to organizational goals and objectives
If your organization has declared what it wants to do, then ideas that are prioritized should at some level enable the organization to achieve its goals. Beware of ideas that creatively seem to align to every goal and objective or ones where it’s a real stretch. But minimally you need to be able to answer why you are doing it.
Ideas should have a business case
Company dollars should be considered sacred. Assuming money doesn’t grow on trees or is printed out of the company printers, decision makers should know how much money the idea will return to the company. In addition, when promises of returns and revenue are made when the idea is pitched to the company, targets and budgets should be adjusted accordingly after the capital is spent and the idea is implemented–that’s just a good culture of accountability and it forces people to think critically.
Ideas should have to compete with each other
Competition for the company dollar will bring out the best of each idea. You always hear about sports teams fostering competition, why is your company any different? It gives incentives to people to creatively think about the timing, sequence, and scope to deliver the most potential value. If your organization does not require some level of competition for which ideas move forward, you should ask yourself “why not?”
This practical approach will ensure you’re getting “A” grades on 10 things, not “C” grades on 50 things. I’m not suggesting that you should stop coming up with ideas; rather, I’m suggesting you move forward with the ideas that will add the most value to the organization, and if done in concert with the constraints you have, you could just be swimming in success!
A friend of mine was telling me a story about how he had a project that had $100,000 left in its budget. He and his team wanted to use it up, since the norm was if you didn’t use it, your budget would be cut by that amount the next year.
I asked what they wanted to spend the money on. He said, “USB video cameras.”
Then, I asked, “why?”
“Because we’ve rolled out a video capability to the company.”
Interested, I continued my questioning. “But don’t the laptops people use (and the company has already purchased) have a video camera already built in?”
“Yes, some of them do. We want to buy cameras for those laptops that do not already have a camera and to create a spare pool.”
Good recovery I thought, but I wasn’t quite done, so I asked “But isn’t everyone already on a list to get a laptop refresh, where they all eventually will have a laptop with a built in camera, making these USB ones obsolete?”
“Well, yes,” he said.
I was intrigued because I kept hearing about people putting a piece of tape or a post-it note over the laptop camera for fear they might be accidentally captured on video when they didn’t want to be, so further investment in it raised some red flags.
“Do you even know if people use the video feature? What’s the data tell us the usage patterns are? How many video sessions are you doing in a day? What are you going to do with all the cameras after the laptop refresh?”
I admit I was Feeling like Tom Cruise questioning Jack Nicholson in the movie “A Few Good Men”. He was at his breaking point.
“No. I don’t know any of that. No usage data. No trend analysis. No strategy post rollout. We just thought we should buy the cameras because the budget had room,” he said.
Needless to say, he didn’t buy the cameras. No business case, no understanding of the business problem he was trying to solve, and no data. Common sense prevails.
I think generally, most good intentioned people are action oriented. While not a bad thing, I think sometimes we make decisions without all the inputs. Other factors and incentives drive us to do things that perhaps we wouldn’t do in our own personal lives, but at work we can ignore some common sense questioning that can get us in trouble. If we all treated our work, or work decisions, like we were the owner of the company, my feeling is that different decisions would be made. I think it’s always a good exercise to stop ourselves and ask what business problem we are trying to solve.
In that context, we might just make different decisions.
It seemed like a simple question at first, but as I answered, it became clear that the answer is complicated if we have not spent the time to think about it.
So I spent some time thinking about it recently.
Assume for this exercise that the question is aimed higher than just answering that you want a job or title, like “I want to be a CIO.” Think about it more in the spirit of answering what you are all about—the package an employer receives when they hire you. Not the titles they are filling or a comparison between size of budgets and number of employees they have, and your experience levels within each of those those specific things.
Not so easy, is it?
In my case, many themes circled around my head as I contemplated the answer. Here are some of them:
- I want to lead in a collaborative, engaging, and inspiring way where everyone is proud of the work of the team
- I want to make a meaningful difference in the lives (work and outside) of the people I work with
- I want the impact my teams deliver to be significant, measurable, and not just “talk”
- I want to help people and organizations change the way they work and lead to stay relevant
- I want the team to win, and to know when we win, or what we need to do to win
- I want my team and organization to have my back, and I to have theirs
The challenge becomes how to succinctly summarize what you want. Forcing yourself to speak and write about it simply is never easy. And because of that, we take the easy way out and just talk about the jobs and titles we want.
So here it goes…
I want the opportunity to make a difference by leading, engaging, and inspiring others to be proud of their work, feel valued and trusted, and deliver meaningful and measureable outcomes of value for the organization, the team, and themselves.
With pride and trust come outcomes, yet both are developed over time through challenging conversations, debates, and pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones to listen to unique perspectives. This can only come if we have the same shared and simplified goals. I want those too.
That’s what I want to do.
So, what do you want to do?
I had the opportunity to hear Adam Savage, co-host of the TV series “MythBusters” speak today at the #Kronosworks conference in Las Vegas.
Savage was entertaining. He had great slides, I’m a fan of the show, and I have to admit it was just cool to see a celebrity in action. He talked about having a hypothesis, testing it, and then analyzing the results. You learn from this process.
There we were, 2500 knowledge workers, there to learn, anxious to apply these concepts!
But he didn’t really tie anything to work. Not at all. Zilch.
Thank you Adam!
You may be wondering why I’m thanking Adam for such an obvious omission.
Truth is, this has been my calling for years. I’ve written about the concepts before, like in my most popular blog about the power of betting a burrito. We so often stop short of trying out or experimenting on new things based on our opinions or speculations about a topic. Sometimes I just get too impatient, and just want to test out the hypothesis. It wasn’t until Savage’s talk today that I tied it all together: We need to think like MythBusters at work.
Take an idea. Develop a hypothesis. Test it out. Learn.
It takes leaders, like you, to move your initiatives and ideas into this model. Don’t get caught in a speculation showdown. Challenge your partners to test stuff out. Bet burritos. Take action. Heck, you might even bust some myths along the way.
How good are you at saying “no”?
At some point in my career journey, I became programmed to say yes as a default. I remember getting training to avoid words like “no” and “but”; rather, we were coached to say more positive words like “yes” and “and”.
Who would ever want to be referred to as a “no man” instead of a “yes man”?
My mother had seven children, and she would often say to us matter-of-factly, “No is a complete sentence!”
Mom, an incredible woman, wasn’t a “yes man.” (or yes woman, if that term even exists)
Truth is, Mom couldn’t say yes to everything, even if she had wanted to. With seven children, she knew that was a recipe for disaster. She needed to keep the lights on, handle our basic needs, and ensure we were all setup to be successful and contributing members of society. Simply put, she focused on her primary mission and purpose, and in order to do that she just had to say “no” to other things that would be in direct conflict of that. If Mom spoke corporate-speak, she would have said she was good at “controlling scope”.
Here’s the wake up call: Failure to say “no” may lead to your failure.
While you may be popular initially, a one-outcome decision tree (yes, yes, yes…) just doesn’t scale. There are always tradeoffs to consider.
If you want to start to improve on your “no” game, then consider helping your stakeholders understand why you are saying no. Saying “no” with full wisdom of the issue at hand can be a credible answer too. If you can get them past any emotional issues your answer is causing, they may be open to hearing why. No one wants to say “no” to be a mean person; usually, you have good sound logic for saying “no.” Explain yourself, talk about the tradeoffs and the considerations, take accountability for your answer, and soon you may find that your stakeholders will accept, and appreciate, your critical thinking.