It’s comically effective. Very much so.
“Is there anything you’ve tried that has worked better than anything else you’ve tried?”
They answer, “Yes.”
I respond with, “Then do more of that and stop doing all that other stuff.”
At which point I’ll smile and say, “Good night, everybody!”
If it goes well (and it always does), then everybody smiles and chuckles. When the room sobers back up – within mere seconds – everybody realizes the profound simplicity of it all. And how true it really is.
The next conversation is typically focused on why and how we’re making things worse, not better. It’s the antithesis of the Hippocratic Oath.
“The physician must be able to tell the antecedents, know the present, and foretell the future — must mediate these things, and have two special objects in view with regard to disease, namely, to do good or to do no harm.”
We’ve mostly heard it incorrectly stated, “First, do no harm.” But that prioritization isn’t really accurate. Rather, it’s more clearly stated to do good and avoid doing any harm. Very binary. Needful in the practice of medicine. Also needful in the operation of your company.
Don’t do harm.
It’s empty advice at first blush. Sorta like telling a poor person, “Get rich.”
Unintended consequences abound. Well-intentioned actions do, too. No matter that these things may not always be congruent with our desired outcomes.
Make sure the problem is really THE problem.
Part of the challenge is the accurate identification of the issue. Do we really know what the problem is? We can make things worse because we’re fixing the wrong thing.
This is where listening first kicks in. Don’t assume you already know the problem. Be deeply curious to find out. How? By soliciting the perspective of others. And by listening to them.
It doesn’t mean you have to convert to their point of view. That’s the remarkable thing about listening that people can get wrong. Sometimes I suspect people don’t listen because they don’t want to change their viewpoint or belief. Well, that’s fine. Nobody says you must agree with or be converted to the viewpoint of the people to whom you listen. That’s up to you.
Get over it. The fear of changing your mind. 😀
It sounds ridiculous, but it’s absolutely true. Just look at the political landscape. Or pick any cultural topic. Nastiness rules the day, not listening. Makes me wonder what people are afraid of. All I can figure is it’s the fear of being convinced to change their mind. Or maybe they’re fearful they’ll learn something. Or understand something.
But only if understanding does, too. And when you’re trying to identify a problem accurately enough to solve it, then understanding really matters!
Have you ever made a problem worse because it started with you saying something like this, “I know what we need to do…?”
We’ve all done it. Jumped to a conclusion. Too often the wrong conclusion.
It’s easy. Leaping to conclusions. Filling in the gaps in our knowledge with assumptions. Mostly false ones.
Proactivity is ballyhooed. We think we need to jump on a problem straight away. Speed isn’t always the best answer when it comes to identifying and solving a problem. Being thoughtful and mindful is always appropriate.
The quality of our questions determines the quality of our business. And the quality of our decisions. Which includes the quality of our problem-solving.
Leaders – those who would be great (and those who already are) – display enough patience to learn more. To dig deeply enough to make sure the problem is properly identified. And as fully understood as time will allow.
So here are just a few suggestions you may want to consider as you approach the problems facing your business (and they can work toward helping you solve the problems of your life, too).
One, assess the time frame that’s available to you.
Hint: there’s almost always more time available than you think.
Is there a stated deadline? Is that deadline non-negotiable?
How urgent is it that a decision be made? What’s the risk or downside to waiting? What’s the risk or downside to not waiting?
Problems aren’t all equal. Some are far more dangerous than others. Some are quite innocuous while others are screaming for attention.
As the leader, you have to perform the first triage of the situation so you know what resources to marshall.
Two, figure out who can best help you figure out the real problem.
Hint: it’s safe to assume you’re not seeing it correctly. That’s far safer than assuming you are.
Not everybody is helpful. Great leaders deploy resources to increase value – which is the entire purpose behind the business.
I know super smart people who are quite anxious under pressure. If the problem has a restricted timeline, they’re not likely the best people to lean on. But if the problem allows lots of time to ponder, they may be great. You have to know your people well enough to know who you need to help this go round.
What areas need to be represented in the room as you consider the problem?
What areas don’t seem to be needed? Be careful right here because this is where we frequently make problems worse. We exclude people thinking, “They don’t need to be involved.”
Three, figure out who seems to be the least needed to help you figure out the real problem.
Hint: put them in the room anyway. These are the exact people who can help you do good and no harm.
Worst case scenario – they’ll wonder why you brought them to waste their time. That’s your opportunity to evangelize the need to consider as many viewpoints as possible to prevent being blindsided by some unintended consequence as you thought you were solving the original problem.
Best case scenario – they’ll be major contributors providing you insights that would be unknown had they not been in the room.
Four, ask good questions, then ask great ones.
Put perspectives, opinions, and thoughts on trial for their life. Don’t fall in love with your solution or anybody else’s. Let the best solutions bubble to the top through rigorous questions.
Hint: foster debate and lively dialogue. Just demand respect always be displayed.
Five, it’s not a democracy, but find out what the room thinks should be done.
Hint: this doesn’t mean you have to agree. It’s information gathering so you can make the best decision. Let these people serve you.
Go around the room and have people commit to some course of action. Getting people to go on the record in front of their peers – and you, their boss – will be a powerful statement of what they believe.
Do not share how you’re leaning.
Hint: you’ll ruin the benefit if the group already knows what you’d like to do. Keep that to yourself until the entire group has debated it and they’ve all weighed in.
You’re now armed with sufficient insight to make improved decisions. It’s highly unlikely – although anything is possible – to make the problem worse. At the least, you’ve safeguarded the company from that happening. At best, you’re armed to make a great decision that you alone could have never made.
Be well. Do good. Grow great.