When was the last time you changed your mind? I don’t mean about something trivial such as what you wanted for supper but about something important. What should our business model be? For whom should I cast my vote? I also don’t mean when was the last time you made a decision. We make those all the time. It’s what happens after the decision is taken that is our topic today.
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I changed my mind about something the other day. It’s not really important to our discussion what it was, just that my view of the world moved from point A to point B. As I thought about that I realized that many people stick with their initial decisions about things all the time through thick and thin. That might not be a bad thing, especially if you made a good choice at the time. It’s a terrible thing, however, if you do so out of habit or sloth. Things change and they do so more rapidly these days than at any time in our history. If you made a decision five years ago some of what you took as fact when you did so probably is less right now. Markets change. Information changes. Technology gets invented. Stuff happens! If you make any investments you probably have that mindset. Why doesn’t it extend to your business life (I’m ignoring politics here but…)?
A road you’ve driven down for years can suddenly have construction or a bridge out. You have to alter your route or fly off the bridge. Pretty obvious, right (I know – I’m a master of that!)? Yet that thinking doesn’t apply to other aspects of many people’s lives. Changing one’s mind is seen as weak or indecisive. Nothing could be further from the truth. Strong people challenge their own beliefs. They look for facts, especially ones that contradict their own opinions, and avoid confirmation bias. They keep an open mind when they go to make decisions and they test whether that decision is still valid based on changing circumstances.
My decisions aren’t etched in stone. More like footprints etched in wet sand. You can see what they are but when a strong wave comes along they might change. I might be opinionated but I also accept that I might be wrong on some things. Am I right about this?
A client asked me about the “best” social game company the other day. Like most simple questions, this one had no simple answer. How was he defining “best?” The one that made the most engaging games as measured by how long users were playing? The one that sold the most games? The one that was most profitable? Or maybe the one that creates games that really are works of art? Each of those questions has a different answer in my mind so I did what a lot of we consultant types do: I answered his question with a question.
Putting my confusion aside, that simple question raises a good business thought. Let’s ask it about TV. What’s the best program on TV? I might answer that as a fan – the one I like the most and which is appointment television for me: Homeland, The Newsroom, and even a program that’s not on “TV”, House Of Cards. Obviously, I’m defining “best” in a way that takes writing, acting, plot, and other factors into account. I might answer it as a former TV executive (which I am!): The Voice, American Idol, and even Duck Dynasty come to mind. They’re watched by some of the biggest audiences, they’re not particularly expensive to produce, and they take in a lot of money.
Which is the “best restaurant ” If one of Thomas Keller‘s places come to mind, I’d agree answering as a foodie. As a businessperson, maybe the right answer is someplace that feeds millions and makes over a billion dollars a quarter? Not that McDonald’s tops any fine dining lists of which I’m aware.
The point is that how we answer questions is very much tied to our point of view. If you’re asking them, it’s important to figure out from which perspective you want the answer given. If you’re answering them, it’s critical that you ascertain the underlying reason for the question in the first place. As with the above examples, your answer may be very different based on that. A little clarity can go a long way in advancing business success. Have you found this to be the case?
If you’ve read the screed more than once or twice you know that in a past life I was an English teacher. I’ve always loved words and so I read this post about 11 Words That Don’t Mean What They Sound Like with great interest. Words such as “crapulous” and “nugatory” aren’t a part of my regular vocabulary although a couple of the words on the list are. Whether you use them or not, there is a good business point to be made by them.
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If you’re expecting me to say “words matter,” you’re wrong. It’s the meaning of the words that matter, which is something that the piece makes clear. Sometimes we hear words and don’t understand what’s being said. Oh sure, we think we do, but that’s where the issues arise. It’s not even as simple as not understanding the definitions of the words as this article shows. It’s getting the meaning along with the definition.
Part of that can be body language, which is why I’m a believer of in-person discussions whenever possible. It’s easy in an age of instant communication to just send a quick email but email lacks nuance. Part of it can be tone. How many times has a significant other said “I’m fine” to you when their tone tells you they’re anything but fine? That’s all part of meaning.
One thing I’ve learned from the dozens of lawyers with whom I’ve worked over the years is the need for precision in language. Knowing the real meaning of every word can be critical to business success and can prevent misunderstandings down the road. I’ll sometimes ask people with whom I’m discussing business issues to state them in another way. It gets to the true meaning behind the words since words (to use one from the article) are considered fungible by many folks. Often, they’re not.
Have you ever run into a situation where the words someone uses have meant something other than how you understood them? Tell me.
Yesterday was the final round of my golf club’s championship. I made it all the way to the final match during which I was beaten like a rented mule. I did announce that it was my birthday before we teed off but my opponent’s good wishes ended as soon as we hit the first shots. I suppose it would be pretty understandable if I was upset, but I’m not. I’ve never made it this far in the competition and the loss wasn’t so much about my playing badly as it was about his playing well. Which is, of course, a business point.
These are a few of the things I learned both prior to and during the butt-kicking:
- You can have butterflies as long as you can get them to fly in formation. It’s amazing how much raw energy one can get from being nervous. You might get it speaking publicly; I got it on the first tee. My thing was to focus on it and then to dismiss it. Noting what’s going on isn’t the same as getting caught up in it.
- Breaking large tasks down into small pieces really does work. Thinking about having to win a lot of holes of golf to get to the final was kind of daunting. Making one good swing to get to the next shot was relatively easy. Getting revenues to double by the end of the fiscal year is hard; closing one more deal this week seems do-able.
- Getting beaten isn’t the same as losing. Avis made a pretty good business being number 2. Very few categories only can support a single player.
- Finally, I learned not to compound my mistakes. It’s hard to hit out of deep rough 200 yards to the green and it’s a much better idea to take one’s medicine, pitch out, and try to knock it close from back in the fairway. We often make mistakes in business but if we don’t compound them we might just make a surprise par and win the hole.
I realize playing for a club championship isn’t the PGA Tour but it was fun to get a taste of high-level competition. Like business, it’s far more taxing mentally than it is physically, an ultimately the ability to focus mentally helps overcome the physical challenges. Fore!
I played in the annual July 4 scramble golf tournament yesterday.
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For you non-golfers out there, this is a team competition in which each member of the team hits a shot, the team selects the best one, and everyone then hits the next shot from that position. Once on the green, hopefully with more than one ball, the team chooses from which ball position to putt and everyone gives it a go from there. If the team is playing pretty well, there are often a few decisions to make. Do we forsake some distance for a better lie? Do we putt the shorter putt or the straighter one? Do we chip a ball that’s off the green but close to the hole or putt a ball that’s way on the other side of the green?
Your thinking is influenced by your particular abilities. I’d always rather putt than chip, and while distance isn’t usually a problem for me, it might be for the other members of the team who’d rather hit out of the rough if they can be 25 yards closer to the green. And of course, this raises a business point too.
There’s a good piece today in Lifehacker about how as part of beating back confirmation bias (the tendency to listen only to the data or opinions that confirm our own) we need to take the other person’s perspective – walk a mile in their shoes – as we consider their opinions. It works for research too – who funded it, what might the researcher’s biases be, etc. Most importantly, when we’re asking for advice, taking the person’s perspective along with the advice helps overcome the blindness confirmation bias can instill. This is a good article on that phenomenon.
The ability to get past your own beliefs in considering outside information is a key to being successful. It goes with the ability the synthesize and communicate your thinking effectively. We won the tournament yesterday so I’m very happy with how we communicated and thought as a group, even when my opinion was overruled. Even when our shots weren’t perfect, our thinking was awfully good. How’s yours?
Why did you get out of bed this morning? Habit? Hunger? Bladder issues?
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Hopefully the main reason was that you couldn’t wait to get going on what you were going to do today. Trust me – I’m well aware that not every day can be like that but when the balance between excitement vs. dread over the day ahead tilts the wrong way, it just might be time to rethink things a bit. The reality is that many of us just keep on doing what we’re doing, feeling lucky to have a job and income, and wait for the weekend to come around. Thoreau‘s “life of quiet desperation” lives on.
Companies are like that too. While I don’t share some folks’ belief that companies are people, I do think that they have a certain amount in institutional inertia. They keep on doing what they’ve been doing, very focused on what that is and how they’re going to do it. They rarely stop, however, and think about why they’re doing – what’s their purpose beyond making money for the owners/shareholders.
I got to thinking about this as I read the book “Start With Why“, by Simon Sinek. They quick summary is that the most important thing leaders can do is to figure out why a company or organization exists and why that should be meaningful to customers and others in society. Once you get the answer and you convey it to everyone that touches the organization, the rest of the decisions about what to do and sell and how to do it become infinitely easier. Marketing, social campaigns, product choices, packaging, everything.
That principle extends to individuals. We need to think about who we are, what we stand for, be a bit more introspective. I think some of the unhappiness many people feel when they think about going to work is the dissonance between their own”why” and that of their company (or the lack of one at their job). How about you? What do you think?
I read something this week that fits our Foodie Friday theme and ends the week with a stimulating thought. There is an ongoing flame war between Mark Bittman, a well-known food author, and Josh Ozersky, who is an award-winning food writer as well. The battlefield is Time Magazine and the subject is “industrial food.” If you’re interested in the blow-by-blow, you can read the articles here, but their conversation about our food system makes a broader business point in my mind. Continue reading