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.