Category Archives: Decision Making

Only 162 Days Left…

SandsOfTime2I am sure you are wondering how there are only 32 weeks of work left in 2017.  How can that be you ask incredulously since that would mean the year was 40% over but we just finished Q1?

The way I figure it our work year grinds to a halt on the Friday before Thanksgiving.  Once we hit Thanksgiving, everything is more or less on hold until sometime mid-January.  So that means that we have from Monday, April 3 until Friday, November 17 to ensure we make shit happen!

Being candid and honest about our work helps dramatically when it comes to establishing our collective sense of urgency.  I believe the challenge is determining how to work both efficiently and effectively in the time that we have.  We cannot manufacture more time, we can only use the time we have and that takes maniacal focus.

Here are a few things to consider when planning out the balance of our year:

  • Say “NO” often and emphatically –  Wildly successful organizations say NO far more than they say YES.  Once you have clarity on what you will do, it shortens the conversation about things you could do…and that saves both time + energy for everyone.
  • Relinquish “control” (you never had it to begin with) – Much energy is expended when we continue to “make things happen” that are simply not going to happen.  It is like we are standing in a hallway full of doors and continue to bang on the one door we think should open all the while a number of other doors up and down the hall are opening and closing but we just can’t see them because we are too busy trying to make “our” door open.
  • Be brutally honest about your expectations – Don’t screw with your team and have a goal + a stretch goal…stretch goals are stupid and a waste of time.  Clarity is the single biggest gift you can give to your team.  Don’t confuse everyone with multiple goals with dumb names.  Tell them what you expect, provide them with the resources and training to achieve it, and lead them to it!
  • Push people to their limits…and beyond – Provide safety but not comfort…that’s it!
  • Have ONE PRIORITY – The word priority was never meant to be plural.  In fact, it was not pluralized until sometime around the 1940’s!  Pick the most important thing and ruthlessly pursue it.  Once you achieve that, then move on to the next thing.

In the next 162 days, what will you accomplish?


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5 Questions Every Leader Needs To Ask…themselves


There are obviously more than just 5 questions for business leaders but I think the following speak to the core challenges of those who are tasked with driving revenues in our hyper connected and data rich world.

  1. Where is your industry headed? Don’t get myopic and lose of sight of the world outside your four walls because, as Bob Dylan lamented, “The world…it is a-changing.” How are your staying abreast of the change and innovation in your world? When was the last time you looked at your customer’s business? What is in store for them will eventually impact you! It all flows downstream…
  2. What visibility do you have of the actual costs and their growth rates in your business? I am often shocked at how little C-level folks actually know about their costs first-hand. They see things on a P&L but often they have delegated (read this as abdicated) responsibilities for managing these to others who may lack the context and understanding to see the conditions forming that might produce that rogue wave that decimates the bottom line.
  3. How are you addressing the gaps in the skills of your executive team to ensure they can meet (exceed) the challenges in your business now and in the future? Notice that the question is not about identifying them…they are already there. What are you doing about them? Have your formally discussed them? Are they written down? Do they even know they have gaps? What is the plan to address them? What is the timeline? If you are you not moving forward, you are sliding backwards because there is no neutral when it comes to talent development.
  4. What is your organizational decision making process? How does your team identify and make critical decisions? Do you know how each member of your team identifies challenges? Do they wait for someone else (like you) to bring it up or are they proactively seeking out “disturbances in the force”? When they do sense something is wrong…what do they do about? What is your organizational process? (check out the root of “decide”) Are you comfortable with each person’s process? If not, what are doing about it?
  5. If nothing changes, how likely is it that business succeeds? I think we all know the answer to this…

Just remember, if it were easy everyone would do it (it’s not and they don’t) so be in the minority and be proud to call yourself a pragmatic malcontent (you will understand this if you have read my other posts…if not shame on your for not reading my other posts;)

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Act like a child…please!

I was reading The Power of  a Good Question (a great post by Leo Bottary) today and it serves as the jumping off point for what follows.  Leo provided great practical insight as to the “how” of this process as well as an example of what can come from it.  I am going to take a more personal approach and share what I believe we have to embrace in order for our default to be asking questions instead of giving answers.

How many times have you told your kids (or been told yourself) to “grow up”?  Well, when it comes to being a great questioner, the reality is that we need to maintain some of that childlike wonderment about the world around us.  In “A More Beautiful Question”,  Warren Berger points out that a typical preschooler asks about 300 questions each day but once they reach middle-school age, they ask very few.


This is referred to a neoteny (the retention of juvenile features in the adult animal)  and you can read “Today we can’t afford to become adults” by Joichi Ito if you would like to find out why it matters.

If we were to maintain this childlike ability maybe we could also avoid what Robert Burton describes as the “certainty epidemic”.  This is also known as the certainty bias which finds its roots in our genetics as we are hardwired to avoid uncertainty because it triggers a “threat response” in our limbic system which causes us to feel something akin to pain.  Being certain is almost like an addiction so when we “meet” the goal of avoiding uncertainty, we feel rewarded…even when it is not in our best interest.

Questioning is also more aligned with divergent thinking rather than convergent thinking because it focuses on the “why” more than the “how”.  In general terms, divergent is more creative and convergent is more efficient.  I think there is less uncertainty in convergent thinking so this means our brain will reward us for taking the convergent path and making the world certain…even if its not.  If you would like to read more, here is “Divergent Thinking versus Convergent Thinking” from Phil Charron.

Finally, there is this gem from Shunryu Suzuki which really stands on its on merits and needs no explanation.  “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

I realize the we live in an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world (VUCA) which means that trying to remain open to multiple scenarios and withholding judgment is biologically challenging.  We crave certainty because we want to avoid the psychological and emotional “pain” that comes with not knowing but, oftentimes, “knowing” is a false certainty.  We make connections that are not there and draw faulty conclusions because are addicted and need that “certainty fix”.

I believe we all need to continually extend our “threshold of uncertainty” and embrace the opportunity to play the “holy fool” from time to time. Richard Cecil  provides a great closing comment for us on this topic…“The first step towards knowledge is to know that we are ignorant.”


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Filed under Adaptation, Complexity, Decision Making, The Human Condition, Thinking about thinking

Unknowing is not easy

“You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

As you probably know, this is the statement that Morpheus makes to Neo during their first conversation in “The Matrix”.  Did you also know that you may have this conversation with yourself many times a day?  The power to choose is available to all but not all accept the responsibility.

My goal is to be descriptive and not prescriptive so here are some interesting resources that you can choose to investigate (red pill) or ignore (blue pill)…the choice is yours.

  • Locus of Control (this sums it up)







You now bear the burden of “knowing”and you can’t go back, no matter how challenging it might be. It can be overwhelming to acknowledge that you can change your own behavior and, in turn, change other’s as well.  We all operate in the same complex adaptive system so that means that every “agent’s” action causes ripples in the ecosystem and we never really know how others will react because we are not in control (that is whole other post in itself).

So which pill will it be?



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Filed under Decision Making, Looking in the mirror, The Human Condition

This or That?


Simple, not easy

Integration, not balance

Process, not event

Activities, not results

Preparation, not planning

Marathon, not sprint

Wisdom, not knowledge

Influence, not directing

Ambiguity, not certainty

Purpose, not profit

Anything, not everything

We, not me

Collaborate, not control

Why, not what

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Filed under Decision Making, Thinking about thinking

E + R = O

I am not sure where I first learned this “formula” but I am a fan of Occam’s Razorand believe that anything that helps us simplify our thinking is worth sharing. After reading the following blog posts, I saw a theme developing and the content coalesced on its own from there.

  • In Dorie Clark’s recent article “Why Mindfulness Is The Next Revolution In Marketing”, she makes the point that while there are many things we cannot control, what we can control is how we respond. While the context of this discussion is centered around marketing, it is obviously applicable to anyone’s daily activities.
  • There is also correlation with David Brendel’s blog post “How Philosophy Makes You A Better Leader” in which he expounds on the value of self-reflection in regards to behavior change. Brendel is a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School and discusses the actual neuroscience of self-reflection as it pertains to activating the anterior cingulate cortex. The ACC is a critical region of the brain that can “detect discrepancies between the actual and desired states”. So once we begin engaging the ACC, we can identify goals and develop plans to attain them (more or less).
  • In Les McKeown’s post “Why ‘Capacity’ Is The Key to Success in 2015”, he makes the point that “…it’s not the events that will shape your future next year–it’s how your business responds to future events when they occur.”

All of these folks referenced, either explicitly or implicitly, the formula E+R=O (Event + Response = Outcome). Here are some thoughts on why it is so valuable (yet so simple).

  1. Events are going to happen whether we want them to or not. This is where I think we all need to release ourselves from the Fallacy of Control (my own personal theory). No amount of planning or thinking will cause or prevent events from happening in our lives. I am not saying we should adopt a fatalistic attitude but I do believe we should shift our mindset from planning to preparation.
  2. Our “response” is truly the only variable we control (some of us better than others) and our only consistent method to change the outcome. Don’t waste you time & energy (2 extremely valuable resources) lamenting the event .Instead focus on being mindful and controlling your response so it is both positive and productive for you and others. If you are in a leadership role then this is paramount because your reaction to events serves as a model to others so it can be multiplied tenfold or more! In order to leverage this power, you have to engage in triple loop learning which enables us to self-correct “on the fly” because we are objectively aware of our own behavior.
  3. Outcomes are only within our control in the context of our responses so the more we shift the burden or blame to others, the less likely we are going to be able to achieve our goals (personally or corporately). The minute we relinquish our power in the process, we are through. Here is where you find out where your true locus of control rests. The goal is always to have an internal locus of control so that you believe you can impact the world around you. The alternative is that you are acted upon by outside forces beyond your control and that is not a happy place to be.

I will share that while this formula can help you achieve your goals and completely change your attitude, it also comes with a heavy price. I could tell you about it but I think Rocky Balboa says it much better than I ever could.

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Filed under Decision Making, Learning, Looking in the mirror

Leaders & Quarterbacks

A few weeks ago I was listening to Colin Cowherd (on ESPN Radio) and he was discussing how much more challenging it was to be a quarterback now than 20-30 years ago.  As I listened to him give his thoughts on the differences and how quarterbacks today needed to be able to read situations quickly and make multiple decisions in a short amount of time, I couldn’t help  but think that this was quite similar to working in leadership role in business today.

It doesn’t matter how large or small the business is, the same challenges present themselves:

  • The speed at which we are required to work is tremendous (and will probably continue to increase)
  • The rate of change can be unnerving at times
  • Our ability to be successful is dependent on others over whom we may or may not have direct authority (clients, customers, co-workers, teammates…)

That being said, here are some of the ways that leaders of business can learn from those guiding the offense on Saturdays & Sundays:

  • Managing personalities is part of the job – Everybody has them and some require more attention than others.  The key here is to know when the cost has outweighed the benefit.
  • Play calling is an art –  With all  of the information available today, the competition knows your strengths & weaknesses.  The key is not necessarily to develop new plays but to use what you have in a unique fashion that leverages your strengths in the current environment (that could change at any time)
  • Experience creates confidence – This is just a fact.  Once you have been in the fire, you begin to understand how it works.  There is absolutely no substitute for experience.
  • Situational awareness & pattern recognition can keep you in the game – Being aware and able to process information quickly can allow you to see those things are dangerous and take advantage of opportunities.  Most of the time, these reactions are so quick we act without conscious thought.
  • “Calling an audible” is risky but has to be done – The play you called in the huddle may need to be changed once you scan the environment.  The key here is for the team to be flexible and nimble so that when you change the play at the last minute, they know where they need to be.
  • When you win, you should take less than your share of the credit & when you lose, you should take more than your share of the blame
  • Winners always want the ball when the game is on the line

Catch a game this weekend and watch the quarterbacks.  Become a student for those few hours and watch how they direct & control the team.

Just be glad that you don’t have to do your job on national television and have your performance picked apart every Monday morning.


Filed under Decision Making, Leadership