The Three Dreadful Stumbling Blocks to Time Management

The Three Dreadful Stumbling Blocks to Time Management Ineffective time management is characterized by folks having too many things they need to do (and just a few they must do,) but not enough time for everything they want to do. The key to time management, therefore, is to identify your needs and wants in terms of their importance and match them with the time and resources available.

If your time-management efforts are not getting you the results you envision, you need to pay attention to three hurdles that can get you derailed easily.

  1. The foremost obstacle to time management is a lack of practical awareness of your job duties, as well as the extent of your authority and responsibility. Your efficiency could be acutely hindered by doing the wrong tasks—those that are relatively unimportant or not even part of your job description. You could also not be using the skills or time of others, perhaps not recognizing that you have the authority to do so.
  2. An associated obstacle to effective time management is your failure to prioritize tasks. You may not be able to prioritize because either you’re unaware of your job duties, or you don’t know how to set priorities. As stated by the Pareto Principle, you could be spending 80% of your time on tasks that account for a mere 20% of the total job results. As a result, you could be working on the trivial and the routine, but not the important. In other words, you could be working on the “can do” and not the “must do.”
  3. Equally important, your time management-plans often go off the rails because of “time thieves”—meetings, impromptu visitors, avoidable reports, telephone calls, delays, canceled engagements, redundant rules and regulations, and other claptrap.

Idea for Impact: Develop a high level of awareness in the areas discussed above. Use my three-part technique (time logging, time analyzing, and time budgeting) to control time, conserve time, and make time. Additionally, learn to farm more work out—delegating not only frees up precious time, but also helps develop your employees’ abilities, as well as your own. Try not to say ‘yes’ to too many things and avoid taking on too much.

Death to Bureaucracy

Bureaucracy can suck the life out of any organization by rewarding complacency and inertia.

Efficient managers are annoyed with the speed of bureaucracy. Internal rules and policies for making and approving decisions slow down managerial undertakings. In a world where fast, disruptive innovation has become foremost, any company can ill afford the time or expense of operating with bureaucratic mindsets.

Peter Ferdinand Drucker, the father of management theory Management pioneer Peter Drucker‘s enduring condemnation of bureaucracy, formalities, and rules and regulations hit the peak with his ground-breaking editorial called “Sell the Mailroom,” first published in the Wall Street Journal in 1989 and then republished in 2005.

At a time when the great majority of businesses were engaged in making an effort to improve the efficiency of support staff, Drucker brashly advocated that bureaucratic support should be eliminated by outsourcing their work to outside contractors. Drucker observed,

In-house service and support activities are de facto monopolies. They have little incentive to improve their productivity. There is, after all, no competition. In fact, they have considerable disincentive to improve their productivity. In the typical organization, business or government, the standard and prestige of an activity is judged by its size and budget—particularly in the case of activities that, like clerical, maintenance, and support work, do not make a direct and measurable contribution to the bottom line. To improve the productivity of such an activity is thus hardly the way to advancement and success. When in-house support staff are criticized for doing a poor job, their managers are likely to respond by hiring more people. An outside contractor knows that he will be tossed out and replaced by a better-performing competitor unless he improves quality and cuts costs.

Idea for Impact: Drop unnecessary work.

This is Yoga for the Brain: Multidisciplinary Learning

In Praise of Multidisciplinary Frameworks for Better Thinking You need a broad-based understanding to succeed in today’s increasingly complex world.

Modern scientific and technological advances are increasingly born at the frontiers of more than one science disciplines.

It’s impossible to know everything. However, if you work to understand the basics of the biggest, most important paradigms in the fields of science, humanities, and social sciences, you can progressively expand your decision-making process.

A multidisciplinary methodology entails drawing suitably from multiple disciplines to examine problems outside of their normal boundaries and reach solutions based on an understanding of complex situations.

Multidisciplinarity Leads to Better Internalization of Knowledge

Multidisciplinarity allows you can transform a perspective in one discipline to expand your thought-frameworks in other disciplines. The renowned venture capitalist Paul Graham, author of the bestselling Hackers & Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age, said this best when he once wrote,

Studying things from unrelated subjects (multidisciplinary learning) is a lot like yoga for brain. You don’t actually get anywhere when you do yoga. You stand in one place and bend yourself in various shapes. But it makes you more flexible, so when you go out and do walk around, you can walk better.

“Cross-Training for the Mind” à la Charlie Munger

'Poor Charlie's Almanack' by Charlie Munger (ISBN 1578645018) The great investor Charlie Munger, Vice-Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, is a big proponent of multidisciplinary thinking. This distinguished beacon of rationality and wisdom coined the term “latticework of mental models” to enable the “cross-training for the mind.” Rather than silo your mind just in the narrow areas you tend to concentrate on at college and work, Munger advocates developing a broad, functional set of interdisciplinary knowledge about the world, which can serve you in all parts of life. According to the anthology Poor Charlie’s Almanack, Munger said at a 1998 talk at the Harvard Law School,

If A is a narrow professional, B consists of the big, extra-useful concepts from other disciplines, then, clearly, the professional possessing A plus B will usually be better off than the poor possessor of A alone. How could it be otherwise? And thus, the only rational excuse for not acquiring B is that it is not practical to do so, given the man’s need to A and the other urgent demands in his life. I will later try to demonstrate that this excuse for unidisciplinarity, at least for our most gifted people, is usually unsound.

Many of the world’s leading companies in science and technology are employing multidisciplinary people for managerial positions. These people understand a range of science principles and methods and can synthesize the works of domain-specific experts to invent creative solutions to problems.

Idea for Impact: Pursue Multidisciplinary Thinking

People who think very broadly and comprehend many different models from many different disciplines make better decisions.

Pursue multidisciplinary thinking. Open your mind to new ideas and new experiences. Make new friends, travel afar, read more, and discover new stories.

Interact with people who work in different disciplines and dabble with the arts and the media. Let the new sights, sounds, smells, languages, tastes, sensations, stories, and perspectives spark your creativity.

The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave [Book Summary]

Employee engagement and retention of top talent is a holy grail of people management—and nearly as hard to pin down.

Employees expect managers to be fair, pay fairly, listen, value opinions, relate, develop, challenge, demonstrate care, advance, and so on. But many employees don’t know when and how to voice their concerns, or negotiate for what they want.

All managers know that engaged employees are happier and more productive. Yet, managers and HR managers cannot simply make employee engagement “happen.”

'The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave' by Leigh Branham (ISBN 0814408516) In The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave, employee-retention expert Leigh Branham discusses how companies can tackle employee disengagement and retain their best and brightest people.

Using a copious amount of facts and figures from interviews and surveys, Branham explores seven reasons for employee disengagement. For each reason, Branham lists signs that managers need to keep their eyes open for, and shows how employers and employees could communicate and understand their mutual needs and desires.

“Some Quit and Leave … Others Quit and Stay”

According to Branham, employee disengagement—and eventual resignation—is not an event; rather, it is a plodding process of bitterness, discontent, and eventual withdrawal that can take weeks, months, or even years until the definite choice to resign happens. He lists the ten most common stimuli that trigger employee disengagement:

  1. Poor management
  2. Lack of career growth and advancement opportunity
  3. Poor communications
  4. Issues with pay and remuneration
  5. Lack of recognition
  6. Poor senior leadership
  7. Lack of training
  8. Excessive workload
  9. Lack of tools and resources
  10. Lack of teamwork

Branham claims to have synthesized some 20,700 employee-exit surveys and has identified four fundamental human needs (compare to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) that must be met by employers:

  • Employees need to feel proficient. They want to be matched to a job that aligns with their talents and their desire for a challenge.
  • Employees need to feel a sense of worth. They want to feel confident that their commitment and their efforts translate into meaningful contributions to their company’s mission. They desire to be recognized and rewarded appropriately.
  • Employees need to be trusted. They expect their employers to pay attention, and be honest and open in their communications.
  • Employees need to have hope. They want to be treated fairly, and given opportunities to grow their skills and advance their careers.

Why Employees Start Feeling Disconnected from Their Work

Why employees start feeling disconnected from their work The core of The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave is a “how to” guide to address each of the seven reasons to enable a company to pursue the path to become an “employer of choice.”

Reason #1: The Job or Workplace Was Not as Expected. Many new hires join their companies with a wide range of misconceptions and unrealistic expectations. Some stay and adapt, others disengage and stay, and some others disengage and ultimately leave. Branham advocates creating realistic job descriptions, and open communications between managers and employees on achieving their mutual goals and expectations.

Reason #2: The Mismatch between Job and Person. Companies with strong reputations for selecting the right talent and keeping employees well matched with their jobs have a strong commitment to the continuous upgrading of talent. Managers can assign tasks so that employees can be more engaged through the use of their “motivated abilities.” Managers must keep an eye open opportunities to augment employees’ jobs by delegating tasks they might not have considered before.

Reason #3: Too Little Coaching and Feedback. Branham affirms that most managers do coaching and feedback merely as annual or biannual HR-required discussions that bind ambiguous targets to performance-ranking and pay scale. Managers must lead frequent, informal, on-the-job feedback conversations with employees. Branham identifies four principal themes that managers must address to make their performance management practice seem less controlling and more of a partnership:

  1. “Where are we going as a company?”
  2. “How are we going to get there?”
  3. “How does the manager expect the employee to contribute?”
  4. “How is the employee doing? What is going well? What are the key suggestions for improvement?”

Reason #4: Too Few Growth and Advancement Opportunities. Branham observes that most talented employees cannot pinpoint and articulate, and often underuse their greatest strengths. He encourages companies to provide self-assessment tools and career management training for all employees, enabling them to be the best they possibly can be. Most “employers of choice” have a strong mentoring culture. They communicate that employees must take the initiative in their own career development.

Reason #5: Feeling Devalued and Unrecognized. To Branham, many companies do not have a formal and informal culture of recognition because their managers are themselves too busy with their nominal responsibilities to pay adequate attention to employees’ performance. Or, they can’t discern between average and superior performance. He lists recommendations for competitive base- and variable-pay linked to achieving business goals. He reminds managers that employees are hungry to be listened to, and want their ideas sought and implemented.

How companies can tackle employee disengagement and retain their best and brightest people Reason #6: Stress from Overwork and Work-life Imbalance. Branham observes that the relationships employees form with other employees is a glue that binds people to their workplaces. He encourages fostering social connectedness by assigning cross-functional team projects and organizing group outings.

Reason #7: Loss of Trust and Confidence in Senior Leaders. When senior leaders don’t back up pronouncements such as “people are our most important asset” with their actions, even mid-level managers begin to question the decisions and the actions of senior leaders. The result is a manifest lack of enthusiasm in the workplace, and in the rising complaints and questions about policies and practices. Leaders must set the tone for workplace culture and must back up their words with actions to discourage employee cynicism and disengagement.

Becoming an Engaged Leader is the Embodiment of What Leadership Means

Recommendation: Fast read Leigh Branham’s The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave. This book makes a great reading for managers and leaders who will need to scratch beneath the surface to recognize unhappy employees before it’s too late, and then engage their employees better and retain their top talent.

While many of the book’s themes may appear familiar, The 7 Hidden Reasons discuses many ideas and “engagement practices” in great specificity to help managers and leaders keep their antennae up for signs of bitterness and discontent, and correct before they lose their best and brightest people. This practical tome can also help employees discuss and resolve their needs and desires.

Developing a deep understanding of what causes employees to lose motivation, disengage, and leave cannot be ignored or overlooked. Managers and leaders who can resolve the divergence that employees feel between their personal values and the best interests of their businesses will gain immeasurably by having a highly engaged and productive workforce.

One of the Tests of Leadership is the Ability to Sniff out a Fire Quickly

One of the tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes a disaster

I’ve previously stressed the importance of problem-finding as an intellectual skill. I’ve also highlighted why risk analysis and risk reduction should be one of the primary goals of any intellectual process. In this article, I’ll write about being proactive in identifying problems before they evolve into crises.

How Wells Fargo Failed to Recognize a Problem and Address it before it Became a Bigger Problem

As the Wells Fargo accounts scandal unfolded, it was clear that Wells Fargo’s leadership was well aware of the burgeoning problems early on, but failed to act decisively and nip the problem in the bud.

Given impossible sales quotas to reach, Wells Fargo’s “high pressure sales culture” opened as many as two million bank and credit card accounts on behalf of its customers without their consent. Employees were rebuked or even fired for not meeting aggressive cross-selling targets.

Human nature is such that high-pressure demands can deplete the willpower people need to act morally and resist temptations. And such demanding circumstances encourage people to go into defensive mode, engage in self-interested behaviors, and consider only short term benefits and dangers.

Leadership Lessons from the Wells Fargo Accounts Scandal: “A Stitch in Time Indeed Saves Nine”

Leadership Lessons from the Wells Fargo Accounts Scandal Wells Fargo’s leadership reportedly had data about ethical breaches, but they ignored or misjudged the impact of the problem. Wells Fargo even held a two-day ethics workshop in 2014 unequivocally telling their employees not to do that. As per an internal review, managers knew that 1% of employees had been fired for “sales integrity” violations.

Wells Fargo’s leadership didn’t act quickly and decisively to mitigate the effects of the crisis. Warren Buffett, one of the Wells Fargo’s biggest investors, summarized this leadership inaction at the 2017 Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting:

There were three very significant mistakes, but there was one that was worse than all the others … The main problem was that they didn’t act when they learned about it … at some point if there’s a major problem, the CEO will get wind of it. And at that moment, that’s the key to everything, because the CEO has to act. It was a huge, huge, huge error if they were getting, and I’m sure they were getting, some communications and they ignored them or they just sent them back down to somebody down below.

Leadership: “Only the Paranoid Survive”

Andy Grove (1936–2016,) the illustrious cofounder and CEO of Intel, was a famous worrier. At Intel, the focal point of Grove’s leadership style was worry and skepticism. He believed that business success contains the seeds of its own destruction, and that in order for an organization to have longevity, it needs to continue to worry about the future.

'Only the Paranoid Survive' by Andrew S. Grove (ISBN 0385483821) Grove’s principle was immortalized in his famous proclamation, “Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.” He eloquently explained his worrisome mantra in his bestselling corporate memoir, Only the Paranoid Survive (1996.) He wrote in the preface:

The things I tend to be paranoid about vary. I worry about products getting screwed up, and I worry about products getting introduced prematurely. I worry about factories not performing well, and I worry about having too many factories. I worry about hiring the right people, and I worry about morale slacking off. And, of course, I worry about competitors. I worry about other people figuring out how to do what we do better or cheaper, and displacing us with our customers.

At Intel, worrying about the future created a culture of triumph that propelled change and innovation. Grove never let Intel rest on its laurels and led the company to break boundaries in microprocessor innovation. During his tenure as CEO from 1987—98, Intel’s stock price rose 32% a year. Grove also said, “A corporation is a living organism; it has to continue to shed its skin. Methods have to change. Focus has to change. Values have to change. The sum total of those changes is transformation.”

Idea for Impact: Learn to Sniff out a Fire Better than Anyone Does

The principal tasks of leadership are (1) identifying the biggest risks and opportunities, and (2) allocating organizational resources. Therefore, one of the tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes a disaster. If identified and addressed early, nearly any problem can be resolved in a way that is beneficial for everyone involved.

Many leaders tend to be reactionary—they claim, “why fix something that isn’t broken.” Even when they see an impending problem, they may assume that the problem “isn’t that big of a deal” and wish the problem will just go away. Alas, many problems never go away; they only get worse.

To become a good leader, be paranoid—always assume that “there’s no smoke without fire.” If, according to Murphy’s Law, everything that can go wrong will go wrong, the paranoid leader has an advantage.

Whenever you are doing anything, have your eyes on the possibility of potential problems and actively mitigate those risks. Never allow a problem to reach gigantic proportions because you can and must recognize and fix it in its early stages.

As the medieval French philosopher and logician Peter Abelard (1079–1142) wrote, “The beginning of wisdom is found in doubting; by doubting we come to the question, and by seeking we may come upon the truth.”

Before Jumping Ship, Consider This

Don't Jump Ship in Frustration

Dissatisfied with your job? Considering jumping ship? There’s no guarantee your next job will be any better. Many people who jump ship in frustration run into the same problems that were an obstacle with previous employers.

Consider working on a solution before trying to jump ship. Try to discuss your future with your boss.

  • Examine your motivations. Insist on realism. Do you have clear goals and priorities? Step back and assess what’s happening in your career journey. Don’t have unrealistic assumptions.
  • Start with a plan. What specifically are you seeking to make your job better? How can you get it? If you feel your career has become stagnant, realize that people who stay in one function or one industry may move up quickly in the beginning of their careers but often reach a ceiling later when they become too specialized.
  • Be brutally candid with yourself. Make sure you’re capable of handling the roles and responsibilities you’re seeking. Determine if they’re available.
  • Meet formally with your boss to discuss your plan. Take the initiative to lead the discussion; unlike at a performance review, here you drive the discussion.
  • During the meeting, ask your boss to evaluate your skills and your potential. Hear him out. Use active listening—repeat what he said to make sure you understand each other.
  • Give the boss your perspectives after hearing his. Don’t be confrontational. Try to cooperate. Think before you respond: reacting too quickly will set your boss on the defensive and guarantee an argument.
  • Once you’ve agreed upon a solution, do everything to progress it. Example: One woman wanted to be reassigned to her company’s trade sales unit. At her own initiative, she attended her industry’s trade shows, developed contacts, and learned what was necessary to succeed in sales and marketing.
  • Don’t expect quick action: changes take a little time. Perhaps you may be happier with a lateral move: many people think that careers should follow an upward trajectory. In fact, most jobs transitions don’t entail a promotion. Most successful careers involve a mix of lateral and upward movement.

Idea for Impact: Try to ask for honest feedback about what’s holding you back from a promotion. You’ll find it easier to tackle career frustrations in a familiar environment at your current employer rather than at a new company where you’ll be under pressure to learn the ropes and produce results quickly.

Job-Hunting While Still Employed [Two-Minute Mentor #10]

Job-Hunting While Still Employed Searching for a new job without revealing that you aren’t very pleased at your current job or getting fired can be a challenge. Here are four ways to job-hunt with caution.

  • Examine your motivations before job-hunting. Many people who jump ship in frustration run into the same problems that were an obstacle with previous employers. Try to ask for honest feedback about how you’re perceived by your managers and what’s holding you back from a promotion. You’ll find it easier to tackle career progression frustrations in a familiar environment at your current employer rather than at a new company where you’ll be under pressure to learn the ropes and produce results quickly.
  • Respect your employer’s time and resources. Don’t job-search on company time—your current job responsibilities are your priority. Looking for another position typically involves having to be away from your office for interviews; use your vacation days—not sick days—for job-searching and interviewing. Be careful about using your work computer to look up jobs, contact recruiters, or update your social-media presence.
  • Be tactful about whom you tell that you’re looking for another job. Even if you trust your coworkers, you can’t limit what they may share with others. Some of your coworkers may be ethically obligated to keep your boss and your company informed about any prospective changes in staffing or anything that might affect the organization’s goals. Be cautious about how you promote yourself on LinkedIn and job-search websites.
  • If you are offered a new job, be straight with everyone. Inform your boss immediately. Give as much notice as required, plan to tie up loose ends, and offer to help transition your responsibilities to a successor. Don’t be unreasonable in leveraging your new job offer to negotiate a counteroffer from your employer. Do your best to leave on the right note. Be consistent in what you tell different people about why you’re leaving. Do not burn bridges in the job-transition process.

You Too Can (and Must) Become Effective

Peter Drucker on Teaching Yourself to Become Effective

Peter Drucker (1909–2005) is widely regarded as the most outstanding thinker on the subject of management theory and practice. He was amazingly prolific—he produced 39 volumes on management and leadership and worked right until his death a week before his 96th birthday.

Drucker’s The Practice of Management (1954) played a pivotal role in the recognition of management as a professional discipline. In this influential book (see my summary here,) Drucker explained what management is and how managers do their jobs.

'The Effective Executive' by Peter Drucker (ISBN 0060833459) In his bestselling The Effective Executive (1967,) Drucker defined effectiveness as getting the right things done and efficiency as making resources productive. His pivotal message was that effectiveness must be learned because effectiveness is every manager’s job. That’s what are managers get paid for—“the executive is paid for being effective.” Moreover, “Effective executives know that their subordinates are paid to perform, and not to please their superiors.”

Five Practices of the Effective Executive

Drucker devotes five chapters of The Effective Executive to five practices that have to be acquired to be effective. Introducing these effectiveness practices, Drucker writes, “Whenever I have found a person who—no matter how great in intelligence, industry, imagination, or knowledge—fails to observe these practices, I have also found an executive deficient in effectiveness.”

  • Effectiveness Habit #1—Know Where Time Goes: “Time is the scarcest resource, and unless it is managed nothing else can be managed.” In addition, “Effective executives know where their time goes. They work systematically at managing the little of their time that can be brought under their control.” Using the three-step time logging, time analysis, and time budgeting practice, effective executives know where there time goes. They exert themselves to make certain that they invest their time in line with their values and priorities.
  • Effectiveness Habit #2—Focus on Contribution: Whatever your span of responsibilities—supervisory, managerial or leadership—you are accountable to your ‘external’ stakeholders. These stakeholders measure your performance solely by your ability to identify opportunities and get things done through the resources you have. Drucker writes, “Effective executives focus on outward contributions. They gear their efforts to results rather than to work. They start out with the question, ‘What results are expected of me?'” Effective executives have a clear understanding of their contribution and their results.
  • Effectiveness Habit #3: Make Strengths Productive: “Effective executives build on strengths—theirs and others. They do not build on weaknesses. They do not start out with the things they cannot do.” Effective executives understand and build on the strengths of themselves, their team, and their organization to make everyone productive and to eliminate weaknesses. The only weaknesses that have a bearing—and must be remedied—are the ones that hinder effective executives from exercising their strengths.
  • Effectiveness Habit #4: Live Priorities: “Effective executives concentrate on superior performance where superior performance will produce outstanding results. They force themselves to stay within priorities.” Setting priorities is easier; the hard part is sticking to the decision and living the priorities. To get things done, focus on one task at a time or two at the most; three is usually impractical.
  • Effectiveness Habit #5: Systemize Decision-Making: “Effective executives make effective decisions. They know that this is a system—the right steps in the right sequence. They know that to make decisions fast is to make the wrong decisions.” For Drucker, decision-making was a matter of wisdom and sound judgment—making a choice between alternatives but seldom between mere right and mere wrong. “The sooner operating managers learn to make decisions as genuine judgments on risk and uncertainty, the sooner we will overcome one of the basic weaknesses of large organizations—the absence of any training and testing for the decision-making top positions.”

Idea for Impact: Teach yourself to become effective. Commit these five tasks to memory and practice them. Read The Effective Executive—it will have a profound effect on your performance.

Good Questions Encourage Creative Thinking


Thought-provoking questions: potential game changers that are not asked nearly enough

Asking Questions to Encourage Creativity “To think creatively, we must be able to look afresh at what we normally take for granted,” wrote George F. Kneller (1909–1999), the American academic and pioneer in the field of philosophy of education, in Art and Science of Creativity (1965.) Many people don’t know how to probe their thought processes with questions that encourage creativity.

Consider a brainstorming meeting where a new idea was received with comments and judgments like, “this won’t work,” “we’ve never done it this way,” “the customer won’t like it,” or, “if this is such a great idea, why hasn’t it been done before?” Immediately, a dysfunctional pattern ensues. Defensiveness sets in and the meeting’s participants will resist making any more suggestions and will fail to explore those ideas that were previously made. (One of the key principles of “divergent thinking” for idea-generation is to defer judgment. Neuroscience has suggested that the human prefrontal cortex—the self-monitoring element of the brain—is less active when we’re most creative.)

Creative thinkers ask open-ended, accommodating, and exploratory lead-in questions such as,

  • “I wonder if/why/whether … “
  • “Perhaps we could … “
  • “That would work if/when … “
  • “In what ways can we … .” This favorite of mine was introduced by Edward de Bono, the lateral thinking pioneer and creator of the “Six Thinking Hats” method for group creativity. De Bono called this lead-in question the ‘IWW.’

Instead of declaring “we could never do this,” ask “IWW (in what ways) may people start to do this?” In practical terms, this rephrasing may seem a small thing, but it embodies a leap in unhindered, open-minded thinking. The former seems a categorical rejection; but the latter invites an exploration of possibilities and signals the beginning of the search for solutions to constraints.

Idea for Impact: The ability to pose meaningful—and often deceptively simple questions is the hallmark of creativity

Good Questions Encourage Creative Thinking Often, what leads a creative person to get fresh insight is the quality of questions he/she asks. Questions such as “I wonder if …” and “In what ways can we … ” ignite dialogues in your mind that can lead to creative insights and new discoveries.

The prospect for creative thinking expands when you can reframe restraining statements into creative questions. Consider the following examples:

  • Restraining statement: “We can’t possibly do that.”
    Creative question: “If it were possible, how would you do it?”
  • Restraining statement: “It’ll take too long.”
    Creative question: “If it’s time-consuming, how can I make it short?”
  • Restraining statement: “I can’t talk to her.”
    Creative question: “If you could talk to her, what would you say?”
  • Restraining statement: “I’m too busy to do this.”
    Creative question: “In what ways can we free up some time for you?”

During brainstorming, asking questions in a way that opens participants’ minds to newer possibilities can have a transformative shift in the creative atmosphere. When participants suspend their judgments, everyone in the brainstorming session will feel comfortable enough to explore creative solutions to constraints.

What it Takes to Be a Hit with Customers

  1. Be Trustworthy. One of the most important aspects of being effective at work is earning and upholding others’trust through your actions, not through your words. You earn trust slowly but can lose it in a moment—as Warren Buffett often reiterates, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” Idea for Impact: Earn trust by making and honoring your commitments. Do what you commit to. Act with integrity. Do the right things for the right reasons.
  2. Responsiveness in Customer Service: Respond immediately to requests unless there is a judicious reason to wait Be Responsive. We live in a time and age of “instantaneous gratification.” People want immediate results—without delay or deferment. They don’t expect to wait. And if they have to wait on you, their resentment grows. Alas, responsiveness affects how people perceive you. If you’re slow, your customers will suppose you are indifferent or incompetent. If you respond promptly, they’ll assume you’re proficient and on top of your work. Idea for Impact: Respond immediately to requests unless there is a judicious reason to wait.
  3. Be Strong, But Flexible. Respect the rules and traditions but be adaptable to changing conditions. Be watchful and absorb from whatever you can learn—as General Electric’s celebrated ex-CEO Jack Welch once wrote, “The desire and the ability of an organization to continuously learn from any source—and to rapidly convert this learning into action—is its ultimate competitive advantage.” Idea for Impact: Flexibility with rules can be pragmatic in its own right. Learn to make rational decisions by balancing facts and emotions.
  4. Be Realistic, Not Overly Optimistic. Self-help gurus and the media have endlessly touted optimism as the “winning formula to success.” This obsession with cheerfulness has reinforced a false sense of realism and pragmatism. Optimists tend to overlook the reality—they develop a false sense of hope and become too attached to the possibility of positive outcomes. Unfortunately, realists are branded as skeptics and skeptics are quickly shunned as outcasts. Idea for Impact: Take an honest and levelheaded view, no matter what the problem. Embrace the possibility of failure. Plan for the downside. Don’t get caught up in trivial details.
  5. Be Likeable and Interested. Highly competent but unlikeable people do not succeed as well as their fairly competent but likeable counterparts. The American poet and memoirist Maya Angelou aptly said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Idea for Impact: Be pleasant, enthusiastic, and friendly—make eye contact, smile, and say ‘hello’ more. Listen. Be open and approachable. Appreciate the individuality of people. Try to be interested, not just interesting.
  6. Be a Good Salesperson - Much of success in life is really about selling yourself Be a Good Salesperson. Much of success in life—from getting a Starbucks barista to make a special no-whip, extra-foam latte with half a packet of Splenda to finding a spouse—is really about selling yourself. Every selling situation involves making a connection with an individual who likes and trusts you. An anonymous sales guru once said, “All things being equal, most people would rather buy from somebody they like… and that’s true even when all things aren’t equal.” Idea for Impact: It is useless to work hard and be creative unless you can also sell what you create. Learn to be persuasive. You can’t just talk people into things.
  7. Be Visible and Communicate Candidly. How you identify and respond to a problem or a crisis is the ultimate test of your character. If you do not communicate frequently, people will develop their own perceptions of the problem and its implications. Knowing when to step up your communications efforts to the right levels during difficulties can be a powerful tool in problem solving. Idea for Impact: Keep your eyes open for customers’ inconveniences, difficulties, and troubles as creative problems to be solved. Focus on problem solving. Be visible. Communicate and lead from the front. Learn how to handle upset customers.

Postscript: This Harvard Business Review article argues that, more than anything else, customers want just a reasonable solution to their expectations. Delighting them by “exceeding their expectations” hardly enhances customer loyalty.