Learn the slow “yes” and the fast “no”


A clear “no” can be more graceful than a vague or noncommittal “yes.” Greg McKeown

Think carefully before you make commitments. Don’t be impulsive. Your time, energy, and resources are being requisitioned, so respond slowly. When pressured to make a quick decision, make no your default answer. Only say yes after you’ve had the opportunity to fully analyze the situation and come to a wise decision.

If your answer is not a definite yes, then it should be no.

We all keep either a physical or mental to-do list (at least, I hope you do). That’s how work gets identified, organized, and prioritized. We also need to maintain a fictitious “not-to-do-list” which will help us avoid the trivial many. For every one item placed on your to-do list, there might be two opportunities which you should decline.

In Greg McKeown’s terrific book, Essentialism: The Essential Pursuit of Less, he wrote, “Nonessentialists say ‘yes’ automatically, without thinking, often in pursuit of the rush one gets from having pleased someone. But then comes the pang of regret. Eventually they will wake up to the unpleasant reality that something more important must now be sacrificed to accommodate this new commitment. Of course, the point is not to say no to all requests. The point is to say no to the nonessentials so we can say yes to the things that really matter.”

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Close the knowing-doing gap

knowingProblem: We often know what to do, but we don’t do it.
Solution: Err toward action, and measure results.

Knowing what to do is not enough; we must do. In some cases, the gap between knowing and doing is more inhibiting than the gap between ignorance and knowing. Competitive advantage comes from being able to do something others can’t or don’t do.

To avoid the knowing-doing gap, realize that:

  1. Talking is not a substitute for action. Talking about something is not the equivalent of actually doing it. Rhetoric is often an essential first step, but eventually something has to get done and someone has to do it.
    Beware of people who:

    1. Talk too much. Sometimes there is an inverse relationship between how much a person talks and his ability to get things done.
    2. Use “smart language” or technical jargon. Complex language and ambiguous terminology confuses people and inhibits action.
    3. Are critical. Some people try to sound smart by criticizing other people’s ideas.
  2. Making decisions is not a substitute for action. By itself, a decision changes nothing.
  3. Preparing documents is not a substitute for action.
  4. Planning is not a substitute for action.
  5. Just because something is easy to understand doesn’t mean it will be easy to implement.

How to close the gap

  1. When possible, learn by doing; “If you do it, then you will know it.”
    When you learn by doing, there is no knowing-doing gap. Knowledge that is actually implemented is much more likely to be acquired from learning by doing than from learning by reading, listening, or even thinking. Surgeons “hear one, see one, do one.”
  2. Always err toward action. This creates opportunities for learning by doing. It helps to establish a cultural tone that action is valued and that talk and analysis without action are unacceptable. Use rapid prototyping to see if things work and then modify them on the basis of that experience.
  3. Fear fosters knowing-doing gaps, so drive out fear. Setbacks and mistakes should be seen as an inevitable, even desirable, part of being action oriented. Action-oriented people make mistakes so provide a “soft landing.” “Learning is an extension of the word trying.” Nanus and Bennis
  4. Measure results, not actions. “The foundation of any successfully run business is a strategy everyone understands coupled with a few key measures that are routinely tracked” (Dean Tjosvold). Often, measuring many things is counterproductive; measuring more things will not necessarily get more of the right things done; but do measure important metrics. Don’t measure activity; measure results.
  5. As a leader, adopt an apprenticeship approach to managing your team members; be a coach, not just a teacher or mentor. Unfortunately, knowing by doing is, initially, a less cost-effective way of transmitting knowledge and changing behavior (it is counterintuitive to much of our Internet-driven culture), but ultimately, it is the best way.

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[The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action by Pfeffer and Sutton is the best book on this subject.]

Take responsibility for your choices

take-responsibilityLife is a sum of all your choices. Albert Camus

In his book, The 8th Habit, Steven Covey says, “Fundamentally, we are a product of choice, not nature (genes) or nurture (upbringing, environment). Certainly genes and culture exert strong influence, but they do not determine. Next to life itself, the power to choose is your greatest gift. This power and freedom stand in stark contrast to the mind-set of victimization and culture of blame so prevalent in society today.”

Covey shares three sentences that underscore the power and importance of our freedom and ability to choose:

  1. Between stimulus and response there is a space.
  2. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response.
  3. In those choices lie our growth and happiness.

Throughout each day, and life itself, you continually receive both negative and positive stimuli. Often, you have little control over what comes your way.

  • Someone at work unleashes an angry tirade on you.
  • You are given an incredible opportunity at work.
  • You see a billboard with a seductive picture on it.
  • You hear disappointing news.
  • Someone compliments how you look.
  • Your car breaks down.
  • Your child becomes ill.
  • You are seriously injured in a car accident.
  • You get a raise at work.

Immediately following the stimulus there is a space—a period of time—during which you choose your response. And herein, Covey says, is your opportunity to control and shape your life and destiny. You have minimal control over what comes your way, but you have ultimate control over how you respond to it.

Some people don’t want to accept responsibility for how they respond. When battered by difficult events, they assume the role of the victim and begin to blame others. When good things happen, instead of being grateful, they feel entitled. When you acknowledge your power to choose how you respond to life’s events, you assume control and responsibility for your life.

We not only make choices in response to stimuli, we are also responsible for the stewardship of our lives—how we spend our resources of time and talent. This is primarily an issue of initiative or lack of it. How many years have you been an independent, self-regulating adult and what have you done with your life during those years? If we assume that the first 17 years of your life were orchestrated for you and you are now 35 years old, you have been solely responsible for the majority of your life (18 years), and that percentage is growing every day.

Amazingly, our capacity to choose is so powerful that we are not even restrained by our past choices; we can choose to change our decisions and/or correct our mistakes. For instance, perhaps you’ve never developed any marketable skills; you can choose, today, to change that. Perhaps you’ve been in the wrong career; change careers. You are not a tree—move.

Here’s a list of some important areas in which you have or can make choices. Carefully consider how your decisions in each area have shaped who you are and how they will impact your future.

Skill development—relationships—values—beliefs—virtues—attitudes—habits

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Run at problems

run-at-problems-001All leaders can become good problem-solvers. To do so, they must do four things: Anticipate problems before they occur; maintain a positive attitude while they occur; use all their resources to solve them as quickly as possible so they cease to occur; learn from them so the same problems do not occur again. —John Maxwell, Developing the Leaders Around You

The biblical story of David and Goliath pits a giant against a young man in an epic confrontation between good and evil. My favorite part of the story is when the duel begins: “Then it happened when the Philistine rose and came and drew near to meet David, that David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine.”

David ran at Goliath.

It wasn’t a display of youthful hubris or stupidity; it was considered aggression and confident courage. David’s pugnacity must have thrown Goliath off balance. The giant was used to frightened, tepid foes, but here was a young man running towards him.

In your personal and professional affairs, run at your problems.

The alternate approach is procrastination or avoidance. Most problems do not resolve themselves; they must be aggressively and tenaciously pursued.

Identify at least two problems in your business or personal life that need to be addressed. Schedule a time to deal with each one.

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Leaders: measure what you manage



What gets measured gets managed. Drucker

A car’s dashboard offers a quick assessment of key systems: engine temperature, speedometer, odometer, fuel level, amps generated—important information that is constantly monitored and clearly stated.

Every organization should have a “dashboard”—a system that identifies and consistently measures key indicators of health and growth.

What does your organization’s dashboard include?

For-profit organizations are better at tracking key indicators than non-profit organizations. Non-profits often rationalize their lack of monitoring by thinking, “The mission of our organization is too ethereal to track; we deal with intangibles that can’t be expressed using numbers.” That’s a lame excuse. Every organization can identify key metrics that are quantifiable.

Metrics not only benefit  organizations; they are also advantageous for individuals. Track your finances using a budget (Quicken software is an easy system to use). Track how often you exercise. Weigh yourself every day and try to stay within five pounds (+ or -) of your ideal weight. Keep a record of how many books you read. Track how many social encounters you have each week.

It’s difficult to manage something unless you measure it.

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