Vol. 11 No. 14 – October 10, 2011

October 10, 2011


The 8020Info Water Cooler

Highlights from the latest information
for managers, leaders and entrepreneurs

1. Rules To Avoid Being An Idiot

The only thing worse than dealing with an idiot in the workplace is finding out that you are the idiot in the workplace, argues software developer Eric Krock. On his Agile Product And Project Management Blog, he notes that an idiot is a person who is very poor at logical reasoning, has low odds of reaching valid conclusions as a result, yet still has extremely high confidence in their conclusions. “Fortunately, this means that idiocy is both a preventable and a curable problem,” he observes. To do that, he suggests:

  • Find out how many people disagree with you and how many people agree with you: The higher the ratio of people who disagree to people who agree, the more careful you must be.
  • Find out why those people disagree with you: That might reveal a fact, worthwhile assumption, or viewpoint you don’t already know.
  • Test your opinions against the facts: “Facts are inconvenient. They get in the way of absolutely perfect opinions. See what conclusions you can draw from your opinions and see how well those conclusions stack up against reality. If your opinions conflict with the facts, it’s not the facts you should be changing!” he says.
  • Test your opinions against each other: Look for internal contradictions between your opinions, and try to resolve those.
  • Test your predictions against the future: Make concrete, quantitative predictions about what you expect to happen within a specific time frame — and later review how accurate you were. This will remind you to be open to the possibility of being wrong.

2. What Is Your Brand Against?

Companies know that to be successful their brands have to stand for something. To do that, advertising agency head Scott Goodson suggests telling the world what you stand against.

His agency recently tried that for smart car, a brand that stands for efficiency, economy, and a reduced environmental footprint — all good things, but also dull and predictable.

“By defining instead what smart is against — over-consumption, excess, thoughtless behaviour — we began to craft a statement with more of an edge. As we boiled down the idea some more, what emerged was a simple yet powerful declaration of principle, stating that we are ‘against dumb,’ he writes on Harvard Business Review Blogs.

Through media attention and giving customers something to rail against — everything from gas-guzzlers to oversized lattes — the campaign created a vocal community of smart car advocates, and the brand more than quadrupled its audience.

3. The Top Six Office Distractions

Getting work done in the office can often be difficult, because of the distractions. Here’s a list of some obvious and not-so-obvious factors affecting your work, from Inc.com’s Matt Rist:

  • Sound design: Even low-level noise in open-style offices can create stress and reduce task motivation, a Cornell University study found. So think about where you will place higher-decibel employees, as well as loud appliances like copy machines.
  • Room Temperature: A Cornell University study found that when temperatures were increased from 20 degrees to 25 degrees, errors fell by 44 per cent and typing output increased 150 per cent. At the same time, another study warned about temperatures being too high, suggesting performance dropped at more than 24 degrees.
  • Tech intrusion: A huge number of work interruptions, of course, come from the Internet.
  • Social butterflies: Forty-three per cent of work interruptions come from phone calls, talking with co-workers, and impromptu meetings.
  • Sitting pretty: Chairs that are not adjustable and desks that are too small can distract by the soreness and strain they create. One study found that individuals who received office ergonomic training and sat in a highly adjustable chair increased average productivity by 17.8 per cent after a year.
  • Space matters: Low ceilings encourage analytical thinking, while high ceilings can encourage abstract thought and creativity. Red walls can stifle creativity, but stimulate inside-the-box thinking for tasks that call for small details and accuracy. So the space around us matters.

4. Do You Under-explain?

Almost daily, it seems, we are reminded how important it is to produce spare communications that are as short and to-the-point as possible. But there are times when that advice can lead us astray. Writing on www.ragan.com, Denise Graveline notes three situations when less is not more:

  • Your explanation isn’t long enough to be clear: Some detail is needed if you want your audience to follow a complex or technical topic.
  • You’re not keeping up your end of the conversation: Answering questions with a simple, terse “yes” or “no” doesn’t help you shape or enhance the flow of a conversation.
  • You’re less convincing than you want to be: A curt, data-free statement may not be enough to persuade an audience. “Make your statement, offer some data, then bridge to an anecdotal example,” she suggests.

Whether you’re handling a media interview, explaining a change project to your staff or helping a team understand your vision, these tips can help you achieve the right balance between “not too much, not too little”.

5. Zingers

  • When you try to be everyone’s friend and avoid giving tough constructive feedback, you are shirking your responsibility, says consultant Mark Murphy: “Leaders aren’t just allowed to give feedback; they’re obligated to give feedback. And more than that, they’re obligated to own that feedback. Leaders are coaches with a fresh perspective; it’s their job to shed light on issues that employees may have missed.” (Source: Leadership IQ)
  • Our mothers taught us to never trust strangers, but we have to stretch our trust limits in an open-source knowledge-based economy, argues Andreas Souvaliotis, president of Air Miles for Social Change. (Source: The Huffington Post)
  • Michael Mercer, author of Job Hunting Made Easy, suggests using this question next time you are interviewing candidates: “When you finish your work, what do you like to do?” The question is vague, not indicating whether you are looking for an answer about work — for instance, taking on more after finishing a task — or personal activities. The answer might be revealing. (Source: Business News Daily)
  • He who needs the other person the least is in control of negotiations. So Thomas Nelson Chairman Michael Hyatt warns you not to fall in love with something you want to acquire, don’t get too eager in the negotiations, and always give yourself other options. (Source: MichaelHyatt.com)
  • Place an index card on your desk as a reminder to turn your cell phone ringer back on after a meeting. Put a post-it note on your steering wheel asking if you have the material for the presentation with you. In the same fashion as you tie a string around your finger, consultant Wally Bock urges you to use physical reminders with index cards and post-it notes. (Source: Three Star Leadership Blog)

6. Q&A with 8020Info:
Compelling Story Structure

Question: What’s the story model called “The Hero’s Journey”?

8020Info President and CEO Rob Wood responds:

The Hero’s Journey is a classic story model drawn from the academic studies of Joseph Campbell and the psychology of Carl Jung. Whether you’re writing the script for Star Wars, telling the story of your business or making a pitch for a donation, your narrative can benefit from this 12-step structure. They are:

  • Ordinary world
  • Call to adventure
  • Resistance: refusal of the call
  • Meeting the mentor
  • Committing to change: choosing to cross the threshold into a special world
  • Experimenting with change and facing tests/discerning allies and enemies
  • Preparing for a big change (approaching the “innermost cave”)
  • Ordeal: a major confrontation that doesn’t work out as planned
  • Gaining benefit/reward, improvement or learning from setbacks
  • Pursuing the road back/rededication to the change
  • The final attempt at the greatest challenge
  • Mastery (“returning with the treasure”)

This structure can be used to emphasize both an inner journey and outer journey. The important thing for presentations, as Nancy Duarte points out in her terrific book resonate, is to remember that the audience (not you, the presenter) should be identified with the role of hero.

Your story needn’t be as long as a novel or screenplay. You can quickly present a threat or challenge to your audience’s ordinary world, set out a call to action, respond to their resistance to change, and offer mentorship to help them find a path forward. Your story gains dramatic force and interest as you describe the ups and downs of a past or future journey, the lessons learned, the reasons why the hero does not give up, and final triumph of the reward — what Duarte calls “new bliss”.

It’s a powerful structure, proven through centuries of story-telling. Try using it as a checklist to assess the stories you wish to tell.

An interesting, more detailed explanation is available at: www.thewritersjourney.com/hero’s_journey.htm

7. News From Our Water Cooler:
Lessons From A Trip

As we learned in a recent email, Ottawa marketing sales consultant Colleen Francis and her husband got on their motorcycles this summer and travelled to Prince Edward County and Kingston, coming back with a business lesson about the impact of personal connections:

  • On their stop in Kingston, they appreciated reconnecting with Royal Military College, where Colleen’s husband had studied, and once again enjoying the city’s wonderful waterfront. It’s easy to lose track of important connections over time, even when you value you them highly.
  • Connections can also have an impact on purchasing behaviours: When you get to know the people behind a brand, those personal connections lead to more spending, as happened when they met the owners of County wineries.

8. Closing Thought                                                                 Top

“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.”
— William Penn