Vol. 12 No.14 – October 1, 2012

September 30, 2012


The 8020Info Water Cooler

Highlights from the latest information
for managers, leaders and entrepreneurs

1. Dealing With Difficult People

Work is a lot easier when we don’t have to deal with difficult people. But it’s important to recognize that when you find a difficult person complicating your workplace, you have more control than you realize, psychologist Travis Bradberry says. On the TalentSmart web site, he outlines three steps to deal with the situation:

  • Rise above: Difficult people drive you crazy because their behaviour is so irrational. But the more someone is irrational and off base, the easier it is for you to remove yourself from their traps. “Distance yourself from them emotionally and approach your interactions like they’re a science project (or you’re their shrink, if you prefer the analogy). You don’t need to respond to the emotional chaos — only the facts,” he writes. In particular, be alert when they’re pushing your buttons.
  • Set boundaries: As you rise above, their behaviour will be more predictable and easier to understand. You can think rationally about when you have to put up with them and when you don’t. Consciously and proactively set limits, and stick to your guns when the person encroaches on those boundaries.
  • Talk about it: Feel free to talk to people in your support system — to vent — about the situation. “They will be able to more easily see when your emotions are getting the better of you, and can help you to maintain a rational perspective,” he says. They can also help you evaluate your boundaries and, where necessary, reset them. 

2. Three Beliefs of Remarkably Successful People

Ghostwriter Jeff Haden works with many successful people, and over the years has gleaned insights into various beliefs that make them tick, including:

  • Failure is something I embrace; it doesn’t just happen to me: When most people are asked why they have been successful, their answers abound with personal pronouns — I, me, (or sometimes we). But when asked about failure, they distance themselves — the economy tanked, publicity wasn’t good, or suppliers couldn’t keep up. The fault, they say, lies with somebody or something else. Occasionally something outside your control causes you to fail, but generally it’s because of you. Every successful person has failed. Accept that, and embrace (and learn) from your failures.
  • The people around me are the people I choose: If some of your employees or customers drive you nuts, accept the fact that you chose them. “They’re in your professional or personal life because you drew them to you — and you let them remain,” he writes at Inc.com. Think about what type of people you prefer to work with, or serve as customers, and then change your behaviour to attract them.
  • People who pay me always have a right to tell me what to do: Don’t be cocky or hung up on your freedom to express your individuality. “The people who pay you, whether customers or employers, earn the right to dictate what you do and how you do it — sometimes down to the last detail,” he says.

3. When Not To Use Your Head

Your mind is a great place to have ideas but a terrible place to manage them, according to productivity guru David Allen. That’s why you need a system that captures all your commitments in an easily reviewable format, he notes in his Productive Living newsletter.

Otherwise, you’ll have lists and notes scattered all about — including some in your memory — putting unnecessary strain on your psyche as you worry about your untrustworthy system. You probably have complete faith in your calendar, since it lists all your meetings and appointment. “But the calendar usually holds only about 5% of the commitments we actually have — all the rest need to get done in and around our appointments, and they are often not nearly as clear-cut as our appointments,” he notes. “Yet most people still have over half their life in their heads. And a partial system is almost worse than none.”

Get a system, and make sure it’s complete, tracking all your commitments.

4. Faking It At Meetings Doesn’t Work

If you feel a meeting is a waste of time, don’t attend and fake your participation while your mind wanders to other work and your fingers surreptitiously type out email messages. That only contributes to the phenomenon of wasteful meetings, says consultant Jennifer Miller on her People Equation blog.

You may want to suggest to the meeting planner that there may be a better way to accomplish the meeting’s goals without everyone coming together face-to-face. But if the meeting goes ahead, she urges you to “put on your Big Kid Pants and accept that you need to be at this meeting, and you will give your 100 per cent full attention.”

5. Zingers

  • Pick where to over-deliver: No one can maximize on every project, customer, and opportunity, so entrepreneur Seth Godin says the key is to be rigorous about where you are prepared to over-deliver, while in other cases asking how little you can do, which might mean saying no to an opportunity. (Source: Seth’s Blog)
  • Focusing on thanks:  With Thanksgiving coming up, why not set a timer every day this week and spend 12 minutes offering thank-yous to colleagues and clients — an idea suggested by consultant Becky Robinson, who promotes focused activity in 12-minute time slots. You may find it to be a practice worth continuing. (Source: Weaving Influence)
  • Remember those above:  In offering thanks and recognition, don’t forget the boss, observes consultant Paul Hebert. “Recognition shouldn’t just be a down escalator,” he says, suggesting we remember those who rise to the top. (Source: I2I)
  • Lead like yourself:  There are many books urging us to lead like famous people, such as Steve Jobs, Abraham Lincoln, and Jack Welch. But consultant Wally Bock says you’ll be more successful if you lead like yourself: “Look closely at the example of successful leaders and adopt what works for you, but filter everything through your values and your style.” (Source: Three Star Leadership Blog)
  • Before you start:  Never start a sentence if you don’t know how it ends, advises entrepreneur Dragos Roua. (Source: Lifehack.org)

6. Q&A with 8020Info:  Brainstorming for Strategy

Question:  What’s the best way to brainstorm ideas for a strategic plan?

8020Info President and CEO Rob Wood responds:

This question came up last week after a workshop with 35 non-profit board chairs and executive directors, and it’s a good one because the brainstorming process is often misunderstood. Here are some research-based pointers we have also found to work in practice with our clients.

  • Context:  First, consider how creative collaboration fits into a larger process. A classic model, known as Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem Solving, identifies six stages:
    — Identify the goal, wish or challenge
    — Gather data
    — Clarify the problem
    — Generate ideas
    — Develop solutions
    — Plan for action
  • Original Rules: Alex Osborn “invented” brainstorming in 1941 and stressed four rules: 
    — Rule out criticism. Suspend critical judgement of ideas until later.
    — Welcome freewheeling ideas — the wilder, the better.
    — Go for quantity: generating many ideas makes it more likely some will be useful.
    — Seek to improve on the ideas of others and/or combine them for new ones.
  • Brainstorming alone:  Jonah Lehrer, the researcher and author of Imagine: How Creativity Works, says “people actually come up with better solutions to problems when they work by themselves”.  In our practice, we find that asking strategy session participants to work up a list of ideas on their own before discussion tends to result in a wider range and diversity of ideas.
  • Generating ideas:  Try going for 50 ideas within a 5 or 10-minute time limit. Practice suggests that the first third of your ideas will tend to be what you’ve tried before; the next third are old ideas with a slightly new twist; and the last third generated, with time running out and desperation setting in, tend to produce the most creative ideas.
  • The Question:  Ideas are generated in response to a problem or question, so it’s important to use a catalytic question (“How best might we …”) and to rephrase problems with a positive attitude (“It would be great if…” or “I wish…”)
  • Criticism has a role:  Recently, some researchers have noted that debate, dissent and criticism play an important role in creative work. (To read more, see: http://www.marketingprofs.com/podcasts/2012/7473/no-pain-no-gain-jonah-lehrer-discusses-debate-dissent-and-creativity#ixzz27nlr1WYd )
  • Skills:  Alicia Arnold, a specialist in creativity and brainstorming, notes that creativity involves some specific skills:
    — The ability to ask questions (clarify)
    — The ability to come up with ideas (ideate)
    — The ability to come up with solutions (develop)
    — The ability to get things done (implement)
    She also notes that productive brainstorming involves a series of two-cycle processes — first diverging to generate many ideas, and then converging to select, focus and refine the best one. That may generate, in turn, another round of diverging and converging at a deeper level of detail.
  • Tools:  There are many tools available to help structure and stimulate your brainstorming discussions. There is the well-known SCAMPER model (Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate and Rearrange). You might also like Elaine Dundon’s “List & Twist Checklist” from The Seeds of Innovation (e.g. eliminate an ingredient, make it less extreme, change colour, automate parts, make it bigger/smaller, change the shape and so on).We have often used Edward De Bono’s  “Six Thinking Hats” technique to work through ideas in a thorough and considered manner. We also recommend Tim Hurson’s book, Think Better — especially his Productive Thinking Model, his POWER Exercise for forging solutions and EFFECT Exercise to plan the alignment of resources prior to implementation. 

So there’s a lot more to brainstorming than just throwing caution to the wind and trying to “blue-sky” it. These tips will help.

7. News From Our Water Cooler: Strategic Employee Communications

We were pleased to welcome a full room of senior leaders, HR managers and communications professionals at Innovation Park last week when Karen Humphreys Blake, our Senior Consulting Associate, presented her master’s research findings.

Karen’s study of “top employer” companies in Canada explored how they leverage employee engagement through communications.  Here are some points she shared:

  • Companies that are highly effective at employee communications have 47% higher returns.
  • The best new ideas come from engaged employees, not new employees, contrary to common wisdom.
  • Actively disengaged employees are not only unproductive, they severely erode the job performance of those around them.
  • Although managers have a vital role to play in communicating and engaging employees, most companies admit they do not adequately support and train them.


8020Info Inc. is expanding its practice in the area of strategic employee engagement and communications.  If we can help your organization become more effective, productive and innovative, we would be pleased to discuss your needs. Enquiries are welcome at (613) 542-8020, or by email at watercooler@8020info.com  

8. Closing Thought

“If you never change your mind, why have one.”
— Edward de Bono