February 18, 2019


The 8020Info Water Cooler

  Highlights from the latest information
  for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs



In this 8020Info Water Cooler we focus on insight-producing questions — questions to explore complex issues, balance personal interactions, dissect decisions and outcomes, hire more effectively, and chill out heated conversations. Enjoy!


1. The Good, The Bad, And The Decision

Good decisions don’t always have good outcomes, just as bad decisions don’t always have bad outcomes, Shane Parrish suggests on his provocative Farnam Street blog.

“For example, if you are sitting at a blackjack table and happen to receive an 18 on the first two cards, should you hit when the dealer asks as a courtesy? Let’s suppose you take that hit and the next card is a 3. You made a horrible decision but you lucked out. Worse, you might never know that you made a poor decision,” he says.

A simple 2×2 matrix shows that a good process or a bad process can each lead to good or bad results. We aim for a good process to obtain a good outcome but need to be aware a bad outcome can result. As at that blackjack table, the bad process can lead to a good outcome – or, perhaps deserved, bad outcome.

To improve your decision-making take a tip from Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman and keep a decision journal. It’s not new – sea captains kept logs after all, and like them you should record the process of making decisions so there is something to review down the road.

“Good decisions are valuable, but they are more valuable if they are part of a good decision process because a good process allows for feedback about where you can improve. This feedback, in turn, allows you to constantly get better at making decisions,” says Kahneman.


2. A Big Question To Ask Regularly

Consultant Steve Keating used to work for someone who would continually ask a pointed question: Is that a need-to-do or a nice-to-do?

“It didn’t make any difference if the resource being allocated was time, people, money or a combination of the three, the question was usually the same. It always made me stop and think,” Keating notes on his LeadToday blog.

That reflection led him to realize that in organizations relatively few things are actually a need-to-do. Those might include investing in future products or services, excelling at your core competencies, preparing the organization’s next generation of leaders, and building long-term meaningful customer relationships based on trust.

And if something proposed is not on the short list of need-to-do, it’s simply a nice-to-do. He points to a car wash, where a nice to do would be to hand out a free air freshener to everyone entering. That would be appreciated, but not if the cars don’t end up perfectly clean at the end of the wash – that’s the need-to-do.

“I have no problem with anyone doing the nice-to-do things that can sometimes be described as ‘the little extra’ that customers love. I have no problem so long as the ‘nice’ things aren’t done at the expense of or instead of the ‘need’ things,” he says.

So distinguish between the two, and act thoughtfully.


3. Questions For Small Business Hiring

Small businesses — and other small organizations like most non-profits — are quite different from larger organizations, and making a mistake in hiring can have even greater consequences. Here are some questions consultant Sabrina Baker suggests when interviewing:

  • Have you ever worked for an organization our size before? There’s no large support staff for the new employee in a company where the CEO might well clean the toilets. “If a candidate’s background is 100 per cent large business where they are used to having a team around them then transitioning to a small environment may be difficult,” she notes on her blog.
  • Give me examples of times where you were responsible for both strategy and execution? In large organizations, those roles are usually separate. But in small organization, everyone ideally is a strategist and a doer. This question echoes the first but she says makes the candidate prove their answer to the first.
  • How do you see this organization growing? You want passionate people, with ideas to take you to the next level.


4. Dissecting The Heated Conversation

When two people have a heated discussion about an issue, Seth Godin says one of three things can be happening:

  • One of them is wrong. Of course, at this moment in the argument, each assumes it’s the other person.
  • Neither is wrong. They’re arguing about something where right and wrong are relative, based on perspective.
  • They’re both wrong.

“The thing is, our certainty of rightness is what makes heated arguments heated. Given how unlikely it is that we’re always right and they’re always wrong, the heated part of the conversation is probably worth avoiding,” he writes on Seth’s Blog.

Before working on what you disagree about, he suggests working on the “heated” part — the certainty of rightness.


5. Zingers

  • Today’s Experiment:  For one day, try the two-question rule — ask others at least two questions before making a statement. It will show interest in others and invite deeper thinking. (Source: Leadership Freak)
  • A Nod To John Lennon:  A powerful word to add routinely to your daily conversations, says Vanderbilt University Professor Patrick Leddin, is “imagine.” Encourage people to break boundaries so you can achieve unexpected results though imagination. (Source: LinkedIn)
  • Using Emojis:  Emojis seem out-of-place at work. But the Design Gym starts each week by asking staffers: “Tell us about your weekend using three emojis.” When starting to work with a new client, they ask: “How would you represent the current vibe and culture of the team using emojis?” And in check-ins with clients, they will ask: “What weather emoji represents your current emotional mood?” (Source: Public Words)
  • Billboards Are Big:  The hottest advertising trend recently, after digital, has been billboards. Even tech companies are battling for billboard space.  (Source: TheHustle)
  • Different In Three Ways:  If you wish to be better at what you do for a living and lead a better life, pick three things to do differently. Not one thing or 37 things, but three, says productivity consultant Jason Womack. (Source: Your Best Just Got Better Blog)


6. The Model: Six Types of Socratic Questions

In Critical Thinkers: Methods for Clear Thinking & Analysis, author Albert Rutherford describes Dr. Richard Paul’s model of the six foundational types of Socratic questions.

This approach involves a form of disciplined questioning used to explore complex ideas and pursue thought in many directions and for many purposes. They are:

  • Clarification questions, such as “What do you mean when you say that?” or “How is this connected to your argument?
  • Assumption questions, such as “Why do we think this?” or “What other explanation could we assume?”
  • Perspective questions that enquire about points of view and challenge them — inviting counterarguments, for example, or proposing a different lens for examining an issue.
  • Reason/evidence questions that ask for specific examples to prove an argument or explain a phenomenon.
  • Consequence questions, such as “What are the implications of this proposal or line of thinking?” or “How will it affect this group of people?”
  • Meta-questions ask about questions themselves, such as “Why are you asking this?” or “What is the point of your question?”


7. Around Our Water Cooler:  It’s All In The Timing

“The event was extremely well structured and facilitated and wrapped up successfully within the time allocated.”

A client received that evaluation comment after an important planning session last week.

We see evaluations for many similar events over a year and it’s striking how often participants commend “well organized and on time”. (It also signals their experience-based expectation that planning sessions usually wander and run over time.)

If you’re organizing a team planning session, here are five rules of thumb from our experience that may help you win kudos for your session:

  • The duration of your sessions should align with typical human physiology — plan them in 90-minute blocks. Any longer and people will want a break and tend to become restless or lose focus.
  • Be realistic about how many questions you can cover. For instance, in a standard focus group with a dozen participants, it will be challenging to effectively cover more than five questions.

(An hour is filled when a dozen participants get just one minute of airtime for each question — plus you need time to introduce the agenda, wrap up the session and have a little flexible time for team members to react to the comments of others.)

  • If you have smaller breakout groups, allow 20 minutes for them to cover one question, or 40 minutes for three.  (Timing may vary slightly if participants need to introduce themselves to the rest of their group.)
  • When small groups report back to the whole group, a good rule of thumb is to allow five minutes per table. You might think it can go faster, but there’s usually a follow-on question or comment after each one, and it takes time to recap the topic or just to switch to the next speaker.

Consider these tips the next time you want to be “well organized and on time”.

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8020Info helps senior leadership teams and boards develop, clarify and build consensus behind strategic priorities. Our services support research / stakeholder consultations, strategic planning processes, change and marketing communications. We would be pleased to discuss your needs and welcome enquiries.


8. Closing Thought 

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”

— Stephen Covey