February 23, 2020


The 8020Info Water Cooler

  Highlights from the latest information
  for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs



In this 8020Info Water Cooler we focus on using momentum strategically, digging below symptoms to deal with real problems, tips for precision emails, a trigger for better brainstorming, and testing whether values are driving your strategy. Enjoy!


1. Moving Beyond Surface Symptoms

Consultant Donald Cooper says in every organization there are three types of problems:

  • Surface problems, which are actually just symptoms of much deeper problems.
  • Underlying problems.
  • Real or basic problems that are the root causes of what’s going wrong.

On his blog, Cooper offers an example from medicine:

“High blood pressure is really just a symptom of a number of underlying issues like consuming too much salt and too many calories, not drinking enough water, physical and emotional stress, or not exercising enough.

“But the real basic problem could be lack of information or motivation, toxic lifestyle or career choices, unhappiness, lack of self-discipline or self-esteem.  If we don’t address these real basic problems, the symptom (high blood pressure) will continue.”

To uncover those root causes in your organization, he advises bringing your best minds and truth-sayers together.

  • Start by stating what appears to be a problem or shortfall and add, “which is caused by ______.”  Now list all the apparent causes of that problem or shortfall you can.
  • Next push deeper. For each of those underlying issues, take the same approach:  State the problem, completing it with “which is caused by  ______.”

Keep asking and answering that question honestly until you get to the real basic cause.

“That’s the thing or person that needs to be fixed, improved, coached, refocused or dealt with in some other way,” he says. “Most businesses don’t want to do this because the deeper you go in this inquiry, the closer to the top of the organization you get.”


2. Writing Email With Military Precision

US Navy veteran and corporate strategist Kabir Sehgal says that, in the military, a poorly written email may be the difference between mission accomplished and mission failure.

“Since returning from duty, I have applied these lessons to emails that I write for my corporate job, and my missives have consequently become crisper and cleaner, eliciting quicker and higher-quality responses from colleagues and clients,” he writes in Harvard Business Review.

It starts with your subject line, the first thing along with your name that the recipient will see. It’s critical that the subject clearly states the purpose of the email and specifically what you want them to do with your note.

Here are some military keywords you might want to borrow.

  • Action – compulsory for the recipient to take some action
  • Sign – requires the signature of the recipient
  • Info – for informational purposes only; no response or action required
  • Decision – needs a decision by the recipient
  • Request – seeks permission or approval by the recipient
  • Coord – coordination by or with the recipient is needed.

Military professionals lead their emails with a short, staccato statement known as the BLUF, for Bottom Line Up Front. It distills the most important information for the reader, quickly answering the five W’s:  who, what, where, when, and why.

Finally, be brief.

“Military personnel know that short emails are more effective than long ones, so they try to fit all content in one pane, so the recipient doesn’t have to scroll,” he concludes.


3. Embarrassment And Successful Brainstorming

Embarrassment can be a gateway to creativity.

When participants in a research study recounted an embarrassing moment before a brainstorming session, they came up with both a larger number and wider range of ideas than those who shared a memory that made them feel proud.

That may seem odd… but it’s not.

And the research may seem impractical… but it’s not.

Leigh Thompson, a professor of management at Northwestern University, told Kellogg Insight that, in brainstorming, you want people to put out any idea, without regard to any judgement or evaluation. But it’s difficult to get them to let their guard down. She suggests trying a little embarrassment.

But how? She noticed that organizers at corporate retreats often set up icebreaker exercises and ask participants to recall accomplishments and achievements. The goal of these brag sessions might be to boost people’s confidence. But afterwards, they self-censor.

She figured — and the research suggests she may be correct — that if individuals instead shared their embarrassing stories, it would encourage them to stop censoring themselves during a brainstorming session.


4. Momentum As A Management Strategy

In sports, momentum counts — the team making steady progress will usually win the game if they can maintain that momentum.

Consultant Julie Winkle Giulioni says momentum also counts in your workplace. Focusing on steady progress may beat attempts for big initiatives and whopping turnarounds.

Set small and incremental goals. Build on that foundation with a “next steps” culture.

“Highly effective leaders create a cadence and a culture of next steps,” she writes on her blog.

“They don’t end a meeting without a discussion of next steps. They close all calls with next steps. They know that next steps build energy and momentum for further action.”


5. Zingers

  • Smart People Revise:  Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos believes that smart people are wrong a lot and so looks for people who can admit they are wrong and change their opinions often: “The smartest people are constantly revising their understanding, reconsidering a problem they thought they’d already solved. They’re open to new points of view, new information, new ideas, contradictions, and challenges to their own way of thinking.” (Source: Inc.)
  • Try Kindness:  The tougher the issue, the kinder you need to become, says leadership coach Dan Rockwell. (Source: Leadership Freak)
  • Empowering Questions:  Management guru Ken Blanchard says we need to push past the tendency in our hierarchical culture to tell people what to do, how to do it, and why it needs to be done. Instead, ask empowering questions like “What do you think needs to be done, and why is it important?” You might try “what do you think your goals should be?” or “how do you think you should go about achieving your goals?”(Source: HowWeLead.org).
  • Hire for Teachability:  When it comes to hiring, consultant Colleen Francis says the number one skill or behavior to look for is teachability/ coachability. In an interview, ask:  What have you read? What workshops have you attended? What websites do you frequently visit? For salespeople, ask:  What sales tips or processes have you implemented in the last year? (Source: Engage Selling)
  • Digital Minimalism:  Tech productivity writer Cal Newport suggests that you experiment for one week using your smartphone only for calls, text messages, maps, and audio songs, podcasts or books. It’s a simple way to weigh – and change – your use of technology. (Source: CalNewport.com).


6. The List:

    Eleven Time-Management Mistakes  

Entrepreneur John Rampton offers this list of 11 Time Management Mistakes You Are Probably Making:

  • Denying you have a time management problem.
  • Neglecting to plan your day.
  • Letting the “urgent” overtake the “important.”
  • Improper delegation.
  • Having to wake up early because you read the advice somewhere rather than abide by your own body rhythms.
  • Being inflexible.
  • Being “perfect”.
  • Over- and under-committing time. (Keep a time log for at least a week to see how you spend your time.)
  • Cleaning your workspace daily – a little clutter is fine.
  • Working non-stop.
  • Never finding the time-management system that works

(Source: Entrepreneur)


7. Around Our Water Cooler: 

    Are Your Values Strategic?

There are scores of values that are part of an organization’s culture. It’s important to identify those few that are truly “drivers” — values that define how the team approaches its mission/vision and designs strategies to achieve its goals.

These are the authentic core values you would defend even when that’s painful.

To help you develop this type of values-based strategic focus, here are three questions (taken from the work of Jim Collins and Jerry Porras — Built to Last). Use them to “test” whether a value is deeply held and influential in shaping your organization’s planning and workplace culture:

  • Would you want your organization to stick to this core value no matter what —  even if at some point you had to “pay a price” for that, or if holding that value became a disadvantage for you in some way in the future?
  • Do you believe that those who do not share this core value — those who breach it consistently — simply do not belong in your organization?
  • If you were to start a new organization, would you build it around this core value regardless of the specific type of business you’re in?

For example, it is common-place today for health-care organizations to declare they are “patient-centred”, meaning their actions and systems place the patient at the heart of their efforts. It is one thing to pay lip-service to that type of declared value; it may be another to actually live up to the claim. One is PR, the other is actually strategic.

Core values are the foundation for your organizational vision:

As Collins said 25 years ago in Building Your Company’s Vision (HBR), a well-conceived vision for your organization consists of two major components — core ideology and envisioned future.

Together with your sense of purpose —why you exist— your core values define what you stand for over the long term. They underpin the vision you have for what you aspire to become, to achieve, to create — which, in contrast, is something that changes over time and will require significant change and progress to attain.

Bake your core values into your organizational culture:

In the 2002 HBR article Make Your Values Mean Something, Patrick Lencioni noted the challenge comes after you’ve nailed down your core values. What then?

If they’re going to really take hold in your organization, Lencioni says, those values need to be integrated into every employee-related process—hiring, performance management, criteria for promotions, and even dismissal policies.

Core values become strategic when they form the basis for every decision the company makes.


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


  1. Closing Thought 

“I attribute my success to this:  I never gave or took an excuse.”

— Florence Nightingale