March 13, 2021


The 8020Info Water Cooler

  Highlights from the latest information
  for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs



In this 8020Info Water Cooler we focus on persuading those who seem unpersuadable, gaining clarity, website focal points, brainstorming, insights on creativity, and navigating your way through arguments. Enjoy!


1. Persuading the Unpersuadable

Steve Jobs often insisted he would not make a phone. His team persuaded him to change his mind, with astounding results.

We all deal with hard-headed people who seem unpersuadable. In Harvard Business Review, psychologist Adam Grant studies Steve Jobs to come up with four possible solutions:

  • Ask a Know-It-All to Explain How Things Work:  When arrogance is the issue, follow the technique of Corning CEO Wendell Weeks, who asked Jobs to explain how the glass he was prescribing for the iPhone would work. When it became clear to Jobs that he didn’t know how to make shatter-proof glass, a productive relationship was ignited between them.
  • Let a Stubborn Person Seize the Reins:  When evaluating other people’s ideas, Jobs often pushed back to assert control. But when he was the one generating ideas, he was more open to alternatives. Apple engineer Mike Bell planted the seeds of a new concept —a small music-playing device— with Jobs, hoping his boss would make it his own initiative.
  • Find the Right Way to Praise a Narcissist:  During a developers’ conference, Jobs conceded a critic had good points and that, at times, “I don’t have the faintest idea of what I’m talking about”. The critic had begun his comments with: “Mr. Jobs, you’re a bright and influential man.”
  • Disagree with the Disagreeable:  Disagreeable or argumentative people can be energized by conflict. His team challenged Jobs to take on a battle with the cell phone carriers so Apple could host a top-flight product on their networks.


2. Gaining Clarity in the Pandemic

The pandemic has increased the pressure on teams to take on too much and repeatedly they have to set everything aside to tackle new emergencies. Consultants Karin Hurt and David Dye offer five steps on their blog to get your team back on track.

  • Clarify what matters most:  Make sure your team knows what strategic priorities matter most and the daily and weekly behaviours needed for success.
  • Expect the unexpected:  When the two consultants sit down with leaders who feel out of control, they usually find just a few distractions are causing the majority of the problems. Map them out with your team so you can expect the unexpected. Use a matrix to compare distractions — how commonly they occur and how disruptive they are. Then tackle them, starting with the most common and most disruptive.
  • Plan your response:  In football, when the ball is fumbled, everyone nearby knows it’s their job to either pick it up and run or else jump on it and wrap it in their arms. Once they have possession, they get back to the game plan. It’s the same here: Plan a response to the common disruptors.
  • Maintain margin:  If you schedule everyone too tightly and push too hard, the result is a fragile system with little margin for error. Figure out how to build some buffers and slack.
  • Eliminate causes:  Finally, figure out how to eliminate the root cause of the most significant disruptors.


3. The Five Focal Points of Websites

When it comes to websites, strategy comes before execution.

“A strategic website’s core purpose is to serve, support, and sell,” marketing expert Lorrie Thomas says in her book The McGraw-Hill 35-hour Course: Online Marketing.

She sets out five focal points for your website, as noted by digital marketer Barry Feldman on the Orbit Media blog.

  • Visibility to get your visitors to your website.
  • Usability to deliver a positive experience.
  • Credibility to gain the visitor’s trust.
  • Sell-ability to achieve specific outcomes.
  • Scalability to accommodate ongoing expansion.

Feldman stresses the site must be intuitive. When visitors have a bad experience on your website, the most common beef is they can’t find what they seek.

“A great website is strategically constructed to enable visitors to quickly satisfy their needs with intuitive navigation, practical construction, smart messaging hierarchies, on site search and calls-to-action,” he says.

Confusion is a killer. “Resist the temptation to put cleverness before clarity,” he warns. Aim for descriptive headlines that clearly communicate the value you offer. Use the header and footer wisely since they will be on every page and serve as road maps.


4. Does criticism help or hinder brainstorming?

Brainstorming is supposedly most effective when it’s freewheeling. Often facilitators will begin by stressing there are no bad ideas. But feedback and criticism are known to lead to improvements in ideas.

New research by MIT Professor Jared Curhan found context is crucial:  If the brainstorming environment is co-operative, with group members’ goals aligned, criticism is likely to stimulate creativity. But if the group or task is competitive, criticism can lead to intragroup conflict and a negative impact on creativity.

One tip:  Remind people they are all on the same team and all benefit if the project succeeds.


5. Zingers

  • What Shapes Leaders?  Modern problems require a more nuanced understanding of leadership, says Chris Lewis, co-author of The Infinite Leader. Leaders get credit for right answers, obedience, individual achievements, action, attention, maturity, intellect, organization, and opportunism. They get no credit for empathy, nonconformity, teaching others, collaboration, endurance, imagination, determination, humour, humility, integrity, and loyalty. (Source: ThoughtLEADERSLLC).
  • Gut Thoughts: We’re often told to go with our gut. Entrepreneur Seth Godin says it’s better to invest in making your gut smarter. You can gather more information about important areas, practise making more decisions by instinct and check the results. Share your thought process  — figure out how to talk about your “instincts” so they are no longer instincts. (Source: Seth’s Blog)
  • URGENT (Really?)  Labelling an email URGENT in the subject line shows complete disregard for the recipient, says psychologist Travis Bradberry. It’s usually not totally accurate — if it is, pick up the phone. Even when it’s true, the label is unnecessary and sets a strong, negative tone.  (Source: The Ladders.com).
  • Answer Not Known:  School requires you to learn about things after the right answer has been decided, says Atomic Habits author James Clear. Life requires you to learn about things while the answer is in the process of being decided. (Source: JamesClear.com).
  • Slow Down to Hurry Up:  If you want to dramatically speed up business processes — implement a new structure, shorten product development cycles, or make decisions faster to serve customers better — management guru Tom Peters says to slow down and take your time. (Source: Tom Peters Weekly Quote).


6. The List: Lessons in Creativity from Da Vinci

With credit to Huw-London in the Farnam Street Learning Community, here’s a selection of eight points from his notes on creativity, drawn from a reading of Walter Isaacson’s Leonardo Da Vinci:

  • Skill without imagination is barren.
  • Analogies can really help you understand new possibilities.
  • Little noticed details make the difference in making something special.
  • Perfectionism is a big problem. It works against the free flow of ideas.
  • We need to be okay with creating a lot of ideas but having only a few successes.
  • Da Vinci used drawing as a tool for his thinking. He experimented on paper, then evaluated with thought experiments.
  • Creativity is a process of working and re-working ideas. Create rough drafts, then rework them. It doesn’t matter what the first draft is like.
  • Others will misunderstand you — conventional people often can’t comprehend new possibilities, so they just think you’re wrong.


7. Around Our Water Cooler:

Negotiating from a “One-Up” Position

When you’re trying to resolve a disagreement with another party, it is easy to forget to adjust your negotiating focus when there’s a power imbalance.

Here’s an important concept that may come into play if you are in the more powerful “one-up” position, like a client of ours earlier this month.

Where there is an unequal power balance, the more powerful party is more likely to be focused on the top line — on the content or matter at hand — while the one-down party focuses on the relationship.

For example, a parent might say: “Why did you come home so late?” (focused on the action or issue).  The teenage daughter thinks: “You’re treating me like a little kid” or “You don’t trust me” (relationship focus).

This tip was noted in a Guardian article, based on author Ian Leslie’s recently published Conflicted: Why Arguments Are Tearing Us Apart and How they Can Bring Us Together.

It is tricky to handle “expressive” crises, where the other party is on edge and emotional — angry, desperate, insecure and liable to act in unpredictable ways.

A “one-down” party is more likely to act aggressively, at the expense of finding common ground. If you’re in the one-up power position, focus first on (re) establishing a stable relationship before working through the conflict.

Some other tips useful in resolving contentious arguments:

  • One-down parties often want their importance and/or status to be acknowledged.
  • A key concern may be something they want to say indirectly to the world, not to you.
  • In front of an audience, people are more likely to focus on how they want to be seen, rather than on the right way to solve the problem.
  • Always give someone “the golden gate of retreat”. Offer an opportunity for them to look good in changing their mind. Otherwise, their only retreat is to just barrel right through your opposing opinion.
  • Being personally gracious, you can depersonalize a disagreement. Sometimes that can be as simple as offering a compliment at the very moment your adversary feels most vulnerable.
  • Steer the disputed opinion or action away from the person’s sense of self. Lower the identity stakes so they can say or do something different and yet still be themselves.

There can be lots of tension on both sides during arguments and conflicts. These tips can help you find the best way forward for all.

What We’re Reading:

  • Harvey’s Pick: New Zealand consultant Suzi McAlpine’s new book Beyond Burnout is timely, clear, thorough, practical and well-structured, taking you logically through the issues of burnout, why it is becoming increasingly common, and what to do as a manager to reduce the chance of it striking your staff (and, as a human being, should you notice it becoming a personal problem).
  • Rob’s Pick: The Rules of Contagion by Adam Kucharski would be of interest in any season, not only (but particularly) because of the current pandemic. He looks at why and how things “go viral” — the contagion of ideas, new technology, social media posts, disinformation, violence, financial crises and infectious diseases like flu. It also explains why potentially viral sparks peter out, stop or go nowhere in the first place. While it is a science-oriented book, the math is light, the graphs are helpful and the stories engaging. Worth a look.


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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.


8. Closing Thought 

“Proverbs contradict each other. That is the wisdom of a people.”

— Stanislaw Lec