Posts Tagged ‘analysis paralysis’

Tonight, I was playing in the basement with the monkeys before dinner. Urban Super Dad called down to let us know that dinner was ready. “OK, Monkeys,” I said, “time to go upstairs for dinner.” It was 6:30 and I was hungry. “We’re playing,” was the response, accompanied by a complete lack of movement towards the stairs. “OK,” I tried again, “Who wants to go upstairs to check the mail?” This, of course was a big hit. Within seconds we were all upstairs, had quickly checked the mail, and were washing up for dinner.

The trick is one employed by parents everywhere, I’m sure. Don’t worry so much about what you’ll do once you get there, just get everyone going in the right direction, and it’ll all work out. By shifting my focus from something that they weren’t excited about – dinner – to something that they were – the mail – I was quickly able to get the monkeys where I wanted them – at the dinner table.

It’s a tactic that smart managers use, too. My boss does it to me. He’ll tell me over and over again that he wants me meeting with a certain kind of person. I show a complete lack of interest. Then he points me to a couple of specific interesting people at specific organizations, and there I am, meeting with a certain kind of person.

Peter, our communications lead, just successfully did the same thing. He’s been trying to get folks at the company to write articles and submit papers to conferences for over a year, and has had limited successes with one or two people. Recently, he tried another tack. He told them all about a great conference in Paris, and told them that our company would pay for attendance for whomever gets accepted. Within weeks, eight people submitted abstracts, three of which were accepted. It really moved the needle.

This tactic works because it involves figuring out what’s going to motivate people to act quickly and get them in the direction that they need to go in. It’s requires thinking of both the short term and the long term benefits of the actions that you’re trying to get people to take. It requires you to articulate not just why an activity is good for your company or your family, but also why it’s good for each individual involved.

Even better, it helps you avoid the hassle of convincing people that they need to do something that you want them to do. I could have spent 15 minutes trying to convince my kids to go upstairs for dinner. We might have finally gotten to the table, but by the time we got there, we all would have been worn out and dinner would have been cold. Instead, we had a nice family dinner. Oh, and we got the mail.

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This morning, my kids were acting strange. They were whiny and cried a lot, and one of them had woken up several times in the middle of the night – all of which are, thankfully, unusual behaviors in our household.

I tried to tell whether they were sick or not by taking their temperatures, but they didn’t have fevers. I tried to ask if they were in pain, but no matter how I phrase it, the answer is always yes. Our conversations go like this. Does your tummy hurt? Yeah. Does your head hurt? Yeah. Does your cheek hurt? Yes. Does your funny bone hurt? Yes. Very helpful.

I really wanted to know if they were sick or just cranky, so I could make a good decision about whether to send them to school. But I didn’t have a lot of information at my disposal. I had to guess, and trust my gut. My instinct told me that if they weren’t actually sick then they were at least pretty tired, and that I should keep them home from school.

As I thought about it, I realized that with my kids, I am often having to make decisions without all the information that I’d like to have. I have to just trust my judgement and make a call and hope its the right one. This actually happens a lot in business as well. As much as we’d like to be able to predict future outcomes, most of us have limited information. The information we seek is often unavailable, costly or even unreliable, so we have to just go with what we have. It can be hard to trust your judgement, and sometimes even harder to convince your colleagues to let you trust your gut.

That’s where parenting helps. It gives you a chance to practice trusting your gut. I’m going to try taking advantage of these opportunities, instead of dreading them, in hopes that when I have to use my judgement at work, I’ll be better at it. Ideally, just having more confidence in my gut decisions will inspire other folks to trust my gut as well.

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