Saying No Effectively

October 30, 2014

Parse_NOb

I’ve written a number of times (see below) on the importance of saying ’no’ to certain business situations even if they sound quite enticing. It’s obviously easier written about than actually done so it was interesting to read how some very successful people handle this.

On his blog, Dan Martell, a Canadian entrepreneur, gives some principles:

I do have some “non-negotiables” for my replies:

  • I never lie
  • I always respond (as long as it doesn’t look like mass spam)
  • I always give a yes or a no

together with some sample responses, including:

Take a meeting

Thanks for reaching out. Unfortunately, scheduling a meeting is tough, lets start with an email. How can I help?

Attend an event

Thanks for the opportunity, but I’m already committed that day. Appreciate the invite.

Read a long email

Thanks for reaching out, but unfortunately I won’t be able to process your full email. How can I help?

Involvement in a new project

Thanks for thinking of me, but unfortunately I’m over committed with Clarity (his company) + a growing family. I’m going to have to pass this time.

I keep a fairly detailed journal on what I do every day (initially I was curious where all my time was going…). However, in spite of blogging about it, I’ve realised that I don’t particularly write about things that I decide not to do or to follow up.

This is a bit more than having vague ideas and noting them down for further thought but rather definite decisions that are made (some will, with hindsight, be mistakes of course!).

In the examples above, it’s illuminating that whilst the answer is ‘no’ a hand is held out to do something smaller and more manageable (‘how can I help?’).

The skill then becomes to keep involvement at this practical level and for this not to be misinterpreted as the first step in agreeing something more time-consuming.

Related:

Saying No To New Ideas

The Power Of Yes And No Journals (I obviously didn’t decide to implement this on a regular basis!)

Never Say No Immediately


Potential For Greatness

September 23, 2014

In the light of the recent launch of the iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch, a prior article on the importance of innovative design came to mind. It was a review of a new smartphone coming out of China (I’m looking for a new one so I’m considering options, including those that might possibly appear in the future):

This review was not supposed to go this way. When we decided to order the Mi4, we wanted to learn more about Android in China, but we also expected it to be kind of a laugh. It’s easy to look at the pictures and dismiss the Mi4 as a cheap iPhone knockoff, but it is so much better than that.

Everything here is top notch: The best specs, fantastic build quality, a beautiful screen, a dirt cheap price, and software that, while different, works both aesthetically and functionally. If only the company came up with its own hardware design. If Xiaomi ever does apply itself with some original designs, look out world, because this company will be going places.

The review ends with:

Watching a company with a potential for greatness hamstring itself because it just can’t get over its Apple envy. Xiaomi would do great in the West, except that the derivative design would possibly get it sued out of existence.

The challenge then is to out-design rather than out-manufacture Apple and not be too intimidated by their daunting reputation and achievements in this area, an interesting psychological position to be in.

By coincidence, there was an article in Fast Company yesterday complaining about a lack of innovation in Apple design! Here’s an extract:

I miss the chunky playful plastic designs of the past, especially the Pixar-lamp-like iMac G4. I miss the toy-like references to plastic Swatch watches (the clamshell iBook) and the Memphis Group of the 1980s (the original iMac). That was idiosyncratic, ballsy design; that was a design aesthetic that some would loathe. It was design that a shamelessly style-free megacorporation like Samsung could never really copy in the hopes of being considered “good design.” Samsung, or HTC, or LG, or Motorola, they can all copy modern Apple. It’s easy. Make it thin, use a single block of aluminum, use glass. Presto: now you have design. Bullshit. Innovative design isn’t just about adhering to rules set out by someone else.

There are companies who are actually trying. In addition to the aforementioned Lumia phones, the Jawbone Jambox managed to combine industrial materials (hard rubber, metal grilles) with repeated patterns and bold colors to give them a sense of play, and even Apple’s own Mac Pro is weird and thoughtful enough to grab my attention: never before has a computer shaped like a garbage can seemed like such a good idea.

So maybe there really is an opening in a very standardised marketplace for someone brave enough to take it?

More generally, and at a more mundane level, it’s interesting that when you’re setting up a venture, are you in reality trying to emulate an existing and successful business (with a slight variation) or aiming for something that goes beyond that, even if it’s in ways that you yourself don’t yet fully understand? See also previous post below.

 


A Bit Of Honesty Helps

August 27, 2014

A close relative has recently been diagnosed with dementia and we’re all coming to terms with this unanticipated situation. There are lots of articles on dementia in the papers and TV etc but I guess it was a case of thinking that it wouldn’t happen to any of us. For example, as I’ve now found out (see here)

After the age of 65, the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease doubles approximately every five years. It is estimated that dementia affects one in 14 people over the age of 65 and one in six over the age of 80.

We’ve had some helpful meetings with the social services and have independently done research and reading up on the condition from the internet. As always the information is fragmented, you have to bring bits and pieces together and then relate that to what seems to be happening in practice (medically, financially and legally).

In parallel with this I’ve talked to friends and neighbours who also happened to be in very similar situations or had been through this recently. Sometimes the whole situation seems a bit chaotic, with numerous organisations involved, although, remarkably, very good results (regarding the care of the relative) seem to be coming out.

In this light one of the most useful pieces of information I came across was a simple bit of honesty (see here):

Be prepared to be persistent to get what you want. Health and social care professionals may not always communicate with each other as well as they should, and you may find you have to explain your situation each time you meet a new professional.

I was quite amazed to read this on an official NHS site but the advice was worth it’s weight in gold.

I wonder how many other organisations would be similarly honest?


A Cascade Of Outcomes

August 24, 2014

I’m just back from a short holiday in Italy and I always find these breaks are good for seeing things in a new (or least a slightly different) light. Often this results in changing the amount of time I allocate to my different personal (or collaborative) projects. Some in actuality I haven’t even started and others have meandered so an honest review is always handy anyway.

Part of this is figuring out what activities really matter. I recently came across this thought-provoking quote:

“Good strategy works by focusing energy and resources on one or a very few pivotal objectives, whose accomplishment will lead to a cascade of favourable outcomes.” – Richard Rumelt

Not just a highly favourable outcome, a cascade of outcomes! This puts things in quite a different light. So, in part, it means saying ‘no’ to things (and being comfortable and disciplined in this) but also to imaginatively think through the possible consequences of a ‘yes’. The use of the word ‘cascade’ emphasises anticipating not just one (major) jump ahead but (loosely) a few more.

The author of the quote is the Professor of Business & Society at UCLA Anderson and he’s written a well reviewed book on this topic: Good Strategy/Bad Strategy. Here are some sample extracts:

Good strategy is rare. Many organizations which claim to have a strategy do not. Instead, they have a set of performance goals. Or, worse, a set of vague aspirations. It is rare because there are strong forces resisting the concentration of action and resources. Good strategy gathers power from its very rareness.

Competitors do not always respond quickly, nor do customers always see the value of an offering. Good strategy anticipates and exploits inertia.

Organizations experience significant entropy—the continual drift towards disorganization. Much of the useful work of managers and consultants is maintenance—the constant battle against entropy. Strategists must battle this never-ending drift towards disarray within their own organization. And they must try to exploit the disarray of their rivals.


The Chemistry Of Conversations

August 14, 2014

Apparently:

Positive comments and conversations produce a chemical reaction too. They spur the production of oxytocin, a feel-good hormone that elevates our ability to communicate, collaborate and trust others by activating networks in our prefrontal cortex. But oxytocin metabolizes more quickly than cortisol, so its effects are less dramatic and long-lasting.

This “chemistry of conversations” is why it’s so critical for all of us – especially managers – to be more mindful about our interactions. Behaviors that increase cortisol levels reduce what I call “Conversational Intelligence” or “C-IQ,” or a person’s ability to connect and think innovatively, empathetically, creatively and strategically with others. Behaviors that spark oxytocin, by contrast, raise C-IQ.

More from the HBR article here.


Taking A Step Back

August 6, 2014

Really good set of points to think about from Bob Sutton:

  1. Sometimes the best management is no management at all — first do no harm!
  2. Indifference is as important as passion.
  3. In organizational life, you can have influence over others or you can have freedom from others, but you can’t have both at the same time.
  4. Saying smart things and giving smart answers are important. Learning to listen to others and to ask smart questions is more important.
  5. Learn how to fight as if you are right and listen as if you are wrong: It helps you develop strong opinions that are weakly held.
  6. You get what you expect from people. This is especially true when it comes to selfish behavior; unvarnished self-interest is a learned social norm, not an unwavering feature of human behavior.
  7. Getting a little power can turn you into an insensitive self-centered jerk.
  8. Avoid pompous jerks whenever possible. They not only can make you feel bad about yourself, chances are that you will eventually start acting like them.
  9. The best test of a person’s character is how he or she treats those with less power.
  10. The best single question for testing an organization’s character is: What happens when people make mistakes?
  11. The best people and organizations have the attitude of wisdom: The courage to act on what they know right now and the humility to change course when they find better evidence.
  12. The quest for management magic and breakthrough ideas is overrated; being a master of the obvious is underrated.
  13. Err on the side of optimism and positive energy in all things.
  14. It is good to ask yourself, do I have enough? Do you really need more money, power, prestige, or stuff?
  15. Jim Maloney is right: Work is an overrated activity.

Luck And Learning

July 1, 2014

Quote from the entrepreneur Richard Farleigh:

Do you remember your best and worst business decisions?

I can remember the worst ones. Psychologists say when something works well we put it down to ourselves, and when something goes badly we put it down to luck. I try the opposite. All you can say is you learnt from each one.

See also here, on the fascination of failure.


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