Seeking Outside Help

Imagine yourself sitting in a small meeting. Everyone appears to be engaged and responsive to the subject. Enough coffee has flowed that the group is awake and alert. Then that point in the meeting happens. Issues are raised about problems and obstacles facing the team, departments or the company. Suddenly the conversation shifts to group insights and inspiration.

The auto reply kicks in from the team. Old ideas with new names are thrown out on to the proverbial strategy table. Buzzwords fly like swarms of pesky bugs on a Summer’s evening. Unfortunately, there is no great solution generated, why? What is so challenging for such intelligent business folks that a single strong solution can not be developed or worse yet, acted upon?

Let me try to sum up the condition at hand. I heard this quote once upon a time and it has stuck with me throughout all my conversations with teams, no matter the organization, business or stage of development.

image

“You can’t read the label from inside the jar.” Old southern saying.

This is the simple fact. You’re too close to the problem or you are the problem and the only way to see a clear path is to bring in someone from the outside who can see your situation for what it is and what it could be. Utilize others who do not have any equity in the situation to help guide you through the forest of familiarity. Hire a guide to ask the questions you don’t know to ask yourself or are afraid to ask. Seek outside help to better see inside.

IN Out of the Box

Thoughts on Innovation – The Box

Achieving innovation or new ideas requires a different path of thinking. I have written about this in an earlier post; “The Path to Innovate.” Some of the fastest and most direct methods I prefer is to influence the traditional thinking with fresh insights. These insights come from outside the box. It is very rare that innovation develops from the thinking found within the walls of the box, so getting fresh ideas needs external input.

IN Out of the Box

The first of two suggestions is to bring in fresh thinking or guidance from outside your box, a.k.a. your organization or office. As the an old saying goes “You can’t read the label from inside the jar.” Too many companies and individuals are unable to see the clues and insights due to the being to close to the situation. Obtaining new ideas requires something new or different from that of the embedded thinking. Bring in outside help.

The second method I find works well is getting out of the physical box. Climb out, see the sky and then interview people from the outside such as customers, prospects or the public. Ask questions that are open-ended and have no single answer. The more conversation you can drive, the richer the ideas can be. When you ask others who are not close to the situation, they have a different point of view. This different POV is gold to new ideas.

Finally, as a parting gift, a third method if you can’t do either of the two and you are shackled to your desk, is a method that is promoted by William Donius, author of “Though Revolution.” Use your non-dominant hand to get a second opinion or idea about your situation. Follow the link to get more information. He explains it better than I.

So, the thINKing to get new ideas is to change the direction or the source of your inspiration and to jump out of the thinking rut we all create for ourselves.

Until next time, don’t be afraid to ask someone else to help you create something new.

The Archer and The Hare

Throughout history, stories have been used to communicate ideas, processes and even warnings. Fairytales and limericks helped children understand the world around them. Many religions used parables to teach people about belief, social behavior and the differences between good and evil. Stories, in any form, create better understanding, especially when associated with common activities in our lives. Some of these stories are analogies to help clarify complex ideas.

Business processes often use analogies to speed the comprehension process. Team sports are a popular theme. Baseball, Football and even Basketball are some of the most commonly used to express teamwork, strategy and tactics. Anyone who has played sports at anytime of their life can relate to this type of analogy. I have my favorite story or parable that speaks to strategy; “The Archer and The Hare.”

I can’t remember when I first hear this story used or even who my storyteller was at the time when it was told, but like all good visual stories, it has stayed with me most of my life. Allow me to share it with you.

***

Our young archer had practiced his archery lessons for weeks. He used an old flour sack filled with sand as his target. With each pull of the bow-string, he strengthened his arms and with each release of the arrow, sharpened his aim. By the end of four weeks, he had improved his marksmanship so well that he rarely missed his target.

Early one cool spring morning the young archer set out on his first hunt for food for his family. With his quiver filled with six arrows and his bow newly restrung, he set out for his task.

archer and the Hare

It wasn’t long before he cam upon an open field edged by a scattering of trees. In the middle of the field, sat a large fat hare nibbling on grass stalks. The young archer readied his bow and drew an arrow from his quiver. He slowly notched the arrow and drew back the bow-string. The bow creaked ever so slightly as he pulled on the string.

With the bow fully drawn, he paused, took a slow deep breath and aimed for his target. Just then, the hare began to move. Quickly the archer let fly his arrow. Swiftly through the air it sailed striking the very spot he had targeted, unfortunately the hare had moved and was no longer where the arrow would fall.

Quickly the archer drew a second arrow and pulled back his bow the second time. Once again he took a slow and deep breath to help steady his aim. The hare was now further away, but sitting still in the tall grass. With careful aim, the archer let fly the second arrow. Like the first, it sailed smoothly and with precise intent. As the arrow  closed on to its target, a slight gust of wind moved across the field causing the arrow to drift and missing the hare again.  The hare bolted to the safety of the tree line.

With haste, the archer drew a third arrow and began tracking the hare. With each bound, the young archer waited for his moment. The string was taut and the arrow ready. Now, only a few feet from the safety of the woods, the hare dashed headlong. The archer released the arrow. A twang rang out from the string and the arrow sailed through the air.

The archer was sure he would hit his target this time. The hare closed rapidly to the woods edge. The arrow approached at great speed. The tree line was mere inches ahead and the hare made his final leap.

The arrow struck hard and secure. The hare tumbled into the underbrush of the woods out of sight of the archer. He rushed to the woods edge. He didn’t find his arrow in his target, but stuck to a low hanging branch. A branch the archer did not see in his rush to shoot his third arrow at a fleeing target.

Upset and sadden, the young archer returned home empty-handed. Seeing this, his father sat him down and ask the boy to share his tale of the hunt. Bashfully, the boy spoke of the hare and the three arrows. He told how the first was on target, but the hare moved away. The second was a bit further shot, but the hare laid still. It would have struck, but a slight wind sent the arrow off course. The third was shot in haste, striking a tree limb he did not see.

The father smiled. “What you experienced was not uncommon.” he reassured his son. “You see, you took your first shot, aiming where the target was, not were it was moving to.” The boy nodded in agreement.

“Your second shoot, was a longer shot, but you did not the wind changing the direction.” Again the nodded in agreement.

“And you last shot was done in haste. You did not look broader to see if anything would affect the path of the arrow,” stated the father. With a smile, he looked at the boy and raised a net full of fish. “Its alright. We have food for today, but tomorrow, we’ll go out together and find that hare.”

Together, the two sat and talked. The boy laughed as his father shared stories of similar experiences he had as a young hunter. The talked well into the evening and the boy feeling wiser for the words of his father.

***

Well, I may not be the best story-teller nor have the story as colorful as told to me, but I made sure to cover the three aspects the story focuses on about strategy. The first issue is that of anticipation of your targets. Make sure to plan for movement. As a famous hockey player once expressed, “You skate to where the puck will be, not where it has been.”

The second issue is about understanding the conditions around your target and how they will influence your strategy moving forward. Allow for adjustments when needed and compensate for these conditions when all possible.

The last issue, I feel, is the greatest issue facing achieving your target. Not watching those conditions around you as your target moves. Be aware of obstacles that move into your path. Take a broader view of your strategy and see what may create obstacles that could end your path to the target.

o to those planning a strategy or are working through a new strategy, remember the advice from the father to the young archer, plan for influences, aim ahead of the motion and always view with a wider eye.

Good luck and happy hunting.

Were Neanderthals Better Strategist

In today’s world of high-tech, multiple channel communications and the sense of instant response are we doing ourselves an injustice by practicing poor strategic planning or at least the techniques we use because of shorter attention spans? I feel people are forsaking the potential of strong strategic planning skills because of the high pace electronic life we live in. Somehow we need to stop, take a breath, and reflect. Reflection is one pivotal aspect of strategic planning critical to success.

So, Neanderthals were better strategist, why do I think this, sort of? It’s simple; they used a tool to stay focused on their tasks and goals. They drew out their stories and strategies for the tribe to see and survive on the very walls were they lived. These cave wall drawings offered a focal point for reflection and refocusing. Everyone involved saw the story/plan and it allowed the tribe to work as one unified team. The history and goal were always in view and that’s the key to a strong strategic vision, keep it in sight.

Cave Walling

As a visual translator, I have illustrated many business, strategy and development plans for organizations and individuals. I’ve heard and seen a variety of ideas and approaches as different as the groups involved. In my experience, those who utilized a visual map or graphic recording from a strategy session have better alignment of their team and to the vision or strategy that was created. These types of visual translations or visual maps are very powerful tools for focus, alignment and guidance.

My suggestion to help refocus, maintain alignment or reflect on your strategy is to go Neanderthal with your plan. Draw it out and nail it to your cave wall (Boardroom) for all to see. By showcasing your strategic vision you and your team always have it in sight. Like a road map, everyone knows where you’ve been, where you are and where you’re going.

With over 20 years working with businesses, I’ve come to realize the importance of this singular idea; when everyone is seeing the same vision, everyone begins moving in the same direction and eventually achieving success together. This idea inspired my motto, “The best plan is one seen by all.” So, my advice, step back and go Neanderthal with your vision.

 

Taking Action

An associate of mine and I were discussing a project he was undertaking over drinks. He explained to me some of the most complex issues and connections associated with a single project I have ever heard. So many moving parts that even the flow chart he created to “simplify” the decision-making process was overwhelming. I was constantly getting lost in the “What if’s” that I even couldn’t keep track of where I was along the plan. The worst part was neither could he as he tried to explain all the paths, conditions and consequences.

Time for a simpler view…

actions

I sketch this to explain a simple process. We make three possible decisions when presented with an issue. Either we agree and move forward, block and reject the idea or wait for something else to make that decision. In my experience, option three means giving up any power over the outcome unless the condition is in flux and you are waiting to take the first or second action.

After the sketch and a bit of conversation, I asked if he could highlight at each major point in the process where this image would come into play for him. After a bit of review, he realized that his need for making critical decisions was not as many as he anticipated, nor would the smaller decisions, which he could delegate, greatly alter the course of the project. He also added an extension to the first decision of holding a torch or passing it on representing self-ownership or delegation.

I truly believe we live in a self-created world of over complexity and confusion due to lack of focus, vision and prioritization. We all need to simplify the process in order for us to live, work and play efficiently and affectively. Using visual thinking and design thinking processes can help us create focus and clarity even to the most complex problems.

Here is my advice, if you’re confronted with a dilemma that appears more than a simple ‘Yes or No’ decision, stop, take a breath and do a quick sketch like the one above. Now add the effect/answer alongside each of these decisions to get better clarity and focus. See how your response will play out before you take action. Then, determine the best course of action before sharing your decision. The power of visual thinking is seeing a solution before acting on it and not the reverse.

Difficulties of Challenges

Every challenge we face has some level of difficulty. Some are gradual and modestly challenging, while others take us to the brink of self-destruction. So ask yourself ‘how was my day, week or project?’ What did it look like? Now, here comes the tool of visual thinking. Rate them by using simple images like the ones below.  Record these little images on a calendar, small corner of the project notes or on anywhere that will help you to remember and possibly prepare for the next challenge.

The simple images below which reflect the levels of difficulties in challenges were inspired by a fellow sketchnotes enthusiast Patricia Kambitsch of Playthink and Redesign. Feel free to use them as needed. You may even want to print the image out and attach them to your project notes, then circle the related image.

Uphill BattleBy using such images as indicators, we are visually connecting the image to the event and later, using the image to trigger the memories of that challenge and similar challenges with the same level of difficulty. You train your brain to create unconscious connections between challenges. The connection also create warnings as well as possible solutions to be used in new challenges.

So, look back on your day, week or challenges and use the images to make mental filings for future use. Good luck and keep (th)INKing visually.