How to Find & Challenge Assumptions

How to benefit from making mistakes and challenging your assumptions.

by  Andrew Cooke, Growth & Profit Solutions

Make Mistakes

A common view is that failure is a bad thing.  It implies a lack of success, personal weakness and it makes you vulnerable.  None of these things are comfortable, enjoyable or desired and, as such, failure is to be avoided.

The problem with this is that the only way you can learn and grow is to fail.  It is a natural part of our way of life.  How many parents proudly remember their baby standing up for the first time, and walking without falling down?  Exactly, it doesn’t happen.  Yet we insist that as we get older so we must always know better, and so we must not fail or be seen to fail.

So let’s plan to fail.  Plan to fail by making deliberate mistakes.

If we are looking to make deliberate mistakes we are better prepared for the eventuality than if we make a mistake unexpectedly.  By looking to make a deliberate mistake you are immediately putting yourself in a mindset of testing, learning and developing.  If you make an unexpected mistake you are more focused on avoiding making the same mistake than learning from it.  One way helps you grow, develop and to focus on the upside; the other can make you more insular, reactive and focused on the downside.

“Consider the Opposite”

Psychologists use this technique, “consider the opposite”, to stop ourselves from drawing premature conclusions and, instead, ponder whether we might be misinterpreting the evidence. For example, “I think my partner is selfish–but, wait, maybe I’m just ignoring all the times he’s looking out for me.” Or, at work: “I think my colleague is being rude and abrupt–but what if he’s not being abrupt and is just trying to respect my time?

If there is such a potential upside to making decisions, then why not take control of the process and try to deliberately make mistakes which can learn or benefit from?  In their recent book, Decisive, Chip and Dan Heath tell the story of a company called DSI–Decision Strategies International, a management consulting firm.

The CEO at DSI, Paul Schoemaker wanted his colleagues to help him plan and execute a deliberate mistake, as a way of testing their assumptions about DSI’s business.

They approached this in 5 steps:

  1. Challenge the Conventional Wisdom – they listed the 10 key assumptions underlying their business.  Conventional wisdom is rarely articulated and even more rarely questioned.
  2. Identify Low Confidence & High Payoff Alternatives – they identified and focused on the three assumptions that they were least confident about and that, if proven wrong
  3. Select the option with the having the highest potential of benefiting from a strategy of deliberate mistakes.
  4. Plan to make the mistake
  5. Review results and identify results asking:

What was the difference between what we expected and what we got?

What changed or happened for this result to occur?

How can we replicate this or avoid this outcome?

What are the key leanings from this?

How should our underlying assumption be changed, modified or removed?

The three assumptions that DSI came up with were:

  1. Young MBAs don’t work well for us. We need experienced consultants on the team.
  2. The firm can be successfully run by a president who is not a major billing senior consultant.
  3. It is not worthwhile to respond to RFPs. Clients who use RFPs are usually price shopping or are going through the motions to justify a choice they have already made. (RFPs are requests for proposals. Customers send out RFPs to attract vendors to bid on their business.)

A further round of assessment led them to select number 3 as the one in which they had the least confidence, and which could have the greatest payoff. Now they were ready to make their mistake.

The firm’s policy had been never to respond to an RFP, but they resolved to respond to the next one that came over the transom, which, as it happened, came from a regional electric utility. The DSI team submitted a proposal with a budget of about $200,000, a price that reflected their normal fees but that they suspected would be well out of the client’s league. Schoemaker said, “To our surprise, the electric utility invited our firm to visit with the CEO and the senior management team to explore not only the project in question but others as well.”

Eventually, DIS earned over $1 million in fees from the client. Not bad for making a mistake.

But let’s be clear here, most of your “deliberate mistakes” will fail, and in the fact that failure should be encouraging because it means you’ve been making the right assumptions all along. Beyond the mistake itself, the willingness to test your assumptions has its own value. It signals to your colleagues that your work will be conducted based on evidence, not folklore or politics.

So where are you looking to make a mistake?

Excerpted from Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. Copyright 2013 by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. Published by arrangement with Crown Business, a division of Randomhouse, Inc.

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

When Saying Nothing Gets You More!

Using silence to find out more

Silence is a powerful way by which you can elicit more information from people you are talking with – especially when talking with customers or interviewees.

silence-is-golden-2

A Golden Silence is when you pause, deliberately, so that you can listen without thinking of what you are going to say next. There are two forms of Golden Silence:

Golden Silence I – you simply pause for approximately three to four seconds after you ask a question,

and

Golden Silence II – you simply pause for approximately three to four seconds after the person responds.

Golden Silence I – this gives the other person, your customer or interviewee, a moment to think about what has been asked and how to respond.  This is likely to provide more solid information.

Golden Silence II – this gives you a better chance to understand what has been said, furthermore during the second pause the customer or interviewee will often reflect further and provide additional information.

Be careful how you use Golden Silence so it does not seem manipulative or intrusive.  The Golden Silence technique is mean to expand, not limit, the possibilities of Superb Communication.  As such, by paying close attention to how the customer reacts, it vastly improves your chances of reaching a better result.

Benefits of Golden Silence

  • The number of  interactions increase
  • The length of responses increases
  • The reliability of the information you get increases
  • Your level of comprehension increases
  • The opportunity for misinterpretation is reduced
  • The number of relevant unsolicited responses increases
  • The number of customers’ questions increase
  • Dialogue shifts to the customer’s real wants and needs, and away from those of the seller
  • It gives you more time to think

Techniques to Avoid

  • Using the phrase – ‘think about it’ – it is vague and can come across as a subtle put-down
  • Mimicry
  • Using ‘Yes…but…’ – this occurs when the dialogue is stalled
  • Rhetorical questions – they add nothing to the dialogue and can be manipulative.
  • Asking ‘Why?’ immediately after they reply – this can put people on the defensive.

If you found this article of use or interest please don’t hesitate to share it with others.

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

Understanding How Others Respond – And the Implications

Understand how people can react – whether they take control of themselves, or abdicate responsibility…

There is a simple, but useful tool that helps you to understand how people respond to situations, and to anticipate their likely behavior. It can also help you identify those who are likely to be winners and losers. This tool is called the Locus of Control.

Everyone wants to know what separates winners from losers? One of the significant factors limiting the attainment of your vision is the degree to which you believe you are in control of your destiny. Your locus of control can be internal or external. You can have a combination of both but normally one will outweigh the other.  So what are the differences between an internal Locus of Control and an external Locus of Control, and how can you identify them?

  • External Locus of Control – listening to what you say, or your team members, when talking about your business and your life. If you hear things like, “I would have been successful but the economy turned sour” or “I got caught by a pile of bad debts so I had to close the business down” you or they have an external locus of control. People with an external locus of control blame the external factors for their failure.
  • Internal Locus of Control – people with an internal locus of control feel that they can influence the issues around them. You’ll hear them say things like “I misjudged the market so I put on too many people which ended up costing me a packet of money” or “I found that my skills weren’t sufficient to handle the negotiation”.

Get into the habit of listening to the people to determine whether they have an internal or external locus of control. Of course, those who have an external locus are the ones who find it difficult to change. It’s always someone else’s fault or responsibility.

If you are setting up a team or looking at staffing make sure you have plenty of people with an internal locus of control. In simple terms, a person with an external locus of control is problem focused, while a person with an internal locus of control is solution focused. Remember, you will always find what you are looking for. Sometimes you find that by teaching someone about the locus of control and helping them to change their own mindset they can change from having an external locus of control to an internal locus of control.

There is little point in developing a focused and aggressive business strategy if you are surrounded by people who believe that the Government, their people, and even their customers are conspiring against them. You are defeated before you start. How can this be resolved?  By having people with an internal locus of control!

To view or download a PDF version of this blog click here

Share your thoughts and ideas here, or email me at andrew.cooke@business-gps.com.au

If you found this article of use or interest please don’t hesitate to share it with others.

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions,

9 Things Successful People Do Differently

9 tips on how to meet your goals and grow your capabilities

Do you think you can tell?
Do you think you can tell?

In Part 1 of this article, we identified why we are our own worst enemy when it comes to identifying how to improve ourselves.  Here we look at what we can do to help us, given the fact that we are not always the best person to do so.

Psychologist, Heidi Grant Halvorson, recently studied the science of success asking – Why have you been so successful in reaching some of your goals, but not others? Decades of research on achievement suggests that successful people reach their goals not simply because of who they are, but more often because of what they do.  As such, in her ebook – “Nine Things Successful People Do Differently” – she identified the following:

1. Get specific. When you set yourself a goal, try to be as specific as possible. This gives you a clear idea of what success looks like and helps to keep you motivated until you get there. Also, think about the specific actions that need to be taken to reach your goal.

2. Seize the moment to act on your goals.
Achieving your goal means grabbing hold of these opportunities to work on our goals before they slip through your fingers.  To seize the moment, decide when and where you will take each action you want to take, in advance. Again, be as specific as possible. Studies show that this kind of planning will help your brain to detect and seize the opportunity when it arises, increasing your chances of success by roughly 300%.

3. Know exactly how far you have left to go. Achieving any goal also requires honest and regular monitoring of your progress — if not by others, then by you yourself. Check your progress frequently — weekly, or even daily, depending on the goal.

4. Be a realistic optimist.
When you are setting a goal, by all means engage in lots of positive thinking about how likely you are to achieve it. Believing in your ability to succeed is enormously helpful for creating and sustaining your motivation. But whatever you do, don’t underestimate how difficult it will be to reach your goal.

5. Focus on getting better, rather than being good.
Believe you can get the ability to reach your goals is important.  , but so is believing you can get the ability. Many of us believe that our intelligence, our personality, and our physical aptitudes are fixed — that no matter what we do, we won’t improve. As a result, we focus on goals that are all about proving ourselves, rather than developing and acquiring new skills.

Research suggests that the belief in fixed ability is completely wrong — abilities of all kinds are profoundly malleable. Embracing the fact that you can change will allow you to make better choices, and reach your fullest potential.

6. Have grit – the willingness to commit to long-term goals, and to persist in the face of difficulty. Again, you can develop your ‘grit ability’.

7. Build your willpower muscle. Your self-control “muscle” is just like the other muscles in your body — when it doesn’t get much exercise, it becomes weaker over time. But when you give it regular workouts by putting it to good use, it will grow stronger and stronger, and better able to help you successfully reach your goals.

To build willpower, take on a challenge that requires you to do something you’d honestly rather not do. Start with just one activity, and make a plan for how you will deal with troubles when they occur. It is hard in the beginning, but it gets easier. As your strength grows, you can take on more challenges and step-up your self-control workout.

8. Don’t tempt fate. No matter how strong your willpower muscle becomes, it’s important to always respect the fact that it is limited, and if you overtax it you will temporarily run out of steam. Don’t try to take on two challenging tasks at once, or over-expose yourself to temptation.

9. Focus on what you will do, not what you won’t do. Plan how you will replace bad habits with good ones, rather than focusing only on the bad habits themselves. Research on thought suppression (e.g., “Don’t think about white bears!”) has shown that trying to avoid a thought makes it even more active in your mind. The same holds true when it comes to behavior — by trying not to engage in a bad habit, our habits get strengthened rather than broken.  If you want to change your ways, ask yourself, What will I do instead?

So what does this all mean?

To achieve your goals overcome the common mistakes above; build, develop and apply your abilities; and use this knowledge to your advantage from now on.

What has worked for you to help you reach your goals?  Have you tips or ideas of your own that you would like to share?

Share your ideas, insights, and experience – and share the wealth!

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About Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions (“GPS”)

Who Knows You Best?

Can you tell how good your performance is or how you can improve?  Read on to find out, you might be surprised…

Do you think you can tell?

Those of you who are Pink Floyd fans will immediately recognize the lyrics from the song, “Wish You Were Here”.  The first part of the song, for those of you not familiar with it are below:

So, so you think you can tell Heaven from Hell,
blue skies from pain.
Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?

Let’s be honest – yes we can!  The difference between them is immediate and obvious, and we can all do this easily. Here is another question:

“Do you think you can tell who knows you best?”

If I was to ask you that then you would probably see one word – “Me!”  Yet you would be wrong. How you see yourself and how other people see you are only weakly correlated.

The research suggests that other people’s assessment of your personality predicts your behaviour, on average, better than your assessment does. The truth is, we don’t know ourselves nearly as well as we think we do. When it comes to performance, our surprising self-ignorance makes understanding where we went right and where we went wrong difficult, to say the least.

If you want to be more successful — at anything — than you are right now, you need to know yourself and your skills. And when you fall short of your goals, you need to know why. This should be no problem; after all, who knows you better than you do?

Why is this?

The problem is our brain.  Just because its our doesn’t mean we know what it’s doing – most of what happens is below our consciousness awareness, it’s not directly accessible to us at all.  As psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson described it our unconscious mind is like a Cray supercomputer processing everything at high speed, whereas our conscious brain has the power of a Post-It note – unable to handle much and when too much is asked of it, it starts dropping things.  This means when things start going wrong we often have difficulty in understanding why.

When you fail to reach a goal you try to establish why(for example, lack of innate ability, lack of effort, poor preparation, using the wrong strategy, bad luck, etc). Of all of these possible culprits, it’s lack of innate ability we most frequently hold responsible.  As such, innate ability is the go-to explanation for all of our successes and our failures.

Research shows that this is rarely the case – for either succeeding or falling short.  If we need to improve performance we need to know where to place blame.  As we can’t find it ourselves, we need to help to find the right answers.

How do we do this – we focus not on who people are, but what they do.

To find out more, and to read the second part of this article then “Do You Think You Can Tell?” – Part 2 at growthandprofit.wordpress.com

What have been your experiences?  What works for you? Share your ideas and thoughts, and share the wealth!

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Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

90% Rule for Better Decisions

Too often we make a decision which, at best, is marginal.  How many times have you made a decision that you have regretted?  That involved more work than expected? Which impacted other work that was more important? That lead you to spread yourself too thin?

Why does this always seem to happen?  In short, we are not selective enough in the choices we make. There is a simple and effective way to so this – it is called the 90 Per Cent Rule.

The 90 Per Cent Rule

You can apply the 90 Per Cent Rule to just about every decision or dilemma. As you evaluate your decision or dilemma, think about the single most important criterion for that decision, and then simply give the option a score between 0 and 100. If you rate it any lower than 90 per cent, then automatically change the rating to 0 and simply reject it. This way you avoid getting caught up in indecision, or worse, getting stuck with the 60s or 70s.

In doing this we put the decision to an extreme test: if we feel the total and utter conviction to do something, then we say yes. Anything less gets thumbs down!

Applying highly selective criteria is a trade-off; sometimes you will have to turn down a seemingly very good option and have faith that the perfect option will soon come along. Sometimes it will, and sometimes it won’t, but by of applying selective criteria forces you to choose which perfect option to wait for, rather than letting other people, or the universe, choose for you.

When our selection criteria are too broad, we will find ourselves committing to too many options. What’s more, assigning simple numerical values to our options forces us to make decisions consciously, logically, and rationally, rather than impulsively or emotionally. Making our criteria both selective and explicit affords us a systematic tool for discerning what is essential and filtering out the things that are not.

Yes, it takes discipline to apply tough criteria. But failing to do so carries a high cost.

To view or download a PDF version of this blog click here.

Share your thoughts and ideas here, or email me at andrew.cooke@business-gps.com.au

If you found this article of use or interest please don’t hesitate to share it with others.

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

Getting People to Meet Their Goals

“I never put off till tomorrow what I can do the day after.” – OSCAR WILDE

deadlinesHow often have you found yourself in a state of anxiety rapidly approaching a deadline or goal that needs to be achieved?  Most people have been in this state, some seem to live in this state on a perpetual basis.

There are two ways you can deal with a goal or deadline. You can start early and small, or late and big. ‘Early and small’ means you start at the earliest possible time with the minimum possible investment of time; ‘large and big’ occurs when you start at the last minute and invest a disproportionately large amount of efforts and resources – think of when you were at college and pulled an all-nighter to get an assignment in on time.

In research carried out by Dan Ariely, a leading behavioral economist, students who were starting a class, were told they would have to submit three papers over the twelve-week semester.  The deadlines for when these papers were due were to be determined by the individual students themselves, however, they had to be in before the end of the semester.  However, the students had to commit to their deadline for each paper and these could not be changed. Any deadline that was missed would be penalized at the rate of one percent off the grade for each day it was late.

Now a perfectly rational student would set all the deadlines for the last day of class. But what if the students procrastinated? What if they knew that they were likely to fail? If the students were not rational and knew it, then they might set early deadlines and by doing so force themselves to start working on the projects earlier in the semester.

The majority of students committed to earlier deadlines and the research found that this ability to commit resulted in higher grades.  More generally, it seems that simply providing students a tool by which they could pre-commit publicly to deadlines helped them achieve their goals.

So what does it mean for you if you are looking to achieve a goal or meet a deadline?

There are two things you can do:

1. Make a public commitment as to when you will achieve the goal or meet the deadline before it is due.

2. Make a start now – take your goal or deadline and ask yourself “What is the minimal amount I could do right now to prepare?” Whatever your goal or deadline start now, just spend five minutes and put down your ideas.  This will help you to get ahead and to meet your goals and deadlines.

Try this for yourself and share it with your colleagues and team.  Just doing something small can help you realize goals and meet deadlines without having to resort to being rushed.

To view or download a PDF version of this blog click here

Share your thoughts and ideas here, or email me at andrew.cooke@business-gps.com.au

If you found this article of use or interest please don’t hesitate to share it with others.

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.