Two Questions to Attain and Maintain Focus

Two Questions To Attain and Maintain Focus

Achieving and maintaining focus is a key skill in modern business.

by Andrew Cooke, Growth & Profit Solutions

In a time-poor environment in which more demands are being made of us it is more and more important that we focus on what we do.  This is especially true as the business environment becomes increasingly volatile, uncertain and complex resulting in managers having to make decisions more quickly, with less information and greater risk.focus

Focusing allows you to concentrate your efforts, time and resources on what needs to be at the center of your attention and your activity.  To do this you need to be able to ensure that you have prioritized what needs to be done and to avoid unnecessary procrastination.

There are two questions to ask yourself when you are about to start a piece of work or, as occurs more and more frequently, people interrupt you with a request for your assistance.

  • Is this piece of work important to me?
  • Is this piece of work urgent for me?

If the answer to both is then you might accept it – or guide it to the right person if it is not you.  If the answer to either question is “No”, then you don’t need to focus on it now. You can either refuse it, accept it conditionally (you might do it later or delegate it to someone else, for example), or if you are not sure then you can ask for more information (often a good idea if it is your boss who is interrupting you!).

This is a simple technique by which to maintain focus on what is important and what is urgent, and by which you can consider tasks which you are only important or urgent, and to reject those that are neither important or urgent.  Try it out for yourself, and find out how much time you free for yourself and how much easier it is to do the work that matters!

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

How to Become More Objective

How to build your ability to be objective.

A common mistake made by managers is to equate what they think with what they know. But there is a world of difference, let me explain.

At the core of this is being able to differentiate between the objective and the subjective perspective of the matter to hand. Take the phrase, “This happened and it is bad”.  This consists of two impressions. The first – “This happened” – is objective; the second – “it is bad” – is subjective.

The difference between the two is what you see (objective) and what you perceive (subjective). The former is simply is what is there, the latter is how you interpret it. The former is strong in helping you address the problems or opportunities, the latter is weak.

As managers and leaders we need first to understand the reality of the situation as it is. Not as we think it might be. You cannot get to grips with what you need to do, or how you are going to deal with a situation, if you cannot understand it properly. So be objective, this requires you to remove the “you” – the subjective part – from the process of consideration. This is not hard to do – just think of a time when you have given advice to a friend or colleague. When you do this the problem is clear and the solution is obvious as we are not encumbered with all the ‘baggage’ that our friend or colleague has when looking at it.  It is case of being able to see the wood for the trees, and only then do you start to think about possible solutions.

Four Steps for Being Objective

There are four steps you can take and use with any problem or opportunity you need to consider or evaluate. These are:

1. Look at the problem/opportunity and pretend it is not happening to you. Ask yourself, “If this was happening to my friend, what would I tell him/her?”

2. Assume the problem/opportunity is not important.  This makes it easier for you to know what to do.

3. Think of the ways that someone (not you) could solve this problem/opportunity.  This is about gaining clarity (e.g. “What would Richard Branson do?”)

4. Repeat the process.  Doing this will help you to develop your “objectivity muscle” and to help you see things for what they are.

Doing this on a regular basis helps you to develop your objective vision and make it strong, rather than depending on your myopic subjective vision.

So what are you waiting for to get started?  Try this for yourself. Don’t forget, if you find this hard, then you can always phone a friend and ask them – they will be objective for you!

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.

The 7 Questions for Growing Your Business

How you can improve employee commitment and engagement demonstrate respect.

When you are looking to grow your business there are three steps involved: firstly, determining what your business will look at a given point in the future; secondly, what the business currently looks like; and finally, how you are going to bridge the gap between the two.

I always begin by looking at what I want the business to look like in the future. Why? The future does not yet exist, so I have the opportunity to create it from scratch. The future is not just an extrapolation of today – it is new and exciting! Your future can include current offerings, adapted offering, new offerings or offerings that you no longer make available.  Similarly with your customers you may be serving existing, adjacent or new customers, or you may no longer serve some of your existing customer groups. In short, starting with tomorrow frees you from the constraints of thinking of today.

At the heart of growing your business are two key outcomes you are looking for:

  • Growth – you are looking to grow and develop your business
  • Profit – you want your business to be more profitable in the future to make it sustainable

Driving these two outcomes are seven areas, the seven Ps, which surround them. This is shown below.

Th e 7Ps  Driving Growth and Profit

  1. PurposeWhat is your “Why”? – what is the reason for being for your organization that inspires and engages you and others?
  2. PatronsWho are you customers? – what customer segments do you serve and with which offerings?
  3. ProblemsWhat issues do they have? – what are the problems they need help with, or the jobs they are looking to get done?
  4. ProductsWhat are our solutions to their problems? – how do you help your customers with their problems in a way that the customers sees as valuable, which differentiates you from your competition and which will make you money?
  5. ProcessHow do we deliver the solution? – this includes everything that is involved in creating, supporting and delivering the solution. This includes everything within your business, and with the other businesses you work with or through in creating and delivering the solution.
  6. PeopleWho do we need to run the process? – what people do you need and in which positions, and what skills, capabilities and attitudes do they need to have to do the job efficiently and effectively?
  7. PromotionHow do we promote ourselves to our Patrons? – how do you reach out to your different customer groups and how do they want to engage with you, and what channels are most effective for doing this?
  8. Growth & Profit – this are the outcomes you achieve from getting the above seven factors right, and being able to leverage them effectively.

Use these questions as outlined in the table below to help you think this through in three steps:

  1. WHERE do you want to be? (future)
  2. Where are you NOW? (present)
  3. HOW will you bridge the gaps? (strategy)

So don’t wait – start this now. Share your thoughts and ideas with your colleagues and see how you can create your own future and bring it back to today!

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.

Question Storming, A Better Way to Innovate

…a better way than brainstorming when innovating

The idea of brainstorming is to get a group of diverse people to generate a lot of ideas, without judgment, in order to discover a solution to a problem. It has its use at times, but the problem is that it doesn’t work!

Why do I say this?

There are two key problems with brainstorming.

Firstly, the problem starts at the beginning when we look to solve a problem rather than to find a problem. We have already defined what the problem is we believe that we “know” what the problem is when we do not. Next time you are in a brain-storming session, before you start, ask everyone to write down, without sharing what they have written), what the problem is that they are going to brainstorm.  You will get as many answers as there are people. Although there may be aspects of the problem that people share there is no commonly shared and consistent understanding of the problem.

Secondly, although there may be no judgment of ideas in the initial stage of brainstorming a lot of people will tend to self-censor as they know the ideas will be judged at some point. This limits the creative thinking and the ability for people to think freely.

The Right Question Institute has developed the question-storming method where the focus is on generating questions, not ideas, which tend to be judged more harshly than questions.  When people brainstorm there is a point when people can’t think of any more ideas. Part of this is because the group is asking the wrong questions – this is a good time to start question-storming.

The Right Question Institute has developed a process for this, the Question Formulation Technique, which includes the following steps:

1. Design a question focus.

Here you provide a focus for the group so that people can generate their own questions.

2. Produce questions.

There are four rules for producing questions:

  1. Ask as many questions as you can.
  2. Do not stop to judge, discuss, edit, or answer any question.
  3. Write down every question exactly as it was asked.
  4. Change any statements into questions.

As a group generates at least fifty questions about the problem being “stormed”.  Write down all the questions so that everyone can see them and try to think of a better question.

Questions tend to be easier than ideas to come up with. Note that just because you have thought of a question does not mean you have to have a solution for it.

As you go through this you will find that people have slightly different ways of framing or approaching the problem. If you have a large group then split the group into smaller sub-groups to encourage interaction between people.

Often groups stall at around 25 questions.  Don’t stop here as often the best questions come as you get to the fiftieth or seventy-fifth.

3. Work with closed-ended and open-ended questions.

Improve the questions generated by:

  1. Making open questions closed, and
  2. Making closed questions open

For example:

4. Prioritize questions.

Allow the group to prioritize the top three questions that need to be explored further. The reversing of the questions helps to winnow down the questions as the best questions become magnetic and draw people to them. So people converge around them. From this, the group can discern which questions are the top three questions that need to be addressed.

5. Plan next steps.

Use the three questions to help you develop ideas and solutions for the problem. 3.

6. Reflect.

Stop and reflect on what you have learned, found out and developed as a result of this process. What do you need to do next and what plans do you need to develop.

So next time you are looking to innovate, solve problems or come up with a new way of doing things don’t look for the right answer, look for the right question!

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.

The Paradox of the Familiar and the New

Customers are a fickle lot. You produce what your research tells you will sell, and you end up with a lemon, or it fails to produce the results you seek. Why is this?

If customers are going to buy a new offering it has to appeal to them, not just in terms of the needs it satisfies, but in how it gets over the initial barrier of being attractive to them.

Customers are torn between a curiosity about new things and a fear of anything too new. So people tend to be attracted to offerings that are bold, but instantly comprehensible. Raymond Loewy, the industrial designer, who came up with this idea called it MAYA – ““Most Advanced Yet Acceptable”. He said to sell something surprising, make it familiar; and to sell something familiar, make it surprising.

Think of Apple and the iPad.  The technology was not new – it combined different technologies in a clever way, but what made it stand out was its design and the user experience that it created for the iPad’s users.

People like what is familiar, but if they are over-exposed to it then it becomes overfamiliar and they tire of it.  How many times could you listen to your favorite song before you get tired of it, or stop listening properly to it? It is probably fewer than you think. Similarly, although people may like surprises if the surprise is too much then it becomes counter-productive.

To get the best of both worlds – that which is familiar to people, and that which represents a surprise – requires a balance. The power of familiarity seems to be strongest when a person isn’t expecting it; and a surprise seems to work best when it contains some element of familiarity. This has been described as having a level of “optimal newness”.

Internet companies provide a good example of this where many new ideas are promoted as a fresh spin on familiar successes..  For example, Airbnb was once called “eBay for homes.”; Uber was described as “Airbnb for cars”; and with Uber’s success may start-ups have begun describing themselves as “Uber for [anything].” In the movies, the film “Alien” eventually found the financial backing it required when it described the plot as “Jaws in space” – the film and plot of “Jaws” being very familiar, and the locating the story in space providing the surprise.

So when you look to bring new offerings to market ask yourself these three questions:

  1. How will I make it familiar?
  2. How will I make it surprising:
  3. How will I make it familiar when a person least expects it, and make it surprising yet still somewhat familiar?

Answering these questions will help you generate ideas and approaches to try with your customers and make your new offerings more successful.

What is your key takeaway from this?

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.