Here’s what winners do… They Connect the Dots
Have you noticed that a lot of people can make big fat opinions about anything and never get to a second paragraph, which is the big story behind it… How things work. Why specific actions are connected to a bigger, thought-through picture.
For example, some politicians, can’t connect the dots even when they’re big polka dots. They live in their simplistic, little boxes built from their own impulses and it leads us to a web of contradictions. Well, wait a minute we think – but it ends there. We have to know that some of it is just “spin”. But it takes too much work to find out what’s really going on.
Making declarations about what you want is important because it gives direction. CEOs are often good at that. But declarations are only a beginning, not an end. It’s to open up minds, get people thinking, planning and learning. One of the most famous declarations was when John F. Kennedy declared “We will put a man on the moon by the end of this decade.” Canadians typically don’t like declarations. That second paragraph needs to be added. It must answer how you know you can do that. What is really going on? Why? Cynicism comes easy when you don’t know. So, to be effective as a businessperson and team, we need to become investigative journalists, like detectives.
Dr. Thomas Sowell says, “It takes considerable knowledge just to realize the extent of your own ignorance.” Nobel laureate, Friedrich August von Hayek, admonished “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.” The fact that we have gross ignorance about how the world operates is ignored by the know-it-alls who seek to control our lives like big monopolies, governments, and their marketing spinners. Heck, in business, we all want to control something – a market, customers, and team members.
Have you seen the commercial put out by the accounting association? When a young employee suggests in a business meeting that they use the Internet and sell subscriptions instead of selling CDs which isn’t working any more? “How will that help us sell our CDs?” the executive says. It ends by asking, “Are you on the wrong side of change?”
You can see how, on automatic, we can become our thinking, listening, speaking. We become so locked in, a prisoner of our past thinking, so opinionated, so in love with our story. In politics you see the partisan stupidity and nonsense that comes with it. Well, being stuck in thinking riddles business too. Life and business is complicated. The journey is to un-complicate as best you can but first, catching yourself in your automatic is the key. Then, analyze and connect the dots for the time being, and seize the opportunities that follow for now and for the future. So just ‘ rah rah’ off the top quick answers you give or readily respond to can be costly. There’s nothing worse than a great answer to the wrong problem. Also, just putting out fires or solving problems without connecting them to a bigger picture can be tiring and sometimes you can pay for that in the long run.
Seeing the big picture is the key. What’s causing what you see and hear? What are all the dots? What’s going on? What are they about? What do they look like when connected? Short term thinkers don’t do that and many in business don’t do it because of the pressure to produce now! Big picture thinkers connect the dots. And because they do, they seize opportunities. We can all do more of that.
Innovation comes from being able to connect the dots. Once connected, declare what’s wanted and what’s possible, and then act boldly, but with an engaged and informed team of learners. Then act, act, act!
It starts by curiously getting into the unknown… and believe me, you don’t know. For example, ask yourself:
- Why are big customers leaving?
- Why are some smaller ones coming?
- How do we get competent help?
- What’s going on with employees? How come so many don’t seem to be engaged? Why do so few know what we’re trying to do?
To help with this, I coached some of my client teams to write a white paper on their own firm in the industry they are in. Then, after its analysis, the white paper produced, it is discussed by the firm’s stakeholders. Then we would engage a team of theirs to take a good look at the total offering impact. For example, how it is sold, marketed, what does it look like to the customer and what it actually does for the customer? What is it like dealing with the company? Then we look to see if it matches up with what the white papers describe of what is going on in the marketplace and what should be done. We engage their customer’s by conducting listening meetings to get at all the data.
We research what’s happening not only to their customers but, to their client’s customer. What is the underlying structure here? What are they troubled or challenged with? What would help them change their lives – help them move forward? After the meeting we connect the dots, determine opportunities, possibly change the offering and story and get into action. This is where the innovation comes in to play. This took some time, but compared to the cost of treading water, it’s quick and cheap.
Now I realize only so well that business and the jobs we’re in are driven by routine tasks with short term deadlines. So many client teams were not that interested initially in doing that kind of thinking. Imagine the founders of the sacred cows, the political pressures and the creators of that year’s business plan all being upset with the findings that were discovered. Because of all that and limited time, so many just want better short-term operational ‘how to’s’ that will magically improve their lives now. “Can’t you just teach us how to sell or communicate better to our customers this morning?” “Why do we have to go through all this disruptive process?” “Uh, how will that help us sell our CD’s!”
So why am I talking about connecting the dots today? Well, as much as I realize few want to peel the onion and more just unknowingly give opinions or spew concepts without facts and ignore connecting the dots to a bigger picture of what’s going on, I see that those who do put 2% to 10% of their time to actually thinking and aligning with others who do, are the learners. They are the opportunist. They are the winners today. This is not just for Silicon Valley.
Well, free markets accompanied by free trade make us richer by economizing on the amount of knowledge or information we needed to produce things. Just imagine the amount of knowledge we would need just to produce our own breakfast. How would we know about pork, raising pigs, producing wheat, almond milk, chicken feeding, protecting and raising chickens just to get eggs? How to grow and process coffee, etc? How costly a breakfast that would be? Therefore, aligning with others knowledge and realizing their outputs make sense.
Let’s act on our curiosity more. When you hear off-the-top stuff, go find out, especially as it relates to your customers and team. It’s amazing how Mr. Google has taught so many of us to dig deeper about so many things. Now let’s connect the dots from what we learn. It usually takes a team to do so. Go find one in your industry and company. Your career and business will advance.
Kevin D. Crone
Dale Carnegie Business Group
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