Merge's Blog

Tag Archives: obtaining advice

Use Cunningham’s Law to get people involved and talking

When seeking to solve an issue or a problem, or charged with evaluating or implementing a new initiative, you’ve probably approached your employees and co-workers to elicit ideas and engage in discussion.  But often, it is difficult to get people involved in the dialogue.  Usually, it’s not because people don’t have anything useful to offer; more likely it’s because they have other priorities and the assumption is that “someone else will respond”.  But the ultimate outcome still is that you don’t get the participation levels that you’d like.

Cunningham's LawConsider a contrary approach

So consider a contrary approach.  It comes from an unusual source – Cunningham’s Law.  Rather than asking an open-ended question, seed your question with misinformation or an opposing viewpoint.

So instead of: How many staff members should we bring on shift for the Grand Opening? 

Ask: What do you think about having two people on shift at the Grand Opening? 

Because two people on shift for a Grand Opening is clearly not enough, your team members will be quick to speak up and contribute their input to the discussion. Continue reading

Don’t just seek advice, pay attention to what you hear

Last year, I wrote a short series of posts on specific techniques you can use as a leader to improve the quality of your decision-making.  This story about a Swedish warship from the early 1600’s emphasizes not only the importance of approaching your team and experts to seek advice, but to also pay heed to the advice once you’ve heard it.

The tale of the Vasa: one king’s folly

seek adviceIn 1626, King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden ordered the building of the Vasa, a new warship that was intended to become, for that era, the most powerful marine vessel in the Baltic Sea.  As was common in warships then, the Vasa was to have a rank of cannons on each side of the boat so that soldiers could easily fire at their attackers, no matter what direction the assault came from.

King Adolphus considered himself something of an expert boat designer so he took an immense interest in the actual design of the ship.  About mid-way during the ship’s two year construction, he learned that Poland, his greatest archenemy (and rival to take control of the Baltic Sea), had stepped up their naval firepower by building warships with ranks of cannons on two levels.  Well, Adolphus wasn’t going to be outdone!  Continue reading

Determining what information you’re missing will improve your decision-making

MissingToday I want to finish up the short series on decision-making that I’ve been writing about over the past two weeks.  In previous blog posts, I’ve offered up proven techniques (most recently the impact of your decision one year from now), and this final tool I want to share with you today has also proven to be repeatedly successful.  The tip: determine the most important information you are missing.

When it comes to decision-making, it’s very easy to focus on what you know.  And in today’s data-driven world, it’s amazingly simple to get distracted by the deluge of information that’s often at your fingertips.  There is usually no shortage of reports that can provide all kinds of facts, figures, numbers and statistics.  Surrounded by so much information, one can easily ignore what is not there.  Continue reading

One thoughtful action to improve the quality of your decision-making

FutureFor the past week, I’ve been blogging about specific techniques you can use as a leader to improve the quality of your decision-making (three or more alternatives, brainstorming with 2-6 others), and today I’m continuing this short series with a third tool – take a few minutes to write down the impact your decision will have one year into the future.

Now don’t just think about this, put it in writing.  The act of writing is very powerful because it will force you to articulate the anticipated result of the decision, and it’s what happens next that will give you the enormous value.  Continue reading

Improve decision-making by brainstorming with 2-6 stakeholders

BrainstormingLast week I started a short series on specific proven techniques you can use to improve the quality of your decision-making in your role as a leader.  Last week’s technique was to develop at least three or more realistic alternatives for the situation you are facing.  Today’s tip is one that I actually referred to in passing in the last blog post; specifically to brainstorm with a team of at least two, but no more than six stakeholders.

While this tool comes directly from my many years of experience working with leaders in numerous organizations, you don’t just have to take my word for it; the empirical research into organizational decision-making fully supports and reinforces this as well.  Obtaining insights from more people adds value and also increases buy-in, both very important in organizational settings.  But there IS an ideal number of people to brainstorm and team up with when it comes to achieving the highest quality of decision-making.  Continue reading

Improve decision-making by developing alternatives

ThreeChoicesRecently, I’ve been thinking a lot about decision-making by leaders.  The reason isn’t terribly earth-shattering, it’s only because an association client has asked me to re-develop a program for their members on tools and skills for problem-solving and decision-making.  But since I often blog on this subject (most recently just at the end of June), I’d like to, for the next two weeks, focus on offering up a few definitive ideas on how to make more effective leadership decisions.  Today’s specific tool – develop at least three or more realistic alternatives.

Significant research into the psychology and process of decision-making shows that no other practice improves the quality of decisions more than expanding your choices.  So brainstorm with 2-6 colleagues (more on this number in an upcoming blog post) and put some energy and creativity into generating at least three, but ideally four or more, practical and reasonable options for the topic at hand.  Continue reading

Don’t lose sight of your important role in making decisions

Making decisions is what leaders do.  Whether it’s hiring staff, evaluating vendor proposals, or resolving process bottlenecks, making decisions is our bread and butter.  It’s why we get paid the big bucks! J  Given that making decisions is such a critical part of our roles, the tendency can be to fall into a routine, and even lose sight of how important this responsibility can be.  And invariably, our decisions stack upon one another – the first decision leads to a second, which leads to a third, and so on.  So what would happen if you made a poor decision somewhere along that path?  Logic says that it could potentially take you down a road that could lead to a sub-optimal or even damaging outcome.

MongooseThe world of natural science has numerous examples of how one seemingly harmless decision has led to devastating unintended consequences.  Consider the introduction of the mongoose to the Hawai’ian islands.  In the 1880s, sugar cane farmers in the islands were seeking ways to control rat populations that were destroying their crops, and in 1883, with the best of intentions, they imported hundreds of mongoose and let them loose in their fields.  It proved to be a decision that was enormously uninformed.  Continue reading

Invite your critics to be part of your project team

Diverse points of view are the source of disagreement, but they are also the foundation of better decision-making.  The next time you are working on a new initiative or project, think about who your biggest opponents might be.  These are the people who often are a thorn in your side – they think whatever you’re doing is a waste of time and other resources, or they believe you should have gone in a different direction.  Engage them in a conversation anyway, as it will lead to your eventual success.  Set up meetings with each one, and without getting defensive, let this person tell you exactly what they think.  It won’t be a comfortable dialogue, but wouldn’t you much rather know this information than not?  Then, and this may be a bitter pill to swallow for some of you, ask this person if they’ll join your project team.  Now before you write me off completely, let me explain.  Continue reading

Seek out advice from impartial sources

One of the lesser-known of the famous Murphy’s Laws is the First Law of Expert Advice.  It states:

Don’t ask the barber whether you need a haircut.

Like all Murphy’s Laws, within the humour lies an essential kernel of valid and legitimate advice.  If you’re in a position of leadership, then you often have to solicit and rely on advice from others.  After all, you can’t know enough about everything to make sound decisions solely on the basis of your own knowledge and experience.  But always evaluate where you seek out your guidance.  Yes, you should go to an expert when you are seeking counsel on any subject, but continually ask yourself whether the advice may be biased.  Does your advisor have a vested interest in one decision over another?  Ideally, you want the person who guides you to be impartial and unprejudiced and not likely to gain an advantage from one alternative over another.  Independence from the outcome is always a good measure of the quality of the advice received.

Having said that, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should completely ignore any counsel that comes from someone who will benefit from your decision.  However, you must temper any advice you receive from such a source with a healthy dose of pragmatic skepticism.  Always remember, if you ask the barber whether you need a haircut, the answer will always be a resounding “yes”, even if it isn’t true!

A colleague commented: is is even possible to get an independent expert nowadays?  It just seems that everyone has a hidden agenda?  What do you think?