The Safe Path

The Safe Path

The safe path is the one you already know.
It leads to where you’ve already been.

101One of the things I notice as I work with organizations around the world is that the more expert people are – the better their reputations as knowledgeable doctors or lawyers or engineers or managers – the less likely they are to ask questions they don’t know the answers to. That’s not because they know so much that it’s hard to find such questions. It’s because asking questions you don’t know the answers to reveals your ignorance, and that can be pretty threatening, particularly if you think of yourself as an authority.

Ironically, it’s the very urge to feel knowledgeable that often stops us from knowing more.

Asking questions you already know the answers to is the safest path, to be sure, but it also leads you right back to where you already are.

One of the best ways to discover new territory, new ideas, new possibilities is to ask questions you don’t know the answers to. It’s like launching your own personal Hubble telescope, sharpening your ability to see more, and more clearly, than ever before.

“No, no, you’re not thinking, you’re just being logical.” – NEILS BOHR, Danish physicist (1885-1962)

Posted by Tim Hurson, 0 comments

Sudoku Strategies

I’ve noticed a tendency for C-Suite executives to emerge from planning retreats with what I call Sudoku Strategies — plans predicated on the comforting assumption that the future is just waiting out there, and if we can only describe it clearly enough, we can project ourselves into the neat picture we’ve painted.

Of course, unlike in Sudoku, there’s no guarantee that the future will consist of neat rows of the numbers 1 through 9. In real life, there are often numbers missing (where did that 7 go anyway?) or repeating numbers (I thought that 3 was supposed to last only one quarter!), or negative numbers (minus 6! where did that come from?). Often a row may not contain numbers at all — but rather blanks, or letters, or characters as yet entirely unknown to us.

If we could predict the future, there wouldn’t have been a dot-com bust, a mortgage meltdown, or airlines in a tailspin because of oil at $130 a barrel.

Sudoku Strategies look great on paper, but often do more to mask the truth than to reveal it. Even the most carefully constructed strategy will lead to failure if it prevents us from seeing beyond its neat nine-by-nine box. As the legendary Prussian General, Helmuth von Motke, said, No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.

But wait a minute — what about that old chestnut, He who fails to plan, plans to fail? Surely we need to plan.

Yes, we do. The answer to the apparent contradiction lies in the wisdom of Dwight Eisenhower, who said, In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable. It’s not the plan that’s important, but the process of planning. By planning — and then being ready to abandon the plan if necessary — we learn about our own capabilities, our shortcomings, and our assumptions. We begin to understand ourselves and the conditions that prevail now. We understand that our greatest strength is the ability to adapt. Without this, we cannot respond effectively to the unpredictable and inevitable changes ahead.

I prefer Scrabble Strategies. In a Scrabble game, you have a limited number of variables to work with, and an infinite, but uncertain future. You have a good chance of winning if you continually assess current conditions and imagine future possibilities. But if you’re not willing to abandon your ideas when they become unworkable, you will lose.

“I don’t know what it is yet. And that’s good. I like not to know for as long as possible, because then it tells me the truth instead of me imposing the truth.” Michael Moschen, American juggler, on the process of developing of a new routine

Posted by Tim Hurson, 1 comment