Nonsense At Work

#101: November 2015 MindShift

Nonsense just is,
but sense must be uncovered, grasped and held tight.The NonsenseAtWork Monthly MindShift

November 2015

Think Bright Question, Wiser Me

It is better to think in terms of dead-time than dead line

dont-stopSo, the Speaker of the House resigned (old news, I know, but please read on). I don’t blame him. He might be the speaker, but he never gets a word in. I have the same problem at home. But then, I have teenagers.

Mr. Boehner has promised to get a lot done in his final month wielding the wooden hammer thingy. I have made similar threats at home wielding a big piece of wood.

And yet, Mr. Boehner will succeed. Not because of his hammer, but because of his end of time. Many of us perform better facing a deadline, but he is facing dead time.

Setting deadlines to up performance is one thing; knowing that we have dead time looming is a different pressure. A deadline makes you focus on the things yet undone; dead time makes you focus on what matters enough to be done.

It is better to think in terms of dead-time than deadline.

Why the wise ones cannot enlighten the bright ones

silenceI am constantly unpleasantly surprised by the number of bright people and by how many of them are in high office.

Bright people are bright because they blind me with their unwavering sense of rightness. Bright people see certainties where I see maybes; they see clear blacks and whites where I am dazed by gray.

I am confused when bright people see facts where proof remains invisible; when they believe wholeheartedly in what has me two-minded.

Surely, too much brightness kills the shadows. And it is in the shadows where possibilities hide. Bright right insists on one answer, the answer. But the gray zone of uncertainty triggers the ‘what-if’ thinking of many possible answers.

Bright people confuse and bemuse me until I remind myself that bright is not the same as wise. Sadly, the wise ones cannot enlighten the bright ones, who demand the illusive one right answer.

You will ask the right question when you know the answer you need

question-markWhen you ask a question, do you know what you will do with the answer? Often knowing what you will do depends on why you are asking the question. Some questions are aimed at extracting the answer we already know we want. Other questions we ask because of what we don’t know, but know that we want to know.

As a manager, what is more important, the right answer or the right question? Management tends to be about action today, rapid results and solving problems quickly, which makes the right answer more valuable.

Leadership tends to be about future uncertainty, hence the more options to explore the better. Now the right question, the one that triggers different answers, is more valuable.

You will ask the right question when you know the sort of answer you need because you know what you will do with it.

Trend carefully to be wiser

trend-carefullyThe other day I wanted to give some sage advice to a friend. I said, “Trend carefully.” Did you catch that? I said ‘trend’ instead of ‘tread’.

So much for sounding wise and experienced. But then I remembered the Billy Joel song about Brenda and Eddie who ‘peaked too soon’ and I realized that I had actually been very wise.

I once did some very good work at a company I had just joined. So good, in fact, that the CEO wanted to promote me. My boss vetoed that idea by explaining that being promoted too quickly could actually harm my career. He was right.

It is much better to trend yourself. Aim for steady growth, not radical leaps. Go for slow burn, not burn out.

And pay attention to your Freudian slips. Sometimes they can teach you to sound wiser than even you thought you were.

Don’t blame me if you choose your frame over your picture

alright-comfortably-wrongAnd to end, a wise question: Are you the picture or the frame?

We judge a book by its cover because it matters. Our DNA comes from humans who survived because they could quickly and accurately judge the stranger in the cave.

Once it was dangerous to be odd. Today, odd is in and I am blamed if I feel cold toward those who want to be cool. But my genes still react to weirdness – I want my doctor to look scrubbed and my waiter to look washed.

It is your choice how you frame yourself. So don’t blame me if I react badly to your chosen cover, as in the following urban legend:

A mother told a boy on a bus in Cape Town to offer his seat to the standing lady holding on to the strap. He looked at the lady’s heavily painted face and said, “No. Paintings must hang.”

Are you a wise one?

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