Monthly Archives: February 2011

The Blind Men and the Elephant

Three blind men came across an elephant one day.  Each one of them encountered a different part of the animal: one the trunk, one a leg and one the tail.  Upon inspecting the animal from their individual vantage points, each came to a very different conclusion about what they were up against.

Said the one at the trunk, “My friends, this is obviously a large and powerful snake.

Said the one at a leg, “No, no!  It can’t be a snake.  It must be a tree.

Said the one at the tail, “I honestly can’t figure how you’ve come to your conclusions!  It most definitely is a lion we’ve run into.  I suggest we move along quickly!

And so it is with many of the things we come up against.  With limited information, we rush to a conclusion.  We are so convinced of our point of view that we won’t listen to the perspective of others.  Very few of us take the time to inspect “the elephant” from every angle, and so what we believe to be true is only part of the truth.

If, on the other hand, we took the time to get to know why those with different opinions hold the opinions they do, we might learn a little more about “the animal.”  If we sought first to understand before we tried to be understood, we might get enough information to make a more correct judgment.  Most people are willing to listen to your point of view if you’ve first heard them out sincerely.  In the transfer of information and ideas about the problem, you might both come away with a broader and more accurate perspective.

Recognize that we all have a bit of blindness on any issue in which we come into disagreement.  We know our perspective, but we shouldn’t hold that we have a lock on the truth until we have seen the issue from the perspective of the other person.  In the end, none are so blind as those who choose not to see.



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Filed under belief, conflict, creativity, Decision Making, Discernment, expertise, focus, learning, paradigm, paradigm shift, Problem Solving, selective perception

50,000 Hits!

Today, the blog went over 50,000 hits!

Thanks, everyone!

Keep coming back!

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Filed under Uncategorized

The Orange War

The story was once told of Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones, neighbors who shared an orange tree.  The orange tree actually belonged to Mr. Smith (it grew on his side of the property line), but Mr. Jones would frequently help himself to the oranges that hung over on his side of the fence.  This irritated Mr. Smith to no end, and the two men had frequent arguments about who had rights to the oranges that overhung Mr. Jones’ yard.

The feud continued for years until both men had had enough.  Mr. Smith filed suit in small claims court, and Mr. Jones counter-sued.  The judge listened to both sides of their argument and swiftly proclaimed his judgment.  If the men couldn’t agree about the ownership of the oranges, the tree was to be cut down.  His judgment was promptly executed, and the two men soon found themselves without oranges altogether.  In the place of the beautiful orange tree, they now had an ugly stump to remind them of the bitterness of their feud.

Years passed before the men spoke again.  But, as the saying goes, time heals all wounds.  One afternoon, Mr. Jones saw Mr. Smith watering his yard and approached him.  Right then and there, they buried the hatchet and agreed to let go of their resentment.  Over time, they even became good friends.

When it felt safe enough, Mr. Smith asked why they never were able to get along about that old orange tree.  That opened the discussion, and the two men started talking – not about who had rights to the oranges, but about what they wanted them for in the first place.  What they learned was that Mr. Smith loved his oranges for freshly-squeezed orange juice, while Mr. Jones loved them for making potpourri out of the rinds.  Both men could have had what they wanted from the oranges if they had only been willing to let go of their positions and talk about their needs.

Initially, both Mr. Jones and Mr. Smith were only interested in winning the fight about the oranges.  They were going for win-lose, which seemed to them as the only possibility – “if he gets the oranges, then I don’t.”  But if they had been willing to look for a win-win solution, they would have started thinking creatively about how both their needs could have been met.  This would have inevitably led them to the discussion of why they wanted the oranges, and a better solution would have emerged.  As it happened, they both had to settle for lose-lose when the judge ordered the tree cut down.

Instead of focusing on who’s right and who’s wrong when you encounter conflict, try telling the other person that you want to work toward win-win and ask,

  • “Why is it important to you to have this particular solution?”
  • “What happens if you don’t get it?”
  • “Are there any alternatives that would be a good substitute?”

When you start talking about your needs instead of your positions, you identify things the two of you have in common.  It takes commitment and vulnerability, but it might save the orange tree you’ve been fighting over.

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Filed under Abundance, Compromise, conflict, creativity, delayed gratification, Goals, Interpersonal, Problem Solving, Relationships, Scarcity, trust

Frog in a Pot

When you put a frog into a pot of hot water, it immediately jumps out.  However, if you put the frog into a pot of cool water and then slowly increase the temperature, the frog’s body will adjust to the rising heat.  By the time he realizes that it’s getting hotter, he will no longer be able to jump out, and he will die.

Sometimes, we are the frog in the pot.  If someone came to us and said that they were going to radically and negatively change our environment tomorrow, most of us would jump out of the pot.  That’s not the way it typically happens, though.  The changes creep up on us and overcome us before we realize they are happening.  What started as just an extra assignment or two is now a full-blown project that is draining the life from us.  What started as a favor for a friend is now an obligation that makes your blood boil.  What started as a small concession to the other side is now the advantage they are using to turn the heat up against us.

Be aware of the small steps that precipitate a changing environment around you.  If you hear yourself saying, “Well, just this once….,” check the temperature of the water.

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Filed under Change, deception, Denial

The Genuine Article

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are world-renowned for their ability to spot counterfeit currency.  They undergo hour after hour of training in the Academy to help them identify the frauds.  By the time a new Mounty graduates, he is able to distinguish a counterfeit bill in an instant.  What’s unusual about their training methods is that in all the hours of instruction, a Mounty never sees a counterfeit bill.  All the training is spent entirely on studying authentic currency.

Why?  Because by becoming experts in recognizing the genuine article, they can easily pick out the pretenders.

What if we had the clarity of the Mounties when we were interviewing candidates to fill positions on our teams?  We could easily separate those who were qualified from those who weren’t.  Our problem is that we don’t know what the genuine article looks like.  Sure, we have a general idea, but that’s much too vague to be of use when we are sitting across the table from a professional interviewer (someone who’s read the books, anticipated your vague and overused interview questions and practiced her answers in front of a mirror).  We rely on gut feelings, but too often they disappoint.  What we need is clear and specific criteria that surface the best candidates.

And where can you find clear and specific criteria?  For tactical skills and knowledge (i.e., negotiation skills, time management skills, analytical skills, etc…) study the job.  What does a person in this position have to be able to do to be successful?  What does he need to know?  For personal characteristics (i.e., integrity, ability to deal with conflict, willingness to learn or to work with a team, etc…), study high performers.  What makes them successful?  How do they handle challenges?  How do they respond to change?

Throw out interview questions like,

  • “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”
  • “Where do you want to be in five years?”
  • “Tell me about yourself.”
  • “What was your favorite subject in school?”
  • “What hobbies do you have?”
  • “Why should I hire you?”

They are old, tired and tell you very little.  Instead, ask questions that are strategic and well-thought out to determine if the person has what is required:

  • “Tell me about a time when you had competing priorities.  How did you deal with the conflict?”
  • “Describe a time when you had to make a decision with insufficient information.  What did you do?”
  • “Share with me a situation in which you found you had to execute a decision that was unpopular.  How did you handle it?”

The Mounties know a counterfeit when they see one, because they know what’s required for authenticity.  If you want to be able to separate the “counterfeit” from the qualified, don’t worry about all the ways an interview candidate might try to fool you.  The tricks and techniques of the dishonest candidates will change faster than you can keep up with them.  Know what you are looking for, and the pretenders will be easy to recognize.

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Filed under Authenticity, Decision Making, Discernment

Money Motivates

Learning how the company makes it, that is.

In an Ernst & Young LLP survey, 59% of employees said that the best way to motivate them is for managers to show them how their jobs help the company make money.

Most employees have no idea how what they do impacts profitability.  Our speeches about the bottom line fall on deaf ears.  Efforts to reduce expenses end in frustration.  Employees don’t really believe that anything they do (or don’t do) makes a difference.

In The One Minute Manager, Ken Blanchard tells the story of a friend who was a frustrated manager.  He couldn’t motivate one of his employees no matter what he tried.  One day, he saw the employee at a bowling alley.  The employee bowled a strike and went wild celebrating.  The manager realized that while the employee wasn’t motivated at work, he was clearly motivated in other areas.  This led Blanchard to make the following analogy.

If we made the bowling alley reflect how we motivate in the workplace, the pins would all be behind a large curtain so that the bowlers couldn’t see them.  The bowlers would roll the ball, it would pass through the curtain, and the sound of pins falling down would be heard.  However, because of the curtain, the bowlers would have no idea if they hit two or five or ten pins.  What fun is that?

What makes bowling (or video games or just about any sport) fun is that we get immediate feedback on how well we did.  We don’t need to wait for a third-party supervisor to pass along the data; we can see it for ourselves!  We know right away whether we just made things better or worse.  Then, we take that information and use it to inform our next attempt.  If we made things better last time, we do more of the same.  If we made them worse, we make adjustments.

If you really want motivated employees, show them how their actions translate into dollars.  Lift the curtain, and let them see the pins!

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Filed under Attitude, buy-in, commitment, Engagement, feedback, Incentives, management, motivation, ownership, passion

Achilles and His Heel

You may have seen the movie, “Troy,” with Brad Pitt as Achilles, greatest of the Greek warriors in the Trojan War.  What the movie didn’t cover was how Achilles got to be so great.  In Greek mythology, Achilles was the son of the sea nymph Thetis and Peleus, king of the Myrmidons.  The Fates prophesied that Achilles would die in the Trojan War, but Thetis sought to secure a different destiny for her son.  She took him to the River Styx (the entrance to the underworld), held him by his ankle and dipped him into the water.  As a result, Achilles became invulnerable everywhere on his body except for the heel with which his mother held him over the river.

Years later, Paris, prince of Troy, abducted the wife of King Menelaus of Sparta.  The Greeks rallied behind the offense and set off with 1,000 ships for Troy.  Despite Thetis’ attempts to prevent Achilles from going to Troy, her son was persuaded by Odysseus to join the effort.  The Greeks lay a long siege to the city.  During the tenth and final year, Achilles was mortally wounded by a well-aimed shot from Paris’ bow.  The arrow struck him in the heel, his only vulnerable spot.

The term “Achilles Heel” has come to mean a weakness that seems small but is in fact potentially fatal.  Many leaders have an Achilles Heel.  Sometimes they know that it exists, and sometimes they are blind to it.  It can go undiscovered for years until they are given a challenge that exposes their shortcoming, but once it is revealed, it is almost always fatal to their forward motion.

Some managers have an Achilles Heel in their ability to deal with people.  Like Achilles, they are tactically superb, receive accolades from high levels, move up through the organization with dexterity and speed, but they leave dead bodies everywhere they go.  As long as they move quickly enough, no one traces the destruction back to them.  But once they reach a spot on the battlefield that will not yield (i.e. get stalled out in a position), those around them begin to make the connections.  And once their Achilles Heel has been located, it’s not long before their enemies use it for advantage.

The best managers identify their Achilles Heel by seeking frequent feedback from all levels and all directions (e.g. through a 360 degree evaluation).  In this way, their enemies become their allies, helping them to identify their weaknesses.  Once they have identified their Achilles Heel, they take steps to strengthen or eliminate their weakness through training, coaching, difficult assignments and other means.  They never allow success to be an excuse for not growing.


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Filed under Challenges, coaching, Denial, failure, growth, leadership, management, mentoring, mistakes, overcoming obstacles, parenting, performance, temptation