Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 10, Issue 36;   September 8, 2010: Clueless on the Concept

Clueless on the Concept

by

When a team member seems not to understand something basic and important, setting him or her straight risks embarrassment and humiliation. It's even worse when the person attempting the "straightening" is wrong, too. How can we deal with people we believe are clueless on the concept?
A 1928 Ford Model A Business Coupe

1928 Ford Model A Business Coupe. Henry Ford and the Ford Motor Company had introduced the Model T in 1908. Because of Ford's innovative manufacturing techniques, including a process philosophy now called "design for manufacturing," Ford was able to mass produce the Model T at a price point unreachable by its competitors. It dominated the market for more than a decade. By 1918, half of all cars manufactured in the U.S. were Model Ts. The Model T was so successful that between 1917 and 1923 Ford did not advertise. At all. But by the mid 1920s, competitors, including Dodge and General Motors, had learned how to mass-produce their own vehicles, and they added something to "design for manufacturing" that could be called "design for selling." They emphasized convenience and customization.

Ford was clueless on the concept. The Model T began losing market share, and production ceased in March, 1927, when the Model A changeover began. Despite the shift that the Model A represented, Chevrolet eventually eclipsed Ford sales. Design for selling has dominated the U.S. auto market ever since. 1928 Ford Model A Business Coupe photographed at the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, by Douglas Wilkinson. Copyright 2006 www.RemarkableCars.com.

Occasionally a team member or two seem clueless on the concept. They haven't understood something basic to the effort, or worse, they think they understand, but they don't. If the rest of the team is wrong — and doesn't realize it — even one clueless individual can truly be a gift. Debates lead to new understanding, and usually that's progress. But most often, the minority view was just wrong, and everyone else was on the right path.

Sometimes the minority is confused because of indolence or distraction. That's best treated as a performance issue. At other times, the problem is miscommunication, or lack of background, or the difficulty of the concept itself. If this situation is handled indelicately, it is most fraught with risk to relationships.

Here are three tips for avoiding those risks. In what follows, Charlie is the clueless one, and I'll alternate Charlie's gender.

The clueless usually don't identify themselves
If Charlie doesn't realize that he's clueless, he sees no need to announce his cluelessness. But even if he senses that something is amiss, he might conceal his confusion to avoid embarrassment, especially if ridicule or derision — even the good-natured kind — is part of team culture.
Even when everyone seems to grasp the issue, it can be risky to assume without careful verification that they actually do. Be attuned to the nuances that suggest confusion.
Misimpressions and misconceptions happen for a reason
Charlie might have developed her conceptual understanding on the basis of ambiguous information. The information might not have been sufficient to clearly distinguish between the misconception she developed, and the concept everyone else acquired. Charlie's version of the concept might actually be consistent with the information she was given.
Even though the If people don't realize that
they're clueless, they see no
need to announce
their cluelessness
information Charlie got might have been identical to what others received, her past experience and knowledge might have led her to see things differently. To manage this risk, be ridiculously explicit when communicating difficult or abstract ideas. Use numerous examples.
Consider a private discussion
When you suspect that Charlie's conceptual understanding is somehow incorrect, public inquiry is an ineffective and risky way to investigate the matter. By the time others suspect confusion, Charlie almost certainly does, too. He'll notice any investigation, even the indirect kind, and he might very well respond so as to conceal the misconception.
A private conversation can be much more productive and sparing of Charlie's feelings, because he's more likely to be forthcoming in private than he is in a more public setting.

Very likely, you felt that you weren't clueless on the concept of being clueless on the concept. But if you were clueless about it, you wouldn't have known it. Anyway, I hope you aren't now. But then, I have no way of knowing. Go to top Top  Next issue: Group Problem-Solving Tangles  Next Issue

Great Teams WorkshopOccasionally we have the experience of belonging to a great team. Thrilling as it is, the experience is rare. In part, it's rare because we usually strive only for adequacy, not for greatness. We do this because we don't fully appreciate the returns on greatness. Not only does it feel good to be part of great team — it pays off. Check out my Great Teams Workshop to lead your team onto the path toward greatness. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenoGbjADqRtBTnIlSWner@ChacnOsybqCOHXIhDGkLoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

Sun doing a loop-de-loopA Message Is Only a Message
When we receive messages of disapproval, we sometimes feel bad. And when we do, it can help to remember that we have the freedom to decide whether or not to accept the messages we receive.
A sundialRecovering Time: II
Where do the days go? How can it be that we spend eight, ten, or twelve hours at work each day and get so little done? To find more time, focus on strategy.
FedEx logoFedEx, Flocks, and Frames of Reference
Your point of view — or reference frame — affects what you see, and how you experience the world around you. By choosing a reference frame consciously, you can see things differently, and open a universe of new choices.
Arrival of Cortés in Vera CruzWacky Words of Wisdom: II
Words of wisdom are so often helpful that many of them have solidified into easily remembered capsules. And that's where the trouble begins. We remember them too easily and we apply them too liberally. Here's Part II of a collection of often-misapplied words of wisdom.
A bottlenose dolphinWacky Words of Wisdom: V
Adages, aphorisms, and "words of wisdom" are true often enough that we accept them as universal. They aren't. Here's Part V of some widely held beliefs that mislead us at work.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Problem Solving and Creativity for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

C. Northcote Parkinson in 1961Coming September 27: Meeting Troubles: Collaboration
In some meetings, we collaborate not in reaching objectives, but in preventing our doing so. Here are three examples of this pattern. Available here and by RSS on September 27.
A typical standup meetingAnd on October 4: Meeting Troubles: Culture
Sometimes meetings are less effective than they might be because of cultural factors that are outside our awareness. Here are some examples. Available here and by RSS on October 4.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrengDTFCVjFbsnfXOHPner@ChacIBBQbmlWcpWMzkuvoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.