There was a sudden silence. Nobody really knew what to say. Gina stared at her notepad and took a swallow of cold coffee. She felt frustrated again, but probably no more so than anyone else in the room. She looked up.
"Isn't this meeting just one more merry-go-round ride?"
Jaws, as usual, had been silent all morning. It was a nickname he was proud of, because it acknowledged that he spoke little, and that when he spoke, he always said something important. This was one of those moments.
"I'm not surprised we can't agree on how to do it," he said. "We never really agreed on what we were trying to do."
More silence, as everyone took that in.
Too often, we get ahead of ourselves — we start working on the how before we really agree on the what. Sometimes we do this because "how" issues are simpler, and sometimes we think we agree on the "what" before we actually do.
Whatever the reason for this inverted approach to problem solving, it helps to have a clear fix on the goal. Here are some ways to remember to first agree on the needle before you debate about how to thread it.
If you don't know where you're going…
- …you can't tell when you've arrived.
- …your latest failure might be a good thing — or bad — but you can't tell.
- If you don't know
where you're going,
you can't tell
when you've arrived…and if you don't know where you are, you could be in more trouble than you think.
- …it could be worse — you could think you know, and be wrong.
- …the size of the crowd that's following you might be a comfort, but you still don't know where you're going.
- …pretending otherwise fools only those who don't know where they're going either.
- …some of the people who disagree with each other about where you're going are probably right. But which ones?
- …you probably also don't know why you're going there.
- …it doesn't matter whether or not you're faster than the competition.
- …cutting the cost of getting there could be a waste of money.
- …there's no point arguing about the best way to get there.
- …there's no point arguing about the best way to argue about the best way to get there.
- …you might be headed away from where you ought to be.
- …asking for directions won't do much good.
- …going faster might be a bad idea.
- …going slower might be even worse.
- …following other people who seem to know where they're going won't get you there.
- …you might already be there.
Does your team know where it's going? If you do, do you all agree on where that is? And how sure are you that you'll still agree tomorrow? Top Next Issue
Love the work but not the job? Bad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? This ebook looks at what we can do to get more out of life at work. It helps you get moving again! Read Go For It! Sometimes It's Easier If You Run, filled with tips and techniques for putting zing into your work life. Order Now!
For more on achieving and inspiring goals, see "Corrales Mentales," Point Lookout for July 4, 2001; "Commitment Makes It Easier," Point Lookout for October 16, 2002; "Beyond WIIFM," Point Lookout for August 13, 2003; "Your Wishing Wand," Point Lookout for October 8, 2003; "Give It Your All," Point Lookout for May 19, 2004; "Workplace Myths: Motivating People," Point Lookout for July 19, 2006; "Astonishing Successes," Point Lookout for January 31, 2007, and "Achieving Goals: Inspiring Passion and Action," Point Lookout for February 14, 2007.
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See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness, Problem Solving and Creativity and Critical Thinking at Work for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 29: Time Slot Recycling: The Risks
- When we can't begin a meeting because some people haven't arrived, we sometimes cancel the meeting and hold a different one, with the people who are in attendance. It might seem like a good way to avoid wasting time, but there are risks. Available here and by RSS on March 29.
- And on April 5: The Fallacy of Division
- Errors of reasoning are pervasive in everyday thought in most organizations. One of the more common errors is called the Fallacy of Division, in which we assume that attributes of a class apply to all members of that class. It leads to ridiculous results. Available here and by RSS on April 5.
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