The Leadership Caffeine™ series is intended to make you think and act.
A dialog between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in “A Scandal in Bohemia,” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:
“The distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.”
“Well, some hundreds of times.”
“Then how many are there?”
“How many? I don’t know.”
“Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed.”
The famous author Saul Bellow coined the phrase, “first class noticer” and the late Warren Bennis as well as Harvard’s Max Bazerman both implore(d) us to strengthen our powers of noticing.
”I’ve never seen the world before. Now I was seeing it, and it’s a beautiful, marvelous gift. Enchanting reality! –Saul Bellow
In my discussions with senior leaders, I ask a few simple but not simplistic questions:
- What’s new that will change everything for your firm?
- Who are the people on your team that see the future?
- What are you doing to change the game for the better for your customers?
As you might imagine, the answers to all three of the questions are often…light.
Too many of us view our world through glasses that both narrow the vision and shrink the focal point to a point just a short distance (and time) from the here and now.
We spend an incredible amount of time immersed in a world of our own fabrication—the world as it feels and looks and acts from inside our organization’s walls. It’s not the culture that will kill you, it’s the view. It’s time to change it.
Take off the blinders and look up and out further. Extend your focal point.
Changing the View and Becoming First Class Noticers:
A marketing executive I hold in high regard did this with her team.
She had grown tired of the endless debates about what to do and where to go that were anchored firmly by the view and biases of the people in her firm.
She sent her team out into the field to attend industry events and talk with customers. They parroted what they heard: “faster horses” (more of the same…incremental changes) from the customers, and the same tired industry gossip and scuttlebutt about new features, functions and releases from competitors. She had long been convinced that the only thing that changed at the annual industry trade-shows were the company names on the badges of the same people.
She did something her team viewed initially as odd. She cut the budgets for travel to industry events and she signed people up and sent them out to events and conferences and summits in markets and for technologies far removed from her firm’s industry.
The team was confused.
She sent them out with bewildered looks on their faces, armed with two requirements:
- Listen and observe. Pay attention to this environment. What’s happening? What’s new? What’s driving and changing everything? How are the change leaders impacting the incumbents?
- Be prepared to come home and share your ideas (no matter how wild) on how what you observed might apply to our industry and customers?
While people were tentative at first, they quickly embraced the idea of listening and learning and observing in these very foreign environments. They met with industry leaders. They lingered at the booths of unfamiliar companies and asked questions. They asked a lot of questions. And then they returned home to share.
Some of their ideas connecting developments two or three degrees away from their industry sounded like science fiction. She was pleased.
They logged the ideas and made them visible in open space area. She encouraged people to return to them and refine and jump and build on the ideas…on their own or in small groups. She encouraged people who developed a belief in a vector to research and experiment. They did.
Over the two years following the start of this program, the company added two of the ideas from this adventure to their long range investment horizon. Two other ideas translated to near-term revenues based on new partnerships uncovered in these pursuits. Her team is now talking with their customers about opportunities to grow and adapt and partner in new ways with new technologies and ideas.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
The team in this example extended and broadened their view of the world to their firm’s benefit. They became “first-class noticers” who translated what they observed into ideas and in some cases actions. If your firm is preoccupied in the world that exists inside the walls of your firm, it’s time to push out and open your collective eyes and look around and notice. There’s a lot going on out there. As Bellow says, “Enchanting Reality!”
Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.
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