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Management guru Tom Peters can be a wordy guy. But he says his 17 books can be summed up in just six words:

Hard is soft. Soft is hard.

“Hard” stands for plans, data, a company’s organizational chart and other analytical tools. And while such rigorous quantitative work usually seems solid, he warns on the Change This Manifesto site that they aren’t. “Plans are more often than not fantasies, numbers are readily manipulated,” he writes. “And org charts: In practice, they have little to do with how things actually get done.”

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In the second sentence, he is referring to “the soft stuff” – people, relationships and organizational culture. It’s important. And it’s hard to get right.

So soft is hard – very hard.

We usually figure we should be working on the hard stuff, making plans and digging into data. But it’s the soft stuff that will lead to success. He quotes former Medtronic CEO Bill George, now a professor of practice at Harvard Business School: “The capacity to develop close and enduring relationships is the mark of a leader. Unfortunately, many leaders of major companies believe their job is to create the strategy, organization structure and organizational processes − then they just delegate the work to be done, remaining aloof from the people doing the work.” Keep that in mind as you move up the organizational chart.

Also keep in mind another major point from Mr. Peters: The emphasis these days on speed is actually a trap. In fact, he calls speed-for-speed’s-sake “the most counterproductive approach imaginable.” That’s because to get things done we must work through people. And that takes time. “You cannot speed up the so-called ‘soft stuff’ − to try and do so is a design for disaster,” he insists.

So here are the speed traps to be aware of:

  • Relationships take time.
  • Recruiting allies to your cause takes time.
  • Reading and studying to improve takes time.
  • Waiting takes time – and yes, you should wait, since delay and pondering are essential elements of being human.
  • Aggressive listening takes time.
  • Practice and prep for anything takes time.
  • Management-by-walking-around takes time.
  • The slack you need in your schedule that comes from thinking about what not to do so you’re not overscheduled takes time.
  • Thoughtful small gestures take time.
  • The last one per cent of any task or project – the often critical part, the polishing part – takes time.
  • Game-changing design takes time. Laurene Powell Jobs noted that her husband, Steve Jobs, and his chief designer, Jony Ive, “would discuss corners for hours.”
  • Excellence takes time.
  • “It is a hyper-fast-paced world. And the speed therein is madly increasing. Excellence, however, takes time; and some, or most, measures cannot be rushed,” he says.

So remember hard is soft. Soft is hard. And don’t automatically get caught in the speed trap.

The value of paired opposites

Tom Peters captures attention with his clever dualities: “Hard is soft. Soft is hard.”

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It’s a communications technique you should learn, says marketing wizard Roy H. Williams. “Duality, in the form of paired opposites, is essential to high-impact communications,” he writes in his Monday Morning Memo.

He notes that every summer has its winter, every up its down, and every yin has its yang. If that seems simplistic, playing with words, try these profound paired opposites from Nobel Prize scientist Niels Bohr: “The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.” More specifically, Mr. Williams says that it’s not enough to merely explain what you believe. You also need to explain what you don’t believe. It is not enough to explain what you stand for. You need to explain what you stand against.

That is critical with colleagues in the workplace; it helps to clarify. But it also works in Mr. Williams’ field, advertising. “Don’t just tell us what you are. Tell us what you are not,” he says.

Take this ad: “At Kesslers, we do diamonds better, because diamonds are all we do. We don’t sell watches or pearls or gold chains. But we do sell every style of engagement ring that has ever been designed.”

Or this: “At Goettl Air Conditioning, we do things the right way, not the easy way.”

He warns that if you speak only of what you see from your perspective, you miscommunicate to everyone who sees the opposite. “Comprehensive communication always shows both sides: The verse and the inverse. The upside and the down. What’s left in and what’s left out,” he says.

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It takes breadth of mind and some courage. But it can lift your communications, be they one-to-one in your daily work or company-to-many-prospects in your marketing endeavours.

12 crucial questions to better decision-making:

Here are 12 crucial factors that consultant Nathan Magnuson says you should consider in decision-making:

  • Are you the right person to make the decision?
  • What outcomes are you directly responsible for as it relates to the decision? It’s crucial to maintain clarity on what you are trying to accomplish.
  • What is more important to the boss?
  • What would be most consistent with the organization’s core values?
  • What would delight the customers the most?
  • What is the most ideal long-term decision?
  • What does the data say?
  • What are the benefits? Consider primary and secondary benefits, as well as those that will be immediate and others that will lag.
  • What are the costs?
  • What are the risks?
  • What solution is the most simple to implement? “All things being equal,” he says, “always be biased in favour of the simple option.”
  • What will be the easiest to communicate?

None of those are unusual. But it’s a handy, comprehensive list to apply to future decisions.

Quick Hits

  • Are you checking email too frequently? Has it become a distraction from getting other work done? Blogger Michael Wade suggests cutting back to 7 a.m., 11 a.m., 4 p.m., and 8 p.m., with some additional time to purge emails each day.
  • Here are some useful items to add to your job description by doing them, says entrepreneur Seth Godin: Add energy to every conversation, ask why, find obsolete items on your task list and eliminate them, treat customers better than they expected, offer to help to co-workers before they ask, leave things more organized than you found them, cut costs, and find other great employees to join the team.
  • Here are two words that will build trust with customers, according to consultant Jeff Mowatt: “As promised.” Add them in to conversations after you deliver something on time or in detail, to emphasize it’s “as promised.”
  • Research shows that, if a leader-subordinate relationship is positive, humour from the leader, be it positive or negative, is positively associated with job satisfaction. But when the relationship is negative, both types of humour – jokes intended to connect and those that are aggressive – are negatively associated with job satisfaction.
  • Newer versions of Word – Word 2013 and 2016 – allow you to open a PDF document directly from the Word program to work on it and save it as a Word document.

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