Today's Feast: Brainstorming, finding Herbie, best audiobooks to commute by, where to put logos on websites, and timeless advice from Roger Staubach
The next time a colleague asks you to toss some ideas around, tell them you're busy. That seems high-handed in a world of teamwork but on his LeadershipFreak blog, trainer Dan Rockwell says it makes sense to sidestep such brainstorming unless three things are present: Guidelines for the conversation, limitations that enable focus, and a commitment to developing ideas you can act upon.
Brainstorming may seem simple – we supposedly just need to toss around ideas, after all – but too often it fails. Here are some guidelines he offers to improve:
Begin with an interesting question that will spark conversation. But also make sure the question points toward what you want to accomplish. At the same time, explain what you aren't trying to accomplish, setting limits.
The question will illuminate who to invite to the session – the people who can best help. Reach out to agitators and mischief-makers, contrary to your instinct. Seek diversity of thought and experience. But ensure everyone trusts each other.
Record responses and build on them, rather than tearing down ideas.
Don't rush to judgment. Explore ideas rather than hurrying to action. "Ideas inspire action – action clarifies ideas," he observes.
Focus on the imperfect steps forward. After all, you won't find perfect ideas. Simply choose ideas worthy of testing. Since short-term goals work better than long, he suggests figuring out what to do in the next two weeks.
Usually we brainstorm in one mammoth session. But in another post, he suggests two meetings. "The thing I hate about brainstorming is the lack of follow-through. Brainstorming without follow-through is an irritating brain drizzle," he writes. At the same time, nothing kills a "what might we do" conversation more than adding "how might we do it."
So the first gathering should be devoted to what you might do. The second meeting focuses on how.
In the initial conversation, get ideas on the table but block discussion of how any of them might be done. That's off-limits for now. Send everyone away with an assignment: "Choose five ideas and write three ways they might work."
At the second session, record the ideas they chose to deal with, watching for overlap. Choose the top three ideas and ask what the next step is for each. Look for someone to champion each idea. Before closing, define what adequate follow-through looks like.
You may not know where Waldo is. But it's essential you know who Herbie is – and keep him in mind.
Herbie was the slowest Boy Scout in a hypothetical group setting out on a hike in Eli Goldratt's classic book The Goal, which outlined his theory of constraints. To maximize the group's speed, Herbie was put in the front to set the pace, and then others helped him lighten his load and do his best, ensuring the team as a whole met its goal.
In recalling that example, consultant Elizabeth Doty in Strategy + business stresses that your slowest resource will determine how fast you get to your future state. So look with fresh eyes at your current operation, and ask what function or resources most constrain your progress. Then set a pace that supports your constraint, reducing its negative impact.
"Rather than viewing your Herbie-group as a weak link, think of it as the player on your team that currently has the ball. How well are you blocking to ensure this player gets to the end zone?" she writes. Look for ways to increase your constraining factor's capacity by investing in systems, processes, tools and training.
"Don't expect to get rid of your constraints! Something always limits your progress; the key is to know where it is," she warns.
Two Vital Lists: Thinking and listening
In a world of lists, entrepreneur Seth Godin says the most important may be your list of things to think about.
That suggests you need to find time for thinking, which for many of us comes when commuting. But those are also good times for learning, if you choose to listen to an audiobook Here are the top 10 business audiobook downloads in North America, supplied to Power Points readers by Audiobooks.com:
1. EntreLeadership: 20 Years of Practical Business Wisdom from the Trenches by Dave Ramsey
2. Move your Bus by Ron Clark
3. Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares
4. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell
5. Negotiation Genius by Deepak Malhotra and Max Bazerman
6. Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek
7. The Introvert Entrepreneur by Beth Buelow
8. Good Profit: How Creating Value for Others Built One of the World's Most Successful Companies by Charles G. Koch
9. How to Get a Meeting with Anyone by Stu Heinecke
10. Great by Choice by Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen
Today's Quick Hits
– Stop sending one-line e-mails. You may think you're saving time (or, less nobly, lazily giving in to your mobile's restrictions) but you and the other party will pay for it in subsequent back-and-forth e-mails you triggered, productivity writer Matt Sandrini warns.
– To improve your chances in a negotiation, serve warm coffee or tea, advises neuromarketing expert Roger Doole. Research found that holding a warm beverage made subjects rate the person they were talking to as warmer. Try a mug without a handle to spread the warmth better.
– Today's Quote: "There are no traffic jams along the extra mile." It's by former Dallas Cowboy quarterback Roger Staubach. (Hat tip to Leadership Caffeine newsletter.)
– Hold a quarterly Idea Fest, where each employee must bring one idea about how to serve customers better, consultant Donald Cooper suggests.
– Web users are 89 per cent more likely to remember logos shown in the traditional top-left position of a page than those placed on the right, research by the Nielsen Norman Group found. Breaking with tradition and putting your logo on the right may seem like a good way to distinguish yourself from the competition, but it is likely to backfire if you want your brand remembered.
– Start tomorrow by putting a check mark on a card or Post-it note each time you look at your e-mail. Limit yourself to 10 times, since the more you check e-mail in a day, the more stressed you'll be, productivity consultant Chris Winfield notes.
Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter