Bob Sutton is one of my favorite business thinkers, from his promotion of Rules for Building a Civilized Workplace to 17 things I believe. I took his class while I was working towards my management certificate at Stanford and still use the practical guidance (infinitely better than Jim Collins, who’s First Who, Then What maxim devastated our engineering department).
January 2015 will probably be the most difficult and consequential month I’ve faced in over a decade. Five business, residential, and personal questions will be decided, right or left, with permanent consequences. By February 1, life will settle into one form or another, but different from what it’s been in the past few years.
I solve problems with analysis and energy, hard work and attention to the changing opportunities at hand. (or, as Biz Stone, cofounder to Twitter, summarized: Timing, perseverance, and ten years of trying will eventually make you look like an overnight success.)
But these five feel resistant to the normal approaches: simply assembling the fact and presenting them clearly, listening to different viewpoints and accommodating dissonant voices has not worked. Frustrated, I’ve needed to go from branch to root: thinking differently.
Tough-mindedness: A colleague is arguing a series of hypotheticals to get their way, rather than recognize simple facts. While their exercise is persuasive, the outcome being imposed simply doesn’t reflect reality. I’m coming to see that some people, some situations, simply can’t be negotiated. The caution is that taking a hard line burns future bridges: I need to be firm in non-confrontational ways.
Strength: Related to being Tough-Minded, there is an endurance to stay focused and not give up trying to find a solution. Many times. strength is seen as the ability to hang in, to take the hardships in stride, and to be stoic and uncomplaining. But there is also a planning strength, keeping the optimism, momentum, and will to try. The fundraising, the negotiations, need both sorts of strengths. The caution is that the two people issues may require yet another: the strength to accept what won’t be changed.
Soft skills: Those with power can solve problems by political and economic strength, authority and intimidation. Those without power utilize softer skills: leading by example, building coalitions, persuading by stages. Closing my fundraising is not a matter of ticking the boxes. I need steady patience and human insight, understanding the aspirations and motivations that lead people to invest. The caution is that I may miss my window if I rely on unfamiliar methods.
Trust the Experts: The UK government has empowered a clerk to make the left-right decision of whether I stay in the UK or get escorted to the border after the 10th. Government policy is to reduce net inward migration to ‘tens of thousands’. so the clerk is looking for reasons to say ‘No’. My immigration advisor knows the rules and tells me what I need to secure my ILR. The caution is in how far to trust expert advice that don’t make intuitive sense.
Stay positive: A course of action is being demanded, one that I doubt is healthy. Confrontation results in threats; capitulation feels easier than conflict. But I know that I will regret giving tacit support to a bad idea, and that I will be pulled into sorting the costly mess that could result. I need to press ahead with a process that generates and supports better alternatives. The difficulty is that I could run out of time before it can complete.
Avoid cynicism: I have not found the way to have a difficult, necessary conversation with an errant colleague. their behavior may be thoughtless or deliberate, but it raises my blood pressure each time I encounter a new example. I need to have a say; the fear is that the resulting rift could be permanent.