Grow it .. bigger and wiser

If you were to purposely grow your smarts, you might:
– Surround yourself with more creative people, or
– Study more (content) ideas, or
– Talk more at length debating with others, or
– Get better educated, right?
I’m going to sound like a cheesy late-night commercial … I think there’s a better, more cost effective, faster way to be smarter, wiser, faster.
Intelligence is about creating a model of the world, and then being able to predict, adapt and organize with new data all the time. I see it sometimes defined as the high-functioning work of the neocortex in the brain.
And getting intelligent, seems to me then is figuring out a model of any situation fast and accurately with predictive abilities. Certainly, education and sheer talent and operational experience helps to be more intelligent, but I’m going to suggest that asking a certain set of questions will help you build that model faster.
This month, my firm and I are tasked with a few complex challenges where we will hopefully add some value.
1. A software has a 54-page price list, with an average 80% discounting, no product differentiation to customer segments, and (as a result) an inability to administer their licenses and optimize revenues.
2. Another firm could create a new category to become the infrastructure platform for a form of video online. However, to do it and create the needed momentum, they need from us to the economic or business model could be to enable their adoption as the industry standard.
3. A company does “web marketing” but wants to do “web strategy” which has a different meaning for anyone and everyone in the company. They plan on hiring a guru but it’s a case of not even knowing what they’re looking to “fix”. Hire wrong and the situation could get much worse before it gets better.
The practical aspect of doing these kinds of problems is to go from problem clarity to options development to selecting an idea. It’s stinking hard to understand all the factors and data and then take something that is complex to get clear on all the multiple facets, including risks, opportunities, change management factors, facts and figures, and those things that will fundamentally create growth and / or optimization. Our role inside organizations as trusted advisors is to do this “understanding thing”, fast, and then turn around to solutions.
And the key to understanding, is to make sure you’re looking for all the things that help build a model.
Let me propose that when you are looking for more intelligence, it can be done by thinking about what model are you building… a multi-dimensional model includes:
1. Facts and figures. All problems have to have a set of data. Could be sales as compared over time, or cut by regions. Or it could be a regression analysis to normalize performance over time and in relativity to a known factor (i.e. GDP). But data can form a sizable piece of building a model. A lot of people find some data and then believe it’s source as the truth. One of the greatest myths inside companies is that everyone forms a conclusion on some piece of the data rather than a full set of it. So make sure you are looking at data of the situation, normalized for perspective and comparable to something meaningful.
2. Emotions. Figure out how people feel about things. Could be that there’s been some personality conflict that is causing some perspectives to be tuned out or up? If you ask questions about how people feel, what they want, or what greatness looks like, you’re going to hear the emotional part of what will cause or resist change. And that’s what makes it relevant. All strategies and great moves require change. Change inherently is about people. So you’ve gotta learn what is going on at the heart level to know what needs to happen next.
3. Opportunities. Sometimes that which is causing us most angst can be flipped around from a negative to an opportunity. A fellow CEO recently formed a strategic partnership where they become the ‘category builder’ for a retailer coming into the US. This would potentially put their existing sales with a notable retailer at risk, if they knew. And the conversation went around and around about whether to tell the current business retailer about the move. And one question (smart, I thought) was to ask whether by telling them, could they essentially score more business from the first retailer. Could they ask the existing business partner to buy more from them, thus defeating a new entrant into the market?
4. Risks. Learning what risks exist in a new idea or direction is very valuable. Sometimes the people who bring up risks are “naysayers” or at least are perceived that way. But the reality is that they are followers who are digesting the direction, and then sharing with you what it will take or what needs to be overcome. Encouraging this conversation sooner rather than later can make sure you invest well up-front, know what you need to address, and make sure to manage the things that could disrupt change. One thing, though, is that groups of executives sometimes so focus on the risks that they forget the risk of staying still. It’s okay to have the full conversation about risk but at some point, someone must decide what to do and take into account what needs to be considered to go and win.
5. Green Fields. Taking a completely different point of view and generating some breakthrough ideas (or things that could represent what we in the valley sometimes call green fields) takes some courage. Because what you need to figure out is what latent thing could be developed. Without asking “what is the craziest idea we could pursue” or “what options could we develop — even if we can’t do them today” are all ways to get to that place where all ideas are good ideas. And the key in the green field stuff is to keep going and probing without editing and critiquing. In a sense, a green fields conversation is about reviving hope and creativity and letting that run around for a while to see where it might lead.
By looking at topics with all 5 points of view will drive a more intelligent model — one that accounts for information, logic, hopefulness, emotions and new ideas. Not only to be gathered together and weighed but combined to help you think better, making decisions and leading with greater success. Try it. See if it’s worth the 000.00 plus shipping and handling you just paid.

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