The “power of knowledge,” the focus of chapter five in “Opposite the Crowd,” zeroes in on a see, think, act mindset and strategy that my father Alan and I advocate.
Many years ago, he was introduced as a futurist at a staffing conference. “He always sees what’s coming,” they said during his intro. He wasn’t comfortable with being called a “futurist” and explained he wasn’t a Nostradamus of business; rather, he worked hard to teach employees to get feedback from their customers to study and discuss. His real gift, he said, was anticipating profit-generating process improvements based on customer insights and feedback.
The foundation for Alan’s way of thinking (and now my way of thinking) was rooted in a company-wide culture. He encouraged workers to collect customer insights and feedback, which was then processed among themselves to identify trends. Alan was, and still is, curious. Back then, he often posed questions to customers – leading by example so to say. He was good at it and he did an even better job of teaching and encouraging teams to use the newly acquired data to improve processes.
Customer insights and feedback are invaluable, and if integrated into operations, can impact and improve elements of service. Responding to customer insights and feedback not only improves services, it may lead to an additional new product, thereby creating a new revenue source. And, of course, it makes customers happy.
When my dad owned a residential trash removal company (one of my pop’s many successful business ventures) the leadership team learned that customers valued “how” their trash cans were handled by his employees. Customers wanted the cans returned to their upright positions where they had originally been placed by the customer when the garbage cans were taken to the curb. They didn’t want them laying sideways on the ground, or trash blowing down the street. Returning trash cans to their original position without trash blowing around makes perfect business sense, right? So why don’t trash removal companies do this? Why is this not a standardized industry practice?
It’s easier to solve problems with correct information. Long ago, a mentor put a sign on Alan’s desk that said: “See. Think. Act.” The desk sign is this week’s featured image and serves as a reminder about the “power of knowledge.”
In my early years, I would bring problems to my father. I just wanted ideas. I’d ask, “Hey, dad, how do you solve this?” I wanted the pain to go away. He would reply with questions – sometimes it felt like 1,000 questions. His prompts taught me the power of knowledge for backable reasoning. That’s exactly what seeing and thinking deliver and are the precursors to acting. It’s similar to, “Ready, aim, fire.” Many people move forward out of order – something like, “Fire, ready, aim.”
The concept of “seeing and thinking” (the power of knowledge gleaned from information) means possibilities are endless.
The job of a leader, a friend, a parent, or a community member is to assess if others know enough about a process to continue with it, whatever that process may be. It’s not uncommon for people to seek advice about ideas to feel validated and therefore gain confidence and permission to make tough decisions.
This is the Burkhard outline for problem-solving AND strategic thinking:
Stop everyone. Back them up. Educate and ask questions to “see” how much they know about the specific process they’re pursuing. Teach them how to get what they actually need to move forward.
Seeing is gathering information, asking questions, doing research, having meetings, reading anything that helps ascertain data. Seeing is a powerful leadership tool and a key principle; it can also be referred to as observation. Make it a priority. Sit in on meetings. Listen to phone calls, interviews, and trainings. Go on sales calls, shadow. (I like to stand at the front of the office, look around, and consider applying Nth Degree to my observations. There is always something that can be done better. Don’t be afraid to see.)
Thinking is more than thinking alone. It’s studying and analyzing findings of observations that lead to realizations that there is still more “seeing” to do.
Acting is a natural extension of good work up front and the result of comprehensive seeing and thinking. It produces better outcomes. It’s human nature to “act.” Leaders need to apply weight to the see, think, act philosophy – especially seeing and thinking before acting.
In the workplace, there’s pain and never enough time in the day. To right challenges, leaders often know the answers because they’ve experienced similar situations many times over. Leaders know the answers and dole them out because it’s self-gratifying – it feels great. AND, employees and our prospects just want the quick fix. They want the answers NOW.
See, think, act is the better way because by handing out solutions freely, leaders teach dependency. “Come to me for answers – today, tomorrow, the next day.” In reality, this construct eliminates see and think. There is little to no focus on gathering the necessary information to do the right thing. It might feel good, but the root cause of a problem is not defined. Is the problem solved correctly? This is the epitome of cutting corners.
Try this instead. Consider it “homework:”
For the next month, keep a journal. Record what’s happening and fold “see, think, act” into the mix. What does the new addition uncover? Is there a rush to action, to respond, to find a solution? Or is something else happening? Is teaching now part of the process? If so, how are the right and better questions reached? Is there direction for teams to go back to customers for more information? How many times does it take to “see and ask” so teams are able to get more and get better info?
The point is: When faced with challenges, don’t jump right into action and try to solve them first. Take the steps, do the right things and reap the best outcomes.
“The way we see things is the source of the way we think or we act.”
– Educator and Author Stephen R. Covey
Until next time,
If you enjoyed this article, I recommend reading these past Outside Insights posts:
Cut The Strings On Puppeteer Leadership
Live The Life You Want — Not The One You Have
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