How ‘constraints’ can turbo charge your impact

How ‘constraints’ can turbo charge your impact

We have had a great start to the Clarity in Problem Solving Program and one topic that has jumped out to me during our initial two live workshops has been ‘constraints'.

It is I think human (or maybe just me?!) to shy away from constraints and prefer to trust our own judgement and processes.

However, my experience in helping people deliver greater impact when solving problems and communicating is that they are hugely powerful.

Let me first illustrate with a personal example and then expand into the professional before offering you a practical challenge.

Personal: a clever idea for using space driven by constraints

An article in a local magazine caught my eye some time ago. It described a clever renovation undertaken by some locals who loved their neighbourhood and wanted to ‘stay put' despite having a small terrace home and a growing family.

This drove at least three constraints: staying within the current small home, adding two young children combined with heritage rules that did not allow them to expand their footprint, either out or up.

The idea that I thought would make Mari Kondo the most proud was their idea to use the space under the floor boards for toy storage.

They built a discrete hatch that enabled them to sweep up and hide the day's mess, enabling them to use their living area multiple ways.

I thought that was a clever and practical example of constraints driving creativity and unexpected results.

I have not seen any other renovation take advantage of this space and suspect their space constraints were pushing them to think harder than most when redesigning their home.

Professional: opportunities for us to get creative also

I have many examples of where constraints have proved to be more help than hindrance in a professional setting, but let me offer just a couple to give you some ideas.

Amazon's culture of frugality. Amazon has 14 leadership principles which it ‘sticks to' across the organisation. Frugality is Number 10, and is described as follows:

Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, and invention. There are no extra points for growing headcount, budget size, or fixed expense.

This is one of the approaches that helps Amazon maintain its ‘startup' culture, and avoids the risk of corporate bloat as the business grows.

‘Rules' for structuring ideas. We have developed a set of 10 ‘rules' for evaluating the rigour with which we map our ideas on a page when solving problems and also separately when communicating.

Sticking to these rules helps us test whether we are focusing on the right question, whether we have mapped the problem or the ‘story' out completely and powerfully.

It's not about having a ‘pretty page' but rather ensuring our thinking stacks up.

We have learned from experience that not just understanding the principles that underpin these rules, such as MECE for example, but trusting our internal radar that spots an anomaly. This matters even when we see something small, and when we can't articulate what is wrong but sense something is out of line.

As one of my team said to a new client recently, “We trust that the combination of your contextual expertise plus our process will deliver the right outcomes”.

Challenge: A simple way to introduce a powerful constraint into your world

So, here's a challenge for you: where can you introduce a constraint into your world to magnify your impact?

It could be as simple as either yourself or whoever manages your diary honouring the regular block of ‘thinking time' you set in your diary each week.

A coaching client of mine was this morning marvelling at the difference a new assistant was making. The assistant was pushing back on colleagues to avoid overwriting my client's ‘thinking time' blocks with other peoples' priorities.

This has revolutionised my client's week, giving her the space she needs to deliver real impact.

I hope that helps and look forward to sharing more ideas next week.

Kind regards,
Davina

 

 

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

Her clients include mid to upper level experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US.

Thinking Tools #9 – Avoiding the ‘we have always done it that way’ trap

Thinking Tools #9 – Avoiding the ‘we have always done it that way’ trap

Growing up we were told a story.

Every Christmas a woman would cut the leg off the turkey before putting it into a very large oven. 

When asked why she took the leg off, she said: “It is the way my mother taught me”. She had never questioned it. In her mind, this was just a normal part of cooking a turkey.

The woman’s mother had a small oven, and so needed to cut the leg of the turkey off so it would fit inside. Her daughter did not. 

In our work it also helps to understand the reasons why people do things rather than just focusing on what they do.

Yet again, Shane Parrish has surfaced some useful thinking skills in his book Great Mental Models v1.

 

“First principles thinking helps us avoid the problem of relying on someone else’s tactics without understanding the rationale behind them”

 

This week I am focusing on two ideas that help us use first principles thinking, both to do with asking great questions. 

The first technique is Socratic questioning 

This technique is useful for us both as we craft our communication and as we evaluate it, or potentially evaluate other peoples’ communication. Shane offers six questions for us to use:

  1. Clarifying your thinking and explaining the origins of your ideas. He suggests asking two questions: Why do I think this? What exactly do I think? In Clarity First we focus intently on these two questions, and particularly on articulating what we do think so we can explain that to our audience in short order.
  2. Challenging assumptions. How do I know this is true? What if I thought the opposite? These are two great questions to use to ‘freshen up our eyes’ so we can see through the substance of our communication rather than just the superficial presentation.
  3. Looking for evidence. How can I back this up? What are the sources? Again, this is something we focus on in Clarity First. We offer specific strategies to help participants test their ideas and the way they are ‘strung together’ to form a coherent piece of communication.
  4. Considering alternative perspectives. What might others think? How do I know I am correct? The way we recommend participants socialise their communication with key stakeholders addresses this point.
  5. Examining consequences and implications. What if I am wrong? What are the consequences if I am? Terrific questions to ask yourself when preparing high stakes communication in particular.
  6. Questioning the original questions. Why did I think that? Was I correct? What conclusions can I draw from the reasoning process? If we are talking about first principles, these last three questions are gold for those who want to stop relying on their gut and limit emotive responses.
Second: The Five Why’s method

If you have ever had much to do with young children, you will know where this has come from! 

We use this technique specifically when clarifying the purpose of our communication. It is about systematically delving into your purpose statement so you can eradicate inaccurate assumptions.

Are you sure you are going to achieve ABC with that specific piece of communication, or that one particular interaction?

We encourage participants to spend the time to become super clear about this as this single statement (which does not even appear in their communication) is key to cutting the number of revisions they will make after drafting. 

I hope you find that useful and look forward to sharing more ideas with you next week.

Davina

 

Related posts include:

 Past posts from this series …  

  1. A fabulous thinking tool to help you solve problems and communicate 
  2. Further thinking tools
  3. Thinking Tools #3 – Using inversions to identify gaps in our thinking
  4. Thinking Tools #4 – Getting out of your own way 
  5. Thinking Tools #5 – Avoiding Blind Spots
  6. Thinking Tools #6 – How to have a latticework of theory
  7. Thinking Tools #7 – Avoiding becoming a tragic tale  
  8. Thinking Tools #8 – How corporate templates can frustrate clarity 

PS – Our new kit for ‘pitching your manager' is now available. It includes an updated program brochure as well as a script you may like to cut and paste into your email or use to guide your conversation with your manager. Click here to learn more.

PPS – I receive a small commission if you click the link and decide to purchase a copy of Shane's book from Amazon.

 

Key words: critical thinking, thinking tools, design your strategy

 

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

Her clients include mid to upper level experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US.