“2 Chairs” decision making

The first time I used the 2 chairs game as a decision making technique was when I was invited to go to the Australian Institute of Sport on scholarship for a year straight after finishing high school.

Frankly I was terrified.

The AIS was the training ground of the best players in the country and I was afraid of what the environment would be like, of being alone (I didn’t really know anyone well in Canberra), of leaving my mum and dad, siblings, friends and a university placement offer…

The stakes felt incredibly high. Should I go or should I stay? I asked everyone I trusted – coaches, family, friends –  some said yes, others no, others asked great questions.

I was secretly hoping someone would make the decision for me.

They didn’t and in hindsight couldn’t. It was mine to own.

Enter the 2 Chair game

It was my mum (who’d learned it from my gran) who suggested this 2 Chairs game to try to help clarify my thinking.

[Note: Part of great decision making and problem solving is how you frame the question in the first place. This exercise assumes you’ve done that. Once you’ve framed the question to a yes/no, go/stay kind of answer, then this 2 Chairs game can help to crystallise your thinking.]

Here’s how it’s played.

How to play

  1. Place 2 chairs in a room facing one another.
  2. Allocate one chair as the “Yes” chair, the other as the “No” chair. (Or Go/Stay chair etc)
  3. Sit in the Yes chair.
  4. Say out loud all of the reasons you can think of as to why you would say yes. Stop when you run out of reasons.
  5. Change chairs to the No chair.
  6. Say out loud all of the reasons you can think of as to why you would say no. Stop when you run out of reasons.
  7. Repeat the chair swap until you run out of reasons completely.
  8. Which chair will you sit in? Have you made your decision?

Guiding principles

  • There are no trivial reasons. Say them all out loud.
  • This can be played out with trusted people in the room to help prompt your thinking or can be done alone.
  • Keeping notes can be useful.
  • Keep moving between the chairs even if it’s only for 1 reason at a time.

The Outcome

I went to the AIS. This decision was pivotal in accomplishing my Olympic dream.

This game helped me to voice all of the opinions and data I had gathered and settle on a Yes decision. Ultimately the deciding reason in the Yes chair, was that I didn’t want to look back and regret passing up the opportunity. All of the other reasons really paled beside that.

Since then I’ve used this process and shared it with friends for similar decision making situations. Reflecting on the original and subsequent experiences, I’ll add a couple of final thoughts.

  • I’ve found the physical movement between the chairs useful to really get into the mindset to extract all the reasons running around my head.
  • Sometimes I find myself sitting in one chair over the other and realise that the decision has been made.
  • Even when it hasn’t led to a clear decision, it has always been useful to extract the for and against.
  • Decisions are rarely as binary as yes or no. Is there a third way? A middle path? What are other questions that are useful in making better decisions?

 

Using Death as a Compass

“But time, is on your side, it’s on your side, now” Cold Play

Sadly Coldplay were lying. It’s never on our side.

When I think about flying, it’s essentially a tin can thousands of meters above the earth travelling at hundreds of kilometres per hour. It’s a humbling reminder of how precious life is.

So every time I get on a plane, to fly through the air in essentially a tin can, I ask myself 2 questions:

“Does everyone I love know I love them?”

I mentally tick through my list of wife, children, family and friends. If they might not be sure, then I have a job to do when I land.

“If this plane goes down, am I content with what I’ve accomplished and the impact I’ve made so far in my life?”

If the answer is no or halfhearted, it’s time to take stock.

 

Why do we exist as a business?

It’s an existential question I asked myself after reading Ben Horowitz’s blog post: Lead bullets.

Fortunately I was reading Ron Baker’s book Implementing Value Pricing at the time.

Ron proposes a simple, yet extremely demanding, 2 part answer:

  1. The sole reason for a business to exist is to create value for its customer.
  2. Value, both tangible and intangible, is solely in the eye of the customer.

It’s simple because it can be communicated in 2 sentences.

It’s extremely demanding because of all it implies.

If value is solely in the eyes of the customer, then this answer demands that you understand your customer and their needs and wants, that you help them identify value, that you deliver on the value that you promise and that you continue to help them extract value across the lifetime of your product or service.

The beauty of this is that those who can live up to it will reap the rewards by being able to charge a price commensurate to the value delivered.

“We are committed to delivering value at least 3-10x the price we charge.”

This is our new commitment at Bluewire. It changes the discussion with an existing or prospective customer from adversarial sales to genuine partnering and deeper relationships. It sets a standard of excellence for our delivery and ongoing service. It creates accountability to deliver on that value.

2 elements of the book really clarified this new perspective on value for me:

The first was a graph:

Customer Value vs Price vs Cost Graph

Price reflects a portion of the value created for the customer, so if you grow the value, you can grow the price.

The second element was this:

Poor business is: Service > Cost > Price > Value > Customer

Good business is: Customer > Value > Price > Cost > Service

The customer must always come first.

Then you measure the value to them, decide on a price, and work out the cost to deliver the service required.

So it’s a call to arms to grow value, both tangible and intangible for customers. And with it comes a renewed sense of purpose, a reason to exist.

It’s the reason you pick up the phone with a smile.

It’s the reason you say no when you can’t deliver the value to the customer in the first place.

It’s the reason you have a moral obligation to help your customers continue to extract value from your product or service.

It’s the reason you keep checking on customers in an ongoing relationship.

It’s the reason your customer has to work with you to extract this value from your product or service as soon as possible.

It’s the reason you need to explore as many options as possible.

It’s the reason to stay current with events and trends and best practice, because you might be able to help your customer extract further value from your services.

It’s the reason exactly the same advice can have hugely different value to different customers and hence the reason you can charge different prices.

It’s the reason you must keep improving your business, so you can help your customers improve theirs.

It’s the reason your communication is so important – how do you know what is valuable to the customer without talking to them?

It’s the reason that value is not rational – it is not always absolute dollars, but speed, response times, flexibility, comfort, self-esteem, “cool”, a smile, trust, ease of use, great design, simple, fun, taste, great service, friendly atmosphere, lighting, music, attitude all make a difference.

Ultimately, it’s the reason for everything you do as a business.

So, finally, to blend Ron and Ben:

If you don’t deliver value to your customers, why do you need to exist at all?

I think it’s a question worth revisiting everyday.

Not Choosing Is A Choice Too

I read once that your gut feeling is the sum total of everything – everything you know, everything you’ve ever been taught and everything you’ve ever experienced – boiled down to a yes/no, right/wrong choice and impetus to act. I absolutely agree.

Recognising:

Recognising there is an issue is a critical skill.

You don’t even need to know what the issue is, you only need to recognise that there is one.

For me it’s a gut feeling of anxiety, butterflies, nerves or even sometimes a physical reaction (sweats, shaking hands, etc) to an interaction or a situation, which says “something isn’t right here”.

It’s a physical indicator of your intuition and is enormously powerful and informative. It varies dramatically in intensity – from “hmmmm – not so sure about that” to “if I don’t do something about this I’m going to explode”.

Recognition can be trained with time and practice.

Questioning:

Once you’ve recognised there is an issue, you can analyse it by questioning:

  • What am I feeling nervous about?
  • Why did that situation make me feel uncomfortable?
  • What is it that didn’t sit well with me?

Choosing:

Based on the intensity of your gut feeling and tempered by the answers to your questioning, you can choose how you act.

This is a critical point.

You can choose how you act.

You can choose to confront, let it slide, do something, do nothing, ask for help, draw a line in the sand, run, fight, hide…

Then you can choose when to act – immediately, in an hour’s time, in a day, if it happens again.

Just remember that not choosing is a choice too.

Finding a resolution:

This is not about problem solving – that’s up to you and how you work best. It’s about the steps that lead up to it.

A genuine resolution might come immediately or it might take hours, days, weeks, months, years.

You’ll know when you find one because that very same feeling in your gut – the anxiety, nerves, butterflies, whatever it is – will vanish. You’ll know you’ve found a resolution.

With choice comes the responsibility for outcomes. Positive or negative.

But at least you got to choose.

Reinventing Education (More Opposite Thinking)

Consider your schooling for a minute.

What if you had lectures for home work and exercises for class time? What if you could have spent more one on one time with your teacher to help you really grasp the details of concepts, and help you solve problems rather than sitting in a classroom trying to concentrate on the 5th lesson of the day? What if you could have rewound the teacher to listen again to the part that you didn’t quite understand?

Would it have made a difference? Would you have learnt faster (or at least at your pace), been more engaged, been more interested?

It’s underway.

The Khan Academy, started by Salman Khan, is a fascinating project that is using videos and the web to turn education upside down and is a great example of opposite thinking. Starting off as a series of tutorials for his cousins, explaining algebra and other maths topics, Salman’s videos have now racked up 53 million views on Youtube and have expanded from maths to a huge array of topics (now there are over 2500 videos and growing). The Khan Academy is now being backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation amongst many others, and looking to roll out a full curriculum to schools around the world based on self paced learning, game theory, and everything that the web and technology now have to offer.

There are a couple of things that I really love about this idea:

  1. Salman did this initally to solve a problem for his cousins. The web has meant that his solution has been amplified, taken up and loved, by kids and parents all over the world.
  2. It has the potential to take a traditional education approach of teacher in front of the class with minimum 1 on 1, to maximising teacher 1 on 1 time – a key ingredient to personalising education.

If you’re a believer that education is key to solving the world’s problems (like I am), then the execution of this great idea has enormous potential.

Here is Salman explaining the concept in a TED presentation:

Opposite thinking

Look hard at how your industry works now. Then see what might happen if you do the opposite.

If you were looking at the web design industry, the exercise might start [and I mean start – you could definitely get much more hard core than this…] in a list looking something like this:

  1. No time sheets
  2. Take holidays when you need them because your “Job” is actually your “Calling”
  3. Client work takes place on client premises
  4. Projects are completed on time every time
  5. A person is only ever working on one project at a time
  6. Wear professional attire
  7. Spartan offices
  8. All meetings take place at client premises
  9. All staff pay is tied to company profit
  10. Clients pay only on performance
  11. Help desk would be one of the most important roles in the business
  12. Clients would never feel confused
  13. All meetings have an agenda and a time-frame
  14. All client interactions are paid
  15. All IP is publicly available
  16. Everyone can work from anywhere
  17. No one accrues sick leave – it’s taken when you need it
  18. Financial reports are shared
  19. Board meetings are open
  20. No account managers
  21. No pitching/tenders without proper planning
  22. Always give the best recommendation first, then choices second
  23. Always make recommendations as though it was our money that was being spent

Banker to the Poor (The Story of the Grameen Bank), is written by Muhammad Yunus (twitter) and is the inspiration for this post.

Since 1976 the Grameen Bank, has delivered micro-credit loans to the poorest in Bangladesh. It claims a 98.35% repayment rate – an astonishing figure and incredible achievement!

How did they do it?

  1. No contracts (therefore no police, no lawyers)
  2. No collateral
  3. Loans are given to individuals only if there are groups of 5 that need the loans
  4. 98% of borrowers are women
  5. Bankers go to the people, not people to the bank
  6. All loans have a 12 month maturity
  7. All loans are repaid weekly
  8. 20% interest rate on all loans

These are just the start of what Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen bank have done to turn the banking industry upside down to enable some of the poorest people in the world to access credit, start businesses, and bootstrap themselves out of poverty.

I’d be really interested to hear if anyone else has applied this idea of “opposite thinking” in any other way. Let me know.

How to solve any problem in 20 mins – The Value of Extreme Questioning

Quick Background:

I learned about the Extreme Questioning process from Liz Wiseman (author of Multipliers) at her one day workshop at the Growth Summit. Obviously I’m a big fan – this is my 3rd blog post on this book! Here’s no.1 + no.2.

[side note: everytime I say Extreme Questioning, I feel like there should be a dramatic voice over!]

In the workshop which Adam and I both attended, Liz organised a 5 minute exercise to get us in the groove of relentless questioning – one of the top traits of all great leaders from her book. We picked an issue then chose roles. Adam asked the questions first, and I answered, then we switched it over.

I was excited! Even in 5 minutes, I had a much clearer idea of the problem we’d been discussing. I made a mental note to use it in the future if I was stuck on a problem. Sure enough…

So yesterday, this was my problem:

In late January, we decided to significantly change our hosting arrangement. Since then, Sam (a web strategy advisor and our resident hosting guru) and I have been furiously gathering information from our supplier about everything from hosting packages and the steps involved in the transition, all the way through to common mistakes and pitfalls of the process.

After 4 weeks of examining the problem from all angles, I still felt daunted and overwhelmed by project. I had all the background info I needed, but couldn’t quite bring it together into a project plan.

My problem was my opportunity, so I grabbed Ads and asked him if we could use Extreme Questioning to help me get some clarity.

How to do Extreme Questioning:

There are 2 roles:

  1. The Questioner – they don’t have to be knowledgeable of the issue. In this case it was Adam – he knew about the plan but not the details.
  2. The Answerer  – they need to have been immersed in the data. This was me. I’d been doing the research along with Sam.

The process:

  1. Questioner: Ask every question you can dream up around the topic until you can’t think of any more – how, when, where, why, what, who, which (example questions below in +++ section). Only ask questions.
  2. Answerer: Respond in as much detail as you possibly can to every question.
  3. Answerer: Take loads of notes as you go. (Preferably find a scribe to join in)
  4. Questioner: Once you’ve run out of questions, then ask the Answerer one more question: “Are there any other areas of this problem that you’d like me to ask you about?
  5. Repeat steps 1-3 as many times as necessary until the Answerer says “Ah-ha!”.

Total time:

22mins including note taking. (this would change depending on the problem you’re trying to solve)

[side note: OK, I definitely took liberties with the title of this post – good luck with World Peace in 20 mins!]

Result:

After 3 weeks of research and 1 week of trying to put a plan together, to be able to do this in 22 mins was an incredible result.

For me it wasn’t so much of an “Ah-ha” moment, but by the time Adam had finally run out of questions, I realised that I no longer felt daunted and the picture was much clearer in my  mind. I was able to immediately put together a step by step plan to show Sam, including the issues and responsibilities. I also had some great updates for the phone scripts we were going to use.

What helped me get the most out of it:

  1. Had all the information by doing thorough research
  2. Taking notes – lots of them

What would I do differently next time?

  1. Find a scribe!
  2. Do it much earlier in the planning process. I could have saved much more time doing this earlier rather than waiting for a 3 week research/1 week planning process. As it was, I’m happy to have shipped the plan!

Final thoughts: I will definitely be telling staff about this. Provided it’s done so the Answerer is open to it (and so they don’t feel like it’s an interrogation!), it will massively shortcut problem solving.

As always, please let me know if it works (or doesn’t) for you in the comments.

++++++++

Some sample questions (there are obviously a stack of questions you can use, the key point is to keep asking!):

  1. Why are you doing this? Why is that important?
  2. Which options have you assessed?
  3. Who is involved in this process?
  4. Who needs to be informed?
  5. How does it impact you? How does it impact others?
  6. How will it make things better? For you? For others?
  7. What might go wrong? For you? For others?
  8. What are the steps to getting this done? What has to happen first? What has to happen last? Why?
  9. When is your deadline to accomplish this?
  10. What might stop you from achieving it by that date?
  11. What further information do you need?
  12. Where will you store the information?
  13. …?

+++++++

How to Discover “Native Genius” – Taking action on Multipliers

This is a follow up on my previous blog post, the 4 Key leadership learnings from Multipliers.

On Monday this week, Adam organised a “Native Genius” session for one of our Bluewire Media monthly meetings. It was a cracker! In fact it is probably one of the best sessions we’ve ever conducted with our team.

Here’s what I wrote to Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown as feedback on the session:

I can’t tell you how energizing it was! It’s incredible to watch people around the table really identify what is the absolute best in their team mates. Then the reaction of the person in the “hot seat” – as they come to realise what others believe is their strongest quality, understand what it is that really drives them and realise how it translates not just to work, but across all aspects of their lives – was inspiring! The formal reviews we had scheduled for the next day were quite different as a result too.

If you wanted to watch the same unfold in your organisation, here’s how the session rolled out:

  • Get your group together (we did it with 6 of us – this was a good size and we had all been working together for quite a while which probably helped too)
  • Read through the description of “Native Genius” from the book:

A native genius is something that people do, not only exceptionally well, but absolutely naturally. They do it easily (without extra effort) and freely (without condition)…They get results that are head-and-shoulders above others but they do it without breaking a sweat.

  • Choose the person whose “Native Genius” you want to discover (let’s call it putting them in the “Hot Seat”)
  • Read through the 5 discovery questions (p48 ):

What do they do better than anything else they do?

What do they do better than the people around them?

What do they do without effort?

What do they do without being asked?

What do they do readily without being paid?

  • Get everyone’s input on that person’s Native Genius and write them down
  • Once everyone in the group (including the person in the “Hot Seat”) has had their say, summarise and then label their Native Genius!
  • Repeat this process, including the description and the questions, for each person in the group.

Good luck!

If you give this a try, I’d love to hear how your team responded and what you got from it.