Common Sense Produces Uncommon Results

Originally published on CareerShorts.com where Kimberly has been invited to contribute blogs periodically on global leadership and project management.

Did you know that there are 192 countries recognized by the United Nations and a total of 233 listed on Wikipedia?  You may not even have heard of the smallest ones, some of which have less than 1000 people.  I’ve been fortunate enough to work with human beings from over 50 countries during my career.  Although I’ve discovered many fascinating differences among them, and many delightful common human traits worth celebrating, I’ve also unfortunately found that we share a couple of fundamental tendencies that get in the way of our ability to achieve our goals:

Unclear Goals

Unclear Communication

Unclear Priorities

Yup, in my experience, all over the world what many people consider “common sense” is not “common practice”.  Based on the thousands of books that have been published about business leadership it may be tempting to assume that there is some complicated formula to achieving business success, but in many cases it’s just this simple.  I’ve been traveling from my home in the San Francisco Bay Area, California, to Japan almost every month for the past 4 years to deliver Global Leadership Development Programs for high-potential leaders in organizations determined to profit by solving global problems profitably.  Although some people might assume I’m there to share sophisticated methodologies of entrepreneurial thinking and breakthrough business practices from the “Silicon Valley”, I’m primarily helping my clients overcome these rather prosaic (and insidious!) causes of failure.  More specifically:

GOALS: We don’t take the time to properly set and clarify goals, and when we do they tend to be far less ambitious than we’re capable of.  Instead of figuring out what we want to achieve, we fall prey to what’s called “the rush to solution”, full speed ahead, frequently in the wrong direction, or even in circles.  Well, at least it passes the time.  Consider, for example, that only 4% of people bother to write down their goals, even though it’s been found that simply writing down a goal quadruples your chances of achieving it.  Don’t take my word for it – ask 10 of your friends if they write down their goals.  You’ll be lucky to find even one who does.

COMMUNICATION: We don’t communicate effectively, even among people who speak our same language and share our culture.  Increasingly relying on email, we send even important messages to people sitting only a short distance away, knowing full well what scant care we use reading our own email.  And global separation, common in many project teams, makes this problem even worse, as people hoping to avoid an awkward phone conversation in a language other than their native tongue, spend hours creating email.  However, words alone carry only a fraction of the meaning in a typical face-to-face conversation, and no matter how much care they use to make their message clear, however, the interpretation of their meaning is in the hands of someone who is not a mind reader.  Predictable misunderstandings result.  A startling example of this was reported in “Der Spiegel”, and I found it reprinted in the Jan. 14, 2004 Salt Lake Tribune news.  German and Swiss engineers, each building a bridge over the Rhine River from their country’s side, when they met in the middle found that one side was 54 cm lower than the other, costing millions of Euros to correct.

PRIORITIES: We fail to prioritize the “critical few” above the “important many” issues vying for our attention.  Spreading ourselves too thin across too many tasks, we end up working 10 hours to get 4 hours of work done due to the enormous cost of task-switching.  And here’s something that I’ve found to be true for people in the corporate world globally – if they ask their boss to help them prioritize their major tasks the most likely response is “They’re ALL important!”  Thanks a lot.  What a tremendous help.  Not!

My specialty in my consulting work is to enable people to achieve what seems impossible, but is merely difficult.  (Many things seem impossible until your competitor does it, then it’s just difficult!)  The “secret” to being able to do this predictably and repeatedly is the discipline of making “common sense” my common practice.  Although my top-selling book, Scrappy Project Management, recommends 12 best practices for achieving outrageous success, you’d do very well to implement these 3 practices in your own work and your life immediately as they are fairly simple:

Set clear goals – every day, every week, every month, every quarter, every year, every decade, and for your life overall, in writing.

Communicate effectively – and this includes both listening as well as talking, with listening being the hands-down winner for the most important communication skill.  When you do talk, make sure you’re talking about your goals, purpose, vision and mission.

Prioritize ruthlessly – because priorities drive decisions, most importantly how we allocate the scare resource of our time.  If you have limitless resources – money, time, etc. – there’s no need to prioritize.  Know anyone like that?  Me neither.  So, we must prioritize.  Remember, if everything is #1 then nothing is, and we may rob ourselves of the opportunity to achieve our goals by sacrificing what matters most for the benefit of what matters least.  As we used to say at HP, where I worked for a decade:  Prioritize.  Focus.  Win.

Just because this is simple doesn’t mean it’s easy, of course.  But, if you just implement the first recommendation about writing down your goals, within a few weeks you’re very likely to experience something extraordinary in your life.  I’ve been doing this rigorously for the past 15 years, and some of the outrageous results that have occurred are:

– I started my own consulting business 10 years ago.

– My consulting work, once strictly US-based, has become truly global.

– I’ve helped to start, run and grow around a dozen businesses.

– I published not just one book, but have a whole series I’ve created with other authors.

Now, you might think I’m just really smart, or really lucky, or just really bold in some way.  Not so.  My dad’s a welder, and I come from a middle class family, and I’m the only person to have completed college in our family.  I’m fortunate in many ways, but I can assure you that I’m a person of modest talent, but great discipline, especially when it comes to writing down my goals.  And I use my “Scrappy Project Management Checklist” (see image) to make sure I don’t forget to make common sense my common practice.

Sure, I’ve been lucky, but I’ve worked really hard to be that “lucky”.  And you can, too.  You can improve your chances of success by taking this simple step to achieving in your life what seems impossible, but is merely difficult, and will eventually become inevitable.  Get busy writing!

I’d love to hear from you about your experiences at [email protected].

Get Scrappy! – Kimberly

©2010 Kimberly M. Wiefling. All Rights Reserved.

Want to get even scrappier? Check out all 5 “Scrappy Guides“, including August’s Scrappy Women in Business by me and 11 gal pals,  Scrappy General Management by Michael Horton, released in October, and Scrappy Business Contingency Planning by Michael Seese, released in November 2010.

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