Saturday, May 5, 2012

Fir or Agin

Standing in the shower this morning it occurred to me that for years I've been misreading cues provided in the intonation, speech and body language of others. Okay, before those of you who know me say, "Well, duh!", I want to point out that I'm referring to my missing a specific set of cues, not my being generally cue-less.

What I realized is that it's totally obvious when people are asking questions in support of an idea and when they're asking questions only feigning to support an idea.  If you know all about this, then, well...  uh... why didn't you tell me about it?

Anyway, here's how it goes. You're standing in the shower one morning and you realize that it's totally easy to solve world hunger. In the midst of your consideration of whether you should first clean the kitchen or tackle the bathroom, you see a field of vegetables flourishing in the Sahara, burgeoning with growth, held back only by bureaucratic red tape supported by years of failed academic research.

You shout, "Ureka!"

Dripping wet at your desk, half-wrapped in a towel that should have been washed last week, you type frantically into your computer. The answer is as clear as day and you want to capture it before the fog of gotta-do drifts in and clouds your vision.

Satisfied that you've sufficiently documented your idea so as not to forget any of the salient points, you notice a crusty sensation on your skin. Glancing at your upper arm, you spie the the white flakes of dried soap. On the way back to the shower you toss your towel in the hamper and grab a fresh one.

Clean and dressed, you head out the door for work. Your mind cranks away at your great idea, simplifying it, augmenting it, ferreting out the finest details.

At the office you can't contain your excitement; you share your solution to world hunger with people standing around the coffee room.  One of the engineers rolls his eyes and says, "Yeah, but what about..."

Having thought through the details, you say, "Good question. I thought about that too. Here's the solution..."

A sales manager says, "OK, but who's ever going to want to..."

You say, "I thought about that too. I asked myself, 'who's going to benefit most from a system like this?' and I figured the best way to get support would be..."

You think, wow, these guys are really supportive of my idea.  They're asking all the right questions.


Back to the shower this morning.  I realized that not every question is supportive, that some people, in the guise of open discussion actually take potshots through questions they ask.

I immediately decided simply to never include anyone who pursues questions in this manner in anything I do.

The tricky part is identifying them.  The subject of the question doesn't necessarily distinguish an idea assassin from and idea enabler.  Nope, you've gotta look at the phrasing.  For example, "Yeah, but what about..." is way different than "How can we best address..."

Of course there are the more obvious tells such as eye-rolling, head-shaking, dismissive hand gestures and exasperated sighs. The main thing is to determine whether questions are being asked in a supportive, wanna-do-it manner or in a dismissive, shut-this-down manner.  Because in the end, who has time for the latter.

How do you greet new ideas? Do you open-mindedly explore them or do you dismiss them.  Do you feign entertaining them by asking questions that only highlight why the idea would never work or do you use questions that enhance understanding?

Happy Saturday,

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