The Story of the Rug Merchant
The simple story of the rug merchant is about a man who stepped on a bump in the rug in order to flatten it out only to see the bump reappear in another part of the rug. He repeated his actions again and again yet the bump reappeared again and again. Finally, in frustration he lifted the rug, and as he looked underneath, an angry snake slithered out.
This story is shared by the famous business consultant Peter Senge in his books as an example of a “find and fix” mentality in which companies try to solve dynamic problems with static or incorrect solutions. Frustration sets in, or worse, the company is lost before it knows what happened. It’s another example of your biggest risk which is “what you don’t know that you think you know.” Solution: learn about the problem first! Next, play what I call business BINGO which is the confluence of your Goals and Tasks and the people performing same. Of course in order to play you need to know your Vision and Mission. If you are unsuccessful in “find and fix” mode, over and over again, maybe it’s time to start learning another way to play the game of business?
Fundamentally speaking, strategic planning is basically a 3 step process. First, a company’s Vision is supposed to be abstract and directional. Most companies know it answers the question WHAT you are all about. It’s a picture of the future. Step two, your Mission Statement is your purpose. It’s your concrete descriptive version of your raison d’être. It’s WHY you are a company. Step three is to figure out HOW you plan to connect your Vision and your Mission. The right brain approach is to focus on core values such as trust, respect, and team work. The left brain approach is to list all the Goals and Tasks to implement the Vision and Mission. The former is more intrinsic, the latter is more extrinsic. Some companies tend to emphasize one or the other – you need both. Thinking in the conjunctive is too often neglected because we tend to habitually follow our personal proclivities under the assumption that critical – linear thinking is the only way to go. The problem is that it fails to take advantage of lateral [non-linear] thinking. As Apple Computer coined it, we need to “think different[ly]”.
A typical Monday. You need to make some important decisions so you call a meeting. Why? Organizational behavior expert Chris Argys writes that “the value of a group is to maximize individual contribution”. The meeting has an agenda. OK so far. Then it devolves into what is called “rational ritualism” where everyone does a data and interpretation dance. Decisions are made using critical thinking methodologies such as deductive and inductive arguments. Why? “It’s the only way we know how” is the usual answer. Yet your company still has problems but you still meet the same way. So what is the solution? You need to get beyond critical thinking so that you can create a great thinking machine. How? It’s sometimes referred to as “metacognition”. There are many ways to think, thinking only one way is like a baseball cap – it’s “one size fits all”. Business is not simple so if you don’t explore metacognition you are leaving a valuable strategic resource untapped. Or as one of my professors once said ” there is always a simple solution to a complex problem, and it’s usually wrong”.
Are you spending most of your time “making decisions” or “solving problems” as Peter Drucker once phrased it? How do you tell the difference? Decisions are often about next year, solving problems is usually about this year. Decisions can be very few, problems are often many. Decision making is usually on the balcony. Solving problems is usually on the dance floor. Decisions are often the most productive use of your time. Solving problems is often the least productive use of your time. Decisions are usually about strategy. Solving problems is usually about tactics. Want a simple test? Ask yourself, how big is the impact of the time you spent on the last matter you worked on? I’d like to hear from you.
The famous business consultant Edward de Bono once wrote: “Too much experience within a field may restrict creativity because you know so well how things should be done that you are unable to escape to come up with new ideas.” Creativity at the corporate structural level is not a non sequitur. Why? Because corporate culture starts with how you think. Do you know how you think? If you don’t, then as they say, perhaps you’re too close to the problem. If so, who is on your corporate culture team? I’d like to hear from you.
Here are some important models and a few metaphors for companies. How do you build a “mental construct” and how can it help you? What is meta-cognition? What should a corporate board of directors really do? What does being a corporate officer really mean at your corporation? What is the difference between a company President versus a project leader, a Treasurer versus a bookkeeper, and a Secretary versus an office administrator? I used to say that your biggest risk is what you don’t know. I now say that your biggest risk is what you think you know that simply isn’t true. When was the last time you got “off the dance floor” and “on the balcony”. Too busy dancing to learn these important differences? Don’t wait until the music stops. Start now. I am interested in your comments.
The term is written on the back of a dollar bill. D.H Lawrence wrote a love poem about it. Stephen M. R. Covey wrote a famous business book about the “speed” of it. Ronald Reagan used it to describe our nuclear arms position with Communist Russia. General Robert E. Lee used the term to describe leadership traits. And lastly, Mother Theresa used it to describe her relationship with God. What is this term that all these powerful people have used so eloquently? The term is simply “trust”. Why has Wall Street still not convinced people to get back into the investment game? Simply stated, they lost our trust. How do you regain trust? As they say in my wife’s home state: “I am from Missouri – you have got to show me.” And each year Wall Street Christmas bonus press is not one of them.
The biography of Richard Feynman was required reading at the U.S. Air Force for years. Why? Richard Feynman’s unconventional approaches to problem solving are a great solution to new challenges. He once said “If we want to solve a problem that we have never solved before we must leave the door to the unknown ajar”. That is the essence of what he called the “Philosophy of Ignorance”. A writer once quipped that the way Professor Feynman solved problems was simple. First, write down the problem. Lastly, think real hard. Then, write down the solution. So when was the last time we assumed we knew something only to find out we did not? If so, how about assuming we don’t know for a change because the biggest risks are ones you simply don’t know about.
As Jim Collins would say, we all need a “big hairy audacious goal”. Consider this big goal. What about using strategic entrepreneurship [messy capitalism] as THE tool to solve post conflict global redevelopment issues with true soft power by using the “whole of America” as opposed to the “government of America” as the article suggests. See “Expeditionary Economics” by Carl J. Schramm in Foreign Affairs [May/June 2010]. Why? Because long term transformation starts at the bottom not at the top.