Today I’m going to lay out a case for a philosophy that I’ve believed in for a long, long time. I believe it solves a myriad of problems, so I think it’s a tool everyone should have at the ready. The philosophy is – do one thing differently.
Doing one thing differently is a way of triggering creativity.
It is a way of triggering momentum.
It is a way of triggering a jolt to the system to re-direct focus.
And, doing one thing differently can be used for yourself or for others.
When you’ve got a problem to solve and the obvious things haven’t worked, you can use “do 1 thing differently” to try and get some momentum. For example a coworker and I were trying to create a report in Power BI and we weren’t quite where we needed to be. We had tried the obvious things and none of them worked. There was that awkward silence as we both tried to think of another option. I couldn’t think of anything else, so I decided to try and solve a different problem. So, I asked, “if we can’t get the info we want in the report, let’s talk about what the work around is. How else can I get the information?”
Rather than focusing on the problem, I was drawing our attention to a different problem. And, as we tried to define the work around, we found the solution to the original problem. We had both gotten so focused in on the problem that we had tunnel vision and we couldn’t see a more creative solution.
When you are problem solving, it is easy to get into a habit about the way you approach problems. I have a coworker who, when I go to her with a problem, she immediately goes into what I call “consultant mode.” She starts asking me questions that help tease out the details of the problem. Question after question, she is helping to narrow in on a solution. But, she never directly says “here is the solution.” Her questions help lead to an obvious solution.
I have another coworker whose approach to problem solving is more what I would call ‘throw out every option you can think of’ mode. When problem solving with him, the questions are already solutions – have you tried this? Have you tried that? He comes up with a lot of great ideas for fixing the problem and will give them to you in rapid fire sequence.
And another coworker solves problems in a more internal or subtle way. If I throw out a problem, there will be a long silence. She is thinking through the problem before giving any solutions. You probably recognize someone you work with in these scenarios. You might recognize yourself even. We all seem to have landed on our preferred way of addressing a problem.
So, next time you are solving a problem, catch yourself, notice what pattern you are using, and change the pattern. If you are a quiet deliberator, instead try just throwing out every idea that comes to mind. If you are a rapid fire idea generator, try asking questions that draw out answers rather than just giving the solutions you think of.
Another scenario where doing one thing differently can help is when you are trying to change behavior. Email is a good example for this.
People get so many emails that it is easy for yours to go unnoticed. If you want to make sure it gets read – what is something you could do differently?
One trick that I use is to put something in the subject line that makes it compelling or makes it clear what I need. In the past, I’ve used a subject line that says “I need you to read this today.” That definitely isn’t a typical subject line and is very hard to mis-interpret. Of course – you can’t do something like this all the time or else it doesn’t work – because of course, if you do it all the time then it isn’t different.
Think of a behavior that someone is doing that you’d like to change. Then, think about your response to that behavior. Are you accepting of it? Do you ignore it? Do you resist it? Now you’ve identified the pattern. Now, think about options for changing your response.
If you currently ignore the behavior, think of a way that you could acknowledge it. I’m not necessarily saying that you should confront it, although that is certainly an option. By acknowledge, I mean you do something different than your current pattern. It may be simple or subtle.
One of my favorites is to simply delay my response. A typical behavior that I think most people have is to feel that they have to respond to an email or direct message immediately. One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone marks an email urgent when it clearly isn’t urgent. We are hard wired to respond to something market urgent as quickly as possible. My ‘do 1 thing differently” solution to this is to not respond instantly to urgent emails that aren’t urgent. It takes a bit of discipline, but it is my way of trying to change the behavior of the person who mis-uses “urgent.”
“Do 1 thing differently” is a good tool to use when you are trying to get attention. If someone has a certain expectation of the way you operate, the way to get their attention is to do something differently.
If you always send an email, make a call.
If you always take notes in a meeting, ask someone else to do it.
One thing I started doing differently a few years ago to try and get attention is recording video emails. Instead of writing out everything in an email, I record what I want to say and then the email is simply a sentence that says “please watch this 2 minute video about an issue with a problem we are going to need to solve. I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback about this approach and I think it is because it is different enough that people pay attention to it.
Doing one thing differently is a tool to use in lots of circumstances. It is pretty low risk because if whatever you did differently doesn’t work, you just go back to the old way. The thing that really makes ‘do 1 thing differently’ hard is that it is hard to remember to do it.
So, this week, your homework is to be deliberate about looking for places where you can use this tool to make a change, solve a problem, or get attention. Try to catch yourself in a pattern that isn’t working for you and find 1 thing you can do differently to break that pattern.
Everything we do, everything we hear, or see, or participate in has a context within which it happens.
Context is very often invisible.
Although it is there, it isn’t obvious or up-front so it sometimes gets lost. But, the thing is that a lot of times it makes all the difference to the situation. Learning to look for the context in the situation you are in will help you make better decisions, build better relationships, and come up with better solutions.
The definition of context is ‘the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea and in terms of which it can be fully understood and addressed.
You can’t fully decide how you will react to an event until you have the context around the decision in order to be able to fully understand the situation.
Understand Your Process for Considering Context
Understanding how often you consider context when you make decisions is an important tool in building your emotional intelligence.
The more you understand about the context of the situation, the better able you will be to respond in a manner that aligns with your personal values.
And, I’ll take it a step further and say that when you become good at identifying context, you can help your colleagues as well. When you are in a meeting and an issue comes up, if you are able to ask questions that help uncover the context, everyone involved will have more information to fully understand and address the situation.
How To Uncover Context
There are some questions you can use to help uncover context:
One of the important things to keep in mind when you are asking questions in order to draw out context is to make sure the questions are coming from a place of curiosity. You are asking the questions in order to have a more rounded understanding of the situation; to be able to give yourself a fuller picture that will allow you to draw from a wider selection of responses.
This is curiosity.
If you ask the questions in a manner that comes across as accusatory or judgmental, the person you are talking with is likely to shut down.
Don’t React – Take the Time You Need
If you are the type of person who reacts, this may feel a little foreign to you. It may seem like it takes longer. But, reacting without gathering information about context can have consequences. Your colleagues may feel that they can’t trust you because your reaction hasn’t taken their point of view into account.
Using Context to Design a Business Process
Or, on a less personal level, a reaction can result in a less efficient or less effective process. When designing business processes, understanding context is critical in ensuring efficiency, ease of use, and even adoption.
For example, I’ve been working on designing a new customer portal for our help desk. I’m not in a customer facing role, so I don’t have a lot of context about what kinds of things our customers come to the customer portal to get help with.
As we were defining the options they can select, I had to ask a lot of questions to be able to find a solution that would be effective for them.
I asked questions like: “Does the customer know which of our products they use, or do they just think of our product as ‘our company name’? Designing a process that assumes the customer knows or distinguishes between our different software products is not effective if the customer doesn’t have that context.
Another question I asked was “why would a customer come to the customer portal in the 1st place?” I needed the context of what the customer is thinking in order to be able to define a process that will be efficient for them.
Use Stakeholder Analysis
Another important way to gather context for business process solutions is to use stakeholder analysis. When you are faced with an issue or challenge, how often do you step back and assess the people who are impacted?
Who are the people – whether individuals, departments, or groups – that are impacted? Is your solution taking all of these stakeholders into account?
In the coming weeks, observe yourself as you are faced with issues or situations. Is your natural tendency to think about the various stakeholders before you make a decision? Who are you considering when you come to a conclusion? Are you casting a wide enough net?
In this episode, you’ll learn:
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Today, we are going to cover the topic of choosing the right communication style when communicating change. This is something that is a very simple concept, but companies get it wrong so often. If you learn this concept today and commit it to your memory, I promise it will pay off at some point in your career.
Let me start by giving a quick lesson on the change curve. This is the process we all go through when faced by change. Everybody goes through these steps every time. Some people go through the steps faster than others. Even the same person might go through the steps at a different pace for different changes. We did a series on each of these phases, so if you want to dive deeper into the phases, I encourage you to go back and listen to episodes 13-16.
Episode 13: Components of Change Management: Awareness
Episode 14: Components of Change Management: Desire
Episode 15: Components of Change Management: Knowledge
Episode 16: Components of Change Management: Ability & Reinforcement
Think about a major change that you’ve gone through in your past. When you became aware of the change, how did you feel? You may have felt betrayed or you may have been in denial. Your head was probably spinning with thoughts of ‘what does this mean?” and all of the different concerns you have about the change. Your mind is going 80 miles per hour – with lots of questions. You are in a bit of a fog best case, and you could be really emotional worst case.
Because of the state of mind you are in at the time you become aware of the change, the best communication style is an informative one. Just the facts. Keep it simple. With everything else going on in your mind, there isn’t room for a lot of additional information. And, in the event the change is really big, you don’t want to hear a lot of inspirational talk. It will feel insincere. So, at the start of a change curve, communication needs to be informative.
As you work through the Desire phase and into the Knowledge phase, you begin to move into what is called Identify Crisis. At this point, your head isn’t spinning about the change and you are starting to understand what your new world will look like, but there are still a lot of unknowns so you are still unsure of your ability to step into the change. During this identity crisis phase, the best communication style is supportive. Communication needs to be softer than just the facts. It needs to give a sense of support for the impact it is having on employees. It should reinforce that the change process is normal, everyone goes through it at their own pace, and that nobody is going to be left behind. It should also be supportive in the literal sense. Provide resources people need to gain knowledge about the change and clearly outline the process they should follow if they need more support.
Finally, as you move out of knowledge and into ability, you are starting to gain a new identity. You are searching for solutions about how you will operate in the new normal. At this point, communication should be inspirational. This is when you start to paint a picture of the new world and how much better it will be than the old one. This is the time to celebrate the change. Trying to communicate inspirationally when you first announce a change will fall on deaf ears because there are more immediate needs at that time. But, one everyone has gotten through their initial shock and been able to get a better picture in their mind about how their world is going to change, they will be ready for an inspirational message to help propel them forward with confidence.
Strategy is something that is traditionally left to the C-Suite or other executives. This is a podcast for those who are early in their career or are not interested in leadership positions, so you may think that strategy isn’t important for you to understand. But – you are the CEO of your career, so you do need to understand it. And, one of the things that you should think about is whether or not your company has a strategy that will make it viable in the long run.
What I want to do in this episode is give you another criterion to consider about whether the job you have or are looking at taking in the future is a good fit for you – it is called the inflection point.
The inflection point is a point in the future where the fundamentals of the business are going to change.
Meaning, everything the current business is built on becomes obsolete and a whole new set of rules apply.
A good strategy will
You want to work for a company that gets this.
In addition, you, as an employee, should be able to recognize and accept change that may come if your company is in the middle of executing a strategy to change the fundamentals of the business. Prepare yourself for changes that may come by assessing:
We all have times when we get into a funk – something in our life isn’t where we want it to be – our job, our marriage, or community involvement. When the funk is about your job, we sometimes call it the Sunday Night Blues.
So, how do you get out of the funk? The goal is to become unstuck.
Step 1: Recognize that you are feeling stuck
Getting stuck usually happens little by little, and you don’t always recognize that you are feeling stuck.
Step 2: Focus on the objective of getting unstuck
Tell yourself that getting unstuck is possible. Say it out loud. It helps with your mindset.
Step 3: Figure out what is causing you to be stuck
You may need to dig deep. The reason may not be obvious at first.
Step 4: Take Action
Use your unconscious mind to help you solve the problem.
Don’t wait until you know the answer to start moving in the right direction.
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This is the final episode in our series on the 5 components of change. If you missed the others, start here.
One of the things that we’ve tried to emphasize is that you are responsible for your own adoption of the change. We continue that theme in this episode – forming a new habit and making the change stick as part of your everyday routine are the final components of change.
Anytime we encounter a change, it knocks us off our routine, which means that we are likely to take a hit to our productivity. Your responsibility is to recognize that you will likely take a productivity hit, and make whatever adjustments are necessary to accommodate the change.
It may be a mental adjustment—giving yourself permission to be frustrated, but knowing that it will eventually pass as the change becomes your new routine.
It may also be a physical adjustment—recognizing that something is going to take more time than it used to because you are having to learn a new process or routine, and building in extra time to get things done.
You also have responsibility to go after answers to questions that come up that weren’t addressed as part of the training.
By taking an active role in the change, you are ensuring your success.
Knowledge is the 3rd component of change, and it is what most people think of when they think of change management - giving the people who need to make a change the information necessary to make the change. It typically takes the form of training.
Your responsibility in this component of change is to make sure you are giving it the attention it deserves. If training is provided, you need to take responsibility to attend it and pay attention. This isn’t always easy because we are all busy. But, your role is to make sure you make the time necessary to get the knowledge you need in order to adopt the change. Without this knowledge, you can’t be successful.
Miss the first 2 episodes in this series?
Components of Change: Awareness
Components of Change: Desire
We are all impacted by change. Some of them we accept easily, others, not-so-much. But, even if it isn’t a change you are excited about, you can make the whole process better for yourself by understanding the components of change and coming up with a process for dealing with change that works well for you. I believe that one of the most overlooked components of change is the fact that it is very personal.
Over the course of 4 episodes, we are going to dive into the components of change, and in this episode, we start where is all begins, Awareness.
We all love to hate change. But, I believe that change gets a bad wrap because you actually accept a lot of change with absolutely no drama. But, you don’t remember those situations because they weren’t really painful. So, you don’t give yourself credit for accepting all of those changes. When there is a change you struggle with, you remember it. Over time, you forget the changes you accepted easily and remember the changes you didn’t and come to the conclusion that you aren’t good with change.
When a change is coming your way, determine where you fall on the scale of change reaction:
What happens when you are toward the total freak-out side of the scale? Here are some things to keep in mind:
Change comes from your concern about the impacts of the change – you need to spend some time thinking about what answers you need in order to get comfortable with your new normal.
Recognize the stress that you are feeling – Stress begets stress. Once you recognize that your reaction to this change is stressful, you’ll begin to calm down, which will allow you to start to think through the change rationally.
You are in charge of your reaction - Taking control of your reaction means you are going to be more productive.
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