Ask ‘Why’ and ‘Why Not’

They are all a bunch of numskulls!

Last week I sat in a meeting listening to a man called Mike trying to convince seven people that moving a mini-bus depot from its current, expensive prime location to a cheaper, out-of-the-way industrial estate was a great way to save the company money and a really good idea. He had done some research, asked questions and thought about it, listed the pros and cons and done the calculations. The Board was not interested and simply dismissed it out of hand. Perhaps a bit harsh but with good reason.

Mike is an accountant, is intelligent, enthusiastic and committed to the interests of the company. He takes his job seriously, worries about the long-term profitability of the organization in a time of economic uncertainty, and is proud of the fact he is a numbers man. Most of the time, he has only two concerns – is it in the budget and what will be the ROI. He makes no decision without first checking the rands and cents and the budget for the short and medium term.

He put in long hours developing and budgeting his idea and draft project plan. Not surprisingly, he was therefore upset, confused, hurt, insulted, cross and many other things when the committee rejected his plan out of hand without any in-depth discussion. He couldn’t understand what was wrong with the Board members. After all, the figures spoke for themselves. Sound familiar?

The problem with Mike is that enthusiasm and long hours do not replace the need for an informed and systematic approach to thinking, analysis and decision-making. His approach lacked depth of vision and it was somewhat haphazard, and based on conjecture and assumption. The numbers were spot-on but his thinking was woolly and full of fallacies and even his presentation was full of weasel words

Often the Fool in the Royal court was the wisest man. 1

Mike walked out of the meeting dispirited, bad-mouthing everybody and running down the company. He came up with a dozen reasons why his plan had been rejected without any idea of the real reason. These all defined him as the victim and the CEO and Board as moronic and ganging up on him because ……. (you can fill in the blanks.)

When I bumped into him in the passage, the next day he still felt hard done by. Worse than that, his pride and his self-confidence had taken a severe knock. He had been appointed project leader of the roll-out of a new branding project for our fleet of mini-buses and he felt he needed to step down because no-one trusted him anymore.

Our man Mike is, however, not stupid and, after an in-depth analysis, he agreed that he needed to expand his frame of reference and develop a sound critical thinking toolkit. this would enable him to work systematically through data, turning it into information that could inform sound analysis and decision-making techniques. 

This series will reflect the topics covered with Mike in the forthcoming weeks.

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Weasel words and fuzzies are meaningless words, imprecise, not measurable and not verifiable. They are ambiguous and misleading (and particularly popular with politicians). We all use them at various times when we are unsure of things and/or are hedging our bets. Popular weasel words include ‘most people think’, or ‘it is believed’.

Fuzzies are like weasel words but usually relate to measurement such as ‘achieve considerable success’. Fuzzies make one feel good.

Exercise: See if you rank in order the  10 most common weasel words or fuzzies used in your company.

  1. Image: Netherlandish (possibly Jacob Cornelisz. van OostsanenLaughing Fool ca. 1500 – Oil on panel, 13 13/16 x 9 in Davis Museum at Wellesley College