If you want to find better solutions, use these words...
July 8, 2014
"Gentlemen! Our goal is to be the number one ship repair company in the world." Imagine what goes on in your head if you were seated at the board room of this ambitious ship repair company? What ideas would you have to make that happen? What would you say to contribute to the meeting?
"Well, we could build one mega-yard that spans the whole northern tip of Singapore. We will then be able to service many more ships at one time," someone suggests.
"Yes, and we can create secondary floating docks that we can pull out to the deeper waters so that we can rotate the different works, thereby increasing turnaround time."
"Yes, and we will employ flexible workers who can be supplied by this agent that we use who has been introducing this new employment scheme to us."
"Yes, and..." "Yes, and..." "Yes, and..."
This is not a fairy tale. It happened. And I was seated in the room facilitating the discussion. Apparently it was not going very well, because, while they had many ideas, they only had ONE option. And with each new "Yes, and..." they were building deeper into the option but not providing anything else to consider. It was a strategy planning session going nowhere FAST!
I had to step in! "Gentlemen. You are doing a marvellous job and while I hate to stop your really creative discussions, maybe I can reframe the question a little. Can you answer this question instead: 'What is the best way to become the number one ship repair company in the world?" The discussion froze. They realised that they were not really finding the best way, they were building the only way. And that may well be a one-way ticket to obsolescence.
"What is the best way..."
Just add these five words in front of your objective (or intent statement) and BOOM! you open up the options and the discussion. Let's see what effect these five simple words will have on your strategic discussions...
1. It requires at least 3 options
And we're not talking about "Yes", "No" and "Maybe", but three diverse options that can meet the stated intent. Why the magic number three? Well, it so happens that in order to have a "best" option, we will need to have a "good" and a "better" option as well! There is no way we can say this is the "best" option, when we don't have at least three. So it drives diversity of thinking.
2. It overcomes tunnel vision
From our boardroom discussion, we can see how tunnel vision led everyone to build just one option. By asking for the best way, we can keep the discussion on a higher plane, pushing for the different options before we dive deep. Because you know what will happen when you dive right in; you'll have a hard time swimming for the surface. So we snorkel at the top to get our diverse options first, and this overcomes tunnel vision.
3. It promotes big picture thinking
Big picture thinking is the forebear of big data and big money; and these are all the rage these days! By using "What is the best way to..." we keep the discussion on the big picture and debate around this concept. We can get better clarity on what exactly we are working towards, rather than to take things at face value, dive right in and lose the forest for the trees.
So the next time you are starting a strategic discussion, don't just say "To...." say, "What is the best way to..."