Once is learning; twice is a mistake; three times is daft

3rd June 2014

Imagine walking along a road, and seeing a deep hole in front of you. You know that, unless you change direction, you’ll fall in. You know it will be painful. What do you do?

I know it’s very early on a Tuesday for questions as challenging as this. But I guess your answer was you’d change direction, yes? Maybe left; right; backwards; stopping … anything except keeping going in the same direction.

And now, another question: imagine you’re chairing a meeting. You know from past experience that the next topic is going to degenerate into a tedious, detailed decision by committee. Yet again. You know it will be painful. What do you do?

Or, your boss has asked you to write a report for her. You know from past experience that she’ll find fault with it; and it will be midnight re-works for you. Yet again. You know it will be painful. What do you do?

Or, you’re about to chase a colleague for some information. This will be your fourth chaser. From past experience, you know the email’s unlikely to work, so your report’s going to be late. Yet again. You know it will be painful. What do you do?

You get the point. There are only so many times you can be surprised when the same painful thing keeps happening. As the saying goes, “make a mistake once and it’s learning; make it twice and it’s a mistake; make it three times and it’s getting daft”.

So pre-empt and remove them:

  1. Identify a situation that experience tells you is about to go wrong
  2. Work out when’s the best time to pre-empt/remove it
  3. Script what you’ll say, and practise it, so it comes out right when it matters

For example: with meetings which degenerate into tedious decisions by committee, you could:

  • Before the meeting, speak 121 with the people who tend to cause the detailed chats, and use your pre-prepared script to stop them; and/or
  • Don’t allow these ‘detail topics’ onto the agenda; and/or
  • State at the start of the meeting how important it is to get through today’s agenda and that, if there’s too much detail, you’ll step in and stop it; and/or
  • Ask the Chair to do something; and/or
  • Send a detailed pre-read, saying the detail won’t be discussed; and/or
  • Reduce the number of attendees; and/or
  • Shorten the time of the meeting and thus tighten the agenda
  • Etc …

Which of these to do? Well, more than none. Or it will definitely happen again.

Remember: if there was a hole in front of you, you’d change direction to avoid the pain of falling. And, if you happened to fall in once, you’d make sure you didn’t do it again. By the second or third time, you’d be thinking ‘this is getting daft now’.

Action point

Have a quick look in your diary, and identify something imminent which could easily become painful. Then apply the three steps above, to make sure it isn’t.

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