A Lesson from the Past

Many of you may recall hearing about the famous one-word mantra, popular at IBM years ago. Having read several renditions of this story, it seems this single word statement was started by former CEO Thomas Watson, and served as a beacon of guidance and leadership for all. Apparently when things did not go as planned, Watson often heard people say, “I did not think about that.” I guess he grew tired of the same response, no matter how legitimate if may have been. So he bundled up his coaching, feedback, disappointment and advice in one word – and that word was Think.

I invite you to think about that word today. In our overwhelming, multi-tasking, terabyte world, it is impossible to cover every base. And unfortunately mess-ups of all kinds and sizes somehow occur, even we have done as much homework as humanly possible. That said, How would you rate the amount and quality of time you and your teams spend “thinking” on some kind of regular basis? Are you on the poor or excellent side of the continuum? And when you are thinking, is it about the easy stuff or the hard?

A lack of intentional thinking has impact in all aspects of life. Look outside of work into politics for a moment. Hopefully, there are a large number of voters who do seek to understand, and reflect on the issues of the day and candidates’ positions on them, before casting their ballots. Yet, consider the implications of the number who don’t. They vote based on someone else’s opinion, or because they have heard the candidate’s name, or perhaps maybe because they grew up in a family that always voted one way. They have not and will not do any kind of thinking and coming to their own conclusions. Does it bother you, that there are enough of these kinds of people to influence the outcome of an election?

Would it bother you if, at job performance review time, your boss and other evaluating managers did absolutely no homework or thinking about your value and accomplishments – and simply decided your future, based on someone else’s negative point of view, or because your name did not resonate with enough people? That might hit a little closer to home for some of you. And when it does, my guess is you are more than a little perturbed.

Real thinking is hard work and it takes time. That is why some people get nestled in that safe, familiar place called the Comfort Zone. There, they do not have to think much. Instead they live on automatic pilot, simply acting – or reacting – the way the always have. So what, if the outside world has shifted wildly. They keep doing things the same old way, because, after all, that has worked for them many times before. I have actually come across examples In my research on complacency, of people who regard themselves as “experts” in their fields, and have simply stopped learning. They rest on their past laurels and offer no evidence of updated thinking. The belief that “Once an expert, always an expert” is unfortunately more descriptive of the road to entitlement, than success.

And to those who are caught up in the time trap and believe you can merely give important issues a “passing thought,” that is simply not good enough. You must go deep to figure out those unarticulated customer needs, which can lead to a breakthrough product. You sometimes have to vastly ponder, and tinker with a variety of unproven options in order to find solutions to tough problems. And maybe most difficult of all, you have to stop the madness of life, and reflect on your own behaviors and emotions, to examine whether they are serving you in the best way. Thinking is indeed tough work.

Don’t get caught in the ready, fire, aim world. You must take time to noodle on ideas, strategize, ponder alternatives, and even consider options which might seem to be virtually unachievable. Yet, no matter how great your thinking, reflection and mindful action, you will still miss the mark on many occasions. But my guess is your overall success rate will be much higher.

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