Use this formula the next time you feel stuck—whether you are trying to change your industry, your company or your personal life—and I promise you it will work.
Question Number 1: What’s the outcome I want?
Most people seem to get stuck in the moment, caught up in the drama of a situation they don’t like. They unwittingly wind up playing the helpless victim, and as I’ve written in the past, victims can’t innovate because they are focused on the problem—not solutions. You will hear them talk about how things aren’t fair, who has wronged them, and they look for encouragement or excuses to feel better about the status quo. While this may make them feel good, being energized by problems is a recipe for inaction.
Asking the question “what is the outcome I want?” forces the mind to focus on the final destination, not the current bumps in the road. The brilliance of this question is that it immediately puts you in the “creator” mindset. And once successful people envision the destination, they move quickly to the second, world-changing question.
Question Number 2: What stands in my way?
(Hey, I told you these were simple questions.)
The best leaders are masters at identifying and prioritizing obstacles that are between them and the outcome they want. Then they brainstorm ways to eliminate, avoid or neutralize the obstacles.
Last year I saw George Clooney on a late night talk show. He had recently lost 20-plus pounds that he’d put on for a movie role. The host was amazed at how good Clooney looked and asked him how he had managed to lose the weight so quickly. Clooney’s response sounded something like, “I ate less and exercised more.”
Too often in business, we talk about how hard it is to “lose weight” while reaching for a potato chip. But leaders using this formula move quickly from the outcome, to the plan, to the execution.
“I want to be 20 pounds lighter,” says the enlightened leader. “So what stands in my way?” Let’s see…
I don’t seem to make time for exercise.
So I will start the day with exercise or I will block time on my calendar.
So each weekend, I’ll pack my gym bag for the entire week and put it in my car.
I need to eat better because a bad diet will make this impossible.
So I will do my homework, buy healthy snacks and eat small portions throughout the day.
So I will pack my lunch and stop eating fast food.
Without a bunch of accountability, this will never happen.
So I’ll tell my friends, family and coworkers about my goal and when it will be achieved.
So I will buy a digital scale and weigh myself every day.
Question Number 3: Who has figured it out already?
So now our creators have identified the outcome they want. They have created a list of obstacles, prioritize the list and identified ways to overcome each obstacle. This is where some leaders spring into action while others pause to steal ideas. Yes, I wrote steal ideas. But since stealing is a politically incorrect term, we’ll call their strategy parallel engineering.
In the mid ’90s, our company had grown to about 25 people. We had dozens of projects happening at once and needed a more efficient way to manage the growing complexity of our business. So being the brilliant, naïve entrepreneurs that we were, we naturally decided to build a software system to help us track, manage and optimize each project.
After spending roughly $185,000 and hundreds of hours in time, we scrapped the project. Three phone calls later we bought an off-the-shelf system that did 90 percent of the things we were trying to build into our own custom solution.
Gosh, I wish we had paused to parallel engineer ideas.
Intelligence is learning from your own mistakes; wisdom is learning from the mistakes of others. It’s less painful to be wise than smart. It’s also a lot cheaper. That’s why this third question is so important.