You Know that Next Action You are Supposed to Take? – So, Do It Already! (a little insight from David Allen, and the Navy SEALs)
Stuff: anything you have allowed into your psychological or physical world that doesn’t belong where it is, but for which you haven‘t yet determined the desired outcome and the next action step. As long as it is still “stuff,” it’s not controllable. It is “an amorphous blob of undoability!”
When a culture adopts “What’s the next action?” as a standard operating query, there’s an automatic increase in energy, productivity, clarity, and focus.
Forget everything (clear your mind of everything), so that you can remember everything you have to do!
Do everything you have to do – one next action at a time.
Next Step (Next Action): the very next physical action required to move a situation forward!
Discipline yourself to make front-end decisions about all the “inputs” you let into your life so that you will always have a plan for “next actions” that you can implement or renegotiate at any moment.
Keep reminders of your next step where you will see them!
David Allen basically said this: when you don’t know the thing/task you are supposed to do next, then you have a failure of planning. So, stop what you are doing (make that “not doing”), and plan your next next actions. Always know the “next action(s)” you need to take.
I think this is really right, and smart, and so very simple. But… maybe it is not that simple. If you are like me, you don’t always know your next action. You/We fail to plan to that level of detail, that level of specificity.
That level of clarity.
And, as a result, we fall behind, or let the important stuff slip through the cracks.
You’ve got a job. By being there, you’ve accepted that job. You have specific things to do. And if you fail at those things, a lot of other people are going to have to pay the price… You may be smart, but if you don’t take ownership of the work at hand, everyone else is going to have to pay for what you didn’t do.
So getting and being clear on your next actions, and then doing them, makes all the difference.
Now, sometimes, we might want to think “big picture,” “dream a little,” and so we feel paralyzed because we are not quite sure just where to go next.
But after saying all of this, most of the time our failure to execute is just that – a failure to execute. We know the next action, we just don’t actually do the next action.
From the Navy SEALs book again:
“the vast majority of the time, you know what you should do.”
Yes, you/we do.
So, here is your assignment. Plan your next action(s). Then, do your next next action(s).
So, let’s do it already.
“Representing The Institution and Bringing A Vision” – Christine Lagarde Describes her Role at the IMF
Before she was selected as the new Managing Director, Ms. Christine Lagarde, a candidate for the position of the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), made the following statement to the IMF Executive Board on June 23, 2011. You can read her entire letter here. Here are some key highlights.
As a candidate, I have listened carefully over the last few weeks to the messages conveyed to me by a large part of the membership and I would like to lay out some thoughts of mine and address some of the issues:
1. Management: the three duties of MD
If elected, I am committed to fulfil, with your support and active engagement, the three key duties of a MD: to chair the Board; to manage the staff; and to represent the institution.
Duty 1: Chairing the Board
To lay the proper foundations of such a relationship, if elected, I would call for a Board retreat before the recess.
Duty 2: Managing the staff
I am well aware that recent events have left open wounds. I know that John’s departure, coming as it does at the very worst of times, will leave a big hole. The incoming MD must take pains to show the outside world that this great institution is not only leading in terms of expertise, but also in terms of integrity and work ethics. We must consolidate and, if needed, restore staff pride in working at the IMF, to get us through the healing process.
…only strong leadership will help us overcome silo-mentality, achieve diversity, and gain in cohesion and coherence.
We collectively must focus on serving both our membership and the higher goal of the Fund, and be less inward-looking.
Duty 3: Representing the institution and bringing a vision
The MD has to lead by example, consistent with the values of integrity, independence, and discretion. The MD shall also be the loyal and strong voice of the whole membership when representing the Fund, especially in delivering messages, speaking the truth to members, be them small or large.
To conclude, should you entrust me with the challenging task of MD, I would strive, over the next five years, to build a Fund that would be adapted to a changing world; responsive, ready and able to meet all challenges, both foreseeable and unforeseeable; cooperative, listening and coordinating effectively with all stakeholders, and continuously striving to build consensus; legitimate and even-handed, to reflect a changing world.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Members of the Executive Board, thank you for your attention
Note the clear intentions:
To “lead in terms of expertise, and work ethics;” to lead with integrity; to gain in cohesion and coherence.”
I suspect that this is one of the more challenging new positions on the planet, especially after the very public scandal of the man she replaces. But she provides a pretty good reminder to all leaders with this letter: leaders are to manage the staff, represent the organization well and honorably, and bring a vision to the entire enterprise.
For the sake of many, let’s hope that Ms. Lagarde can live up to and fulfill these intentions, and set an example for other leaders in the process.
Those familiar with my book reviews, interviews, and commentaries already know that I have several favorite quotations that I use whenever appropriate. Here are two. In 1963, Peter Drucker observed that “there is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.” Many years later, Michael Porter suggested that “the essence of strategy is choosing what not to do. ” These are directly relevant to the material that Peter Skarzynski and Rowan Gibson present in their book, Innovation to the Core: A Blueprint for Transforming the Way Your Company Innovates (Harvard Business Review Press, 2008), as they respond brilliantly to questions such as these
• How to create the preconditions for innovation?
• How to establish a foundation of “novel strategic insights”?
• How to generate a “torrent” of new opportunities for innovative thinking?
• How to ask the right questions at the right time?
• How to construct an “innovation architecture”?
• How to select, schedule, manage, and leverage investments in innovation?
• What does “driving to innovation” involve?
• When doing so, how to balance supply and demand?
• How to build a “systematic innovation capability”?
• How to sustain innovation?
These are terrific questions because they are immensely difficult to answer correctly. Here’s what I suggest:
1. Form a core team of people who have thick hides, sharp minds, insatiable curiosity about what works (and what doesn’t), and tend to use first-person plural pronouns almost exclusively.
2. Formulate a list of questions such as those that Skarzynski and Gibson address in their book (at least seven, no more than ten) and set them in proper order. Be prepared to add, delete, revise, re-order, etc.
3. With both good will and tenacity, challenge all assumptions and premises. Meanwhile, keep in mind that just as the only “dumb” question is the one not asked, the only “dumb” idea is the one not shared.
4. Keep good notes and, if possible, display key points during discussion so they can be seen by everyone.
Whoever leads the group should read Innovation to the Core.
* * *
Peter Skarzynski is CEO and a Founding Director of Strategos. For over 20 years, Peter has helped senior managers set strategic direction, capture new growth opportunities and make their organizations more innovative. His experience cuts across industries and includes retail, consumer products, publishing, financial services, healthcare and technology companies. His primary focus has been to help client organizations renew their core business through competence leverage and break-through business concept innovation.
Skarzynski is widely published on the topic of innovation and has written for such publications as The Wall Street Journal, CEO Magazine and The Drucker Foundation. He is a frequent corporate and conference speaker. holds an MBA in Finance and Marketing and a BA (with Honors) in Policy Studies and Economics from the University of Chicago.
Although Innovation to the Core is acclaimed as the first to describe how large organizations can build and sustain a company-wide innovation capability, I think almost all of their insights and recommendations can be of substantial to any organization, whatever its size and nature may be.
Note: I recently re-read this book and admire it even more now than I did two years ago when it was published.
The power of Motivation 3.0 and Type I behavior
I have read and reviewed all of Dan Pink’s previous books and think that this is his most important, his most valuable thus far. As the subtitle correctly indicates, he focuses on “the surprising truth about what motivates us.” The revelations he shares were generated by a five-year research project that involved thousands of test groups and individuals as well as dozens of research associates whom Pink duly acknowledges with obvious admiration as well as appreciation. “This is a book about motivation. I will show that much of what we believe about the subject just isn’t so – and that the insights that [Harry] Harlow and [Edward] Deci began uncovering a few decades ago come much closer to the truth.”
Drawing upon an abundance of research by several behavioral scientists, including Harlow and Deci, Pink provides a multi-faceted, multi-dimensional explanation of “what motivates us,” what really motivates us. He carefully organizes his material within three Parts. In the first, he examines the flaws in reward-and-punishment system and proposes “a new way to think about motivation”; in the second, he examines the three elements of Type I behavior i.e. autonomy, mastery, and purpose) and illustrates how individuals as well as organizations “are using them to improve performance and deepen satisfaction”; and in the third Part, he provides what he characterizes as a “Type I Toolkit, a wealth of resources, to help each reader create an environment (in collaboration with others) in which Type I behavior can flourish.
Here are a few of Pink’s insights that caught my eye. First, a few distinctions about what Type I behavior is…and isn’t: It is made, not born; almost always outperforms Type Xs in the long run; does not disdain money or recognition; is a renewable resource; promotes greater physical and mental well-being; is self-directed; devoted to becoming better and better at something that matters; and connects the quest for excellence with a larger picture. (Pages 79-81) In stunning contrast, Type X “is fueled more by extrinsic desires than intrinsic ones. It concerns itself less with the inherent satisfaction of an activity and more with the external rewards to which that activity leads.” Pink recommends what he calls the Motivation 3.0 operating system – “the upgrade that’s needed to meet the new realities of how we organize, think about, and do what we do” – depends on the aforementioned Type I behavior.
I also appreciate Pink’s provision of real-world examples to create a context, a frame-of-reference, within which to anchor as well as illustrate his core concepts. In Chapters 4-6, he rigorously examines the three elements of Type I behavior (i.e. autonomy, mastery, and purpose) and explains how and why they are separate but interdependent. All three are essential to help achieve what he characterizes as “a renaissance of self-direction.” Motivation 3.0 presumes that workers want to be accountable – “and that making sure they have control over their task, their time, their technique, and their team is a pathway to destination.” With regard to mastery, Type I “has an incremental theory of intelligence, prizes learning gals over performance goals, and welcomes effort as a way to improve at something that matters. Begin with [a Type X] mindset, and mastery is impossible. Begin with the other [i.e. Type I], and it can be inevitable.”
With all due respect to Dan Pink’s previously published books, I think this one is his most important, his most valuable, because the information and wisdom he provides will have much wider and deeper impact in months and years to come.