In last month’s Clear Thoughts, I suggested an exercise that I hope you tried. The exercise was to pick a typical item off a meeting agenda and then compete in pairs for two minutes to see who can brainstorm the longest list of possible directions the conversation could go given that topic.
When I do this exercise in workshops, the idea is initially met with bewilderment, but it doesn’t last. The winning pair usually comes up with about twenty different directions. By the time we collect all the non-overlapping ideas from the other pairs, the total is typically three dozen topics.
So what is the point of this exercise? Before you read on, maybe you want to stop and draw your own conclusions. If you come up with conclusions I don’t list, I’d love to hear about them.
Ready For My List?
- Most agenda items are incredibly unclear. If the group can come up with three dozen different directions, there is no direction.
- Without a clear direction, everyone makes assumptions about the intent based on their own priorities, concerns, and random thoughts that jump into their heads.
- Once each person makes these assumptions, they will want to steer the conversation in those directions and/or seize any opportunity to interject those concerns and random thoughts.
- The more intelligent, dedicated, and helpful the group, the more directions they will want to go.
- A vague topic is an invitation to talk.
- Once you’ve let the horses out of the barn, it is extremely tough to get them back in, especially if they are lively or stubborn horses surrounded by lush green grass. The same goes for any conversation, especially if the participants are lively or stubborn and surrounded by fertile topics.
- If you brainstorm such a list when planning a meeting, it can actually help you figure out what you need to accomplish, what you want to avoid, and how to ask for what you need with far greater clarity.
- You should never start a meeting unless you know what specific, tangible outcomes must be in your hands when the meeting ends.
- With clarity, you can ensure all participants are focusing on the same thing and pulling in the same direction.
- Without clarity, you are just wasting everyone’s time and are likely to emerge from your conversation with lots of interesting comments, but no specific, tangible outcomes. No concrete decisions, plans, or problem resolutions. No concrete input to a recognizable, commonly understood process. No concrete confirmation, commitment, or approvals. No concrete next steps.
- A lack of clarity does not occur solely in meetings. You could use this same technique to demonstrate how incredibly unclear is the average request handed out here and there throughout each work day. “Could you review this?” “Please report on your project.”
- A lack of clarity does not only affect groups. It also affects your productivity and effectiveness when working alone at your desk. What specific, tangible outcome must be in your hands when the hour ends? If you don’t know, the hour will likely leave you empty handed. Your brain can also run in many directions! Focus requires clarity.
Those are the lessons I hope you learned from my Clarity Week Exercise. What would you add?
If you want to improve productivity, commitment, and profits, you absolutely need to increase clarity. Talk is fun, but customers don’t pay for random talk – unless you are a talk show host.