Live your purpose (or else)

So, my kick on problem-solving has run its course (for now). Which makes me wonder what should I rant talk about next? And it’s pretty obvious to me. I need to talk about purpose.

South AfricaExactly one week ago, I was closing out a meeting with a group of 35 young, South African, potential entrepreneurs. We had spent the days prior fleshing out what it takes to establish a successful business. We had explored the idea that great entrepreneurs solve problems. We had hammered on the idea that business requires a disciplined approach. We had discussed how to bring innovation, the generation of revenue, financial stewardship, legal and moral accountability, and consistent operations into alignment. But I was really underscoring the idea that purpose is the starting point for the whole thing.

So let me back up a bit.

What exactly is purpose? Merriam-Webster says that purpose is something to be attained. goes one step further (thankfully). It says your purpose answers the question “Why do you exist?” And I completely agree with that definition. Your purpose becomes the anchor point for your vision, values, and even the goals that you pursue. If the values that you live by violate your purpose, you will have major conflicts. If you have goals that violate your purpose, you will most likely never achieve them. Or literally destroy yourself in the process by chasing after goals that suck the life out of you.

From a personal standpoint, you have a purpose to living. There is a reason – there is always a reason – why you exist. Just remember that the purpose is often not just about you. Your purpose is often intertwined with others, not in some dysfunctional, co-dependent way, but in some community-driven, relational way. We are all meant to help other people and impact the greater world around us, sharing what we are uniquely gifted to share.

From a professional standpoint, your purpose is the most important Open signaspect of your business. Why you exist for your customers, and what you provide as a result, is the foundation of your credibility with customers.  (Trust me: if you don’t have credibility, you have nothing. Try to negotiate, problem-solve, etc. without credibility. It’s painful, to say the least.) I would even go so far as to say that if you are trying to build credibility from anything other than your purpose as a business, not only is your credibility at risk, but the very justification for your existence in the marketplace is at risk as well.

Consider this example: a salesperson is talking with clients, day in and day out. She is working tirelessly to establish and protect her credibility at all times. But she is not getting support from her own company. Customer Service keeps dropping the ball. Accounting keeps messing up invoices. IT keeps ignoring her requests. Marketing keeps spewing out meaningless content.

I would propose that the most likely root cause of the entire problem lies in an organization that has lost its purpose. Instead of living the unified purpose as a larger organization, people (even whole departments) have replaced the greater purpose with whatever purpose they have created for themselves. This disjointed approach to purpose is like a multi-headed monster with each brain barking its own orders. It will cause all kinds of problems when it comes to the customer’s experience. Including the sales rep redefining her own purpose in reaction to the lack of unified purpose in her company.

HerculesHow can you even try to build credibility within this context? It’s IMPOSSIBLE. Eventually, clients will tire of the monster that is “us” and run away – or even start whacking at our heads in Herculean style. Our justification for existence will disappear.

And we often live in the same way. Whenever we try to let the various parts of our lives create their own purpose (i.e. a purpose at home, a different purpose at work, a different purpose at play, etc.), we begin to feed a monster within us that will eventually shut us down (hello, mid-life crisis) or force us (hopefully) to grab a sword and start hacking. At the inconsistencies. At the hypocrisies. At the conflicts.

In both our personal lives and our organizations.

Imagine an individual life where purpose defines priority. Where purpose creates action. Where purpose fuels the moment.

Imagine an organization where purpose defines priority. Where purpose creates action. Where purpose fuels the moment.

You see, the principles don’t change whether they are applied personally or professionally. Purpose is that fundamental to living in healthy, vibrant ways. And it’s time we start identifying where our purpose is off-track or fragmented. Personally and professionally.

I’m not done with this rant, but for now, I ask you to think about this. Are you living your purpose?

You decide if I’m asking about your personal or professional context.

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

WARNING: This is an actual sermon (I’m not kidding)

WARNING: This is an actual sermon (though I may rant a bit at the end). Please do not read/comment on this post if spiritual stuff offends you. It really wasn’t written for you. Thanks.

CrossI have a confession to make. I stopped being a Christian a long time ago.

But please allow me to explain what I mean before you jump to any conclusions.

I chose to make my faith a serious matter when I was growing up. I knew there HAD to be a god – somewhere – because the complexity of the universe is just too great.  Now, add the moments of sincere spirituality I had experienced that convinced me beyond a shadow of a doubt that god – check that, God – existed. And even cared about me.

After investigating various faiths, I made my choice. And thus, I became a Christian. A believer in Jesus. I served in church, led Bible studies, and told people how much Jesus loved them.

Fast forward many, many years later.

I had a nice job with a big company. I was in a global role doing global things. I did my best to help that company make money. I traveled all over the world, coming home on weekends exhausted and jetlagged beyond comprehension. When I wasn’t too tired, I would attend church on the weekend with my family and fulfill my duties as a Christian.

And my faith slowly died.

All of it. Every last ounce.

There was literally nothing left but the intellectual acknowledgement that God existed. But I wasn’t so sure that Jesus was everything I had been told. I knew and worked with many folks who were Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, etc. and found many of them delightful. I also worked with Christians and found quite a few who were less than delightful. Downright hypocritical. They lived one way on Sunday and another way on Monday.

And I had become one of them.

Pause: Have you noticed this as well? That so many people who call Earththemselves Christian live one way on Sunday and another way on Monday? It’s a worldwide epidemic. I hope it hasn’t pulled you in. I hope this two-way lifestyle doesn’t describe you. Because it’s doing more damage than you realize.

You see, I had never really been taught the full message of Jesus. I got the “believe-and-go-to-heaven” part. And I even got the “love-others/love-your-enemies” part. But I didn’t get the “live-an-abundant-life” part. I had made being a Christian all about believing in Jesus. All while I worked in my global job and kept my weekends and family time set aside for the “Christian” bits.

And that’s not what the Bible teaches.

Oh, sure, believing that Jesus is who he said he was is a crucial part of being a Christian. Shucks, if you’re not going to believe that, don’t call yourself a Christian.

But the belief part is only the very beginning of a MUCH bigger journey. A journey of real discipleship. Of real transformation. Of an abundant, genuinely spirit-led life.

That’s where I had gotten it wrong. I thought that being “led by the Spirit” was about avoiding all those “sinful” things that the Bible is pretty specific about. You know – don’t be hateful, don’t be arrogant, don’t be unfaithful, and so on. So I thought that as long as I didn’t behave that way and believed in Jesus, I was being a Christian.

Man, did I have that wrong.

The Bible isn’t really about teaching you to avoid sins. To be more specific, the Bible teaches that if you put all of your efforts into avoiding sins, you are just another Pharisee. Or what C.S. Lewis calls “diabolical.”

“For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute.”

– Excerpt from Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

What the Bible really says is that I can’t avoid being sinful on my own. In fact, trying to do it on my own is the very problem. The more I use my own, human-generated strength to fight my weaknesses, the more that I am actually feeding my weaknesses. And destroying any chance I have at an abundant life.

When I understood that I had killed my own faith by trying to white-knuckle my way through work, family, church, etc., I suddenly realized that I wasn’t supposed to be a Christian. I was supposed to be a disciple. Someone who was committed to a new way of living. Not just someone who “believed in the right God.” That’s when I stopped being a Christian. And started being something much more.

My faith returned and my life has become abundant in a way that I never thought possible. I can honestly say that I am the same person on Sunday AND on Monday. That doesn’t mean that I am perfect. Not at all. But I finally understand what it means to live by grace. And there is no other way that I would want to live.

So why did I write this post? This is supposed to be a sales enablement/leadership blog, right?

Well, I’ve got two reasons for you.

First, I can’t have a blog that is “isolated” from my faith. I can’t separate myself into being a person of faith and being a professional businessperson/consultant/writer/dude. That would only contribute to being one person on Sunday and another person on Monday. That’s diabolical. So while I won’t turn this blog into a pulpit, I won’t hide my faith either. I want to be accountable for living the same way, every day, in work, play, home, family, etc.

Man 1Second, if you’ve read this post all the way to this point without tuning out, I want to encourage you. Whether you call yourself a disciple of Jesus or not, there is a life that is bigger then your expectations. It’s bigger than your circumstances. It’s purpose-driven and Spirit-led. And IF you call yourself a disciple of Jesus, please BE one. Don’t live one way on Sunday and another way on Monday. Love God and love others. It shouldn’t matter if other people are devout, atheist, Muslim, Jewish, gay, straight, rich, poor, Liberal, Conservative, black, white, brown, or purple. Live by grace. Allow yourself – and others – to fail. Then display the kind of life that gets back up and keeps on going without fear, arrogance, or anger. Live the same way every day, in every relationship, in every moment. Be the person who brings love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control to the party.

And when you do, let it be because you are empowered by a different Source, not because you are another self-righteous, self-propelled person who calls himself a Christian. That kind of lifestyle causes more damage than you know. To yourself and others.

I mua. Onward and upward.

Humbly written by Tim Ohai

Developing Your Credibility as a Problem-Solver (pt. 2)

In my last blog (a guest post for Jim Keenan here), I ranted explained the importance of collaboration. In particular, I linked collaboration to the idea that “You have to disrupt customers to get them to see the problem, solution, and outcome that you can help them successfully address. And, perhaps even more importantly, you have to disrupt your own organization to get them to see how they can help your customers experience the value you are trying to sell.” Dave Brock then wrote a great post expanding this thought – which I recommend you read here.

2 PathsNOW… I want to pull this idea of collaboration into my rambling the discussion on developing your credibility as a problem-solver. One of the critical competencies any problem-solver MUST have is knowing when to solve – and when NOT to solve – a problem. But a major component of this competency is choosing the right approach. Or in other words, should I collaborate or not?

Let me introduce one other concept before I run down the rabbit hole. Charles Green wrote a brilliant critique of the idea that we should solve problems as individuals. He concludes that, “We live in a relationship world. Thinking we are solitary Robinson Crusoes floating around on our solitary islands is sub-optimizing at best, and destructive at worst.”

This is, in my opinion, fundamental to choosing the right approach. Whenever you have a problem to solve, you should be thinking, “How can I leverage relationship to solve the problem?”

This is the opposite of the all-too-common thought of “How can I solve this problem – on my own?”

GREAT problem-solvers – check that – the GREATEST problem-solvers know how to collaborate. And collaborate well (go study people who won the Nobel prize for Science if you don’t believe me). In fact, they seek out collaboration first, because they know the impact of their efforts drops off considerably when they are not collaborating.

So, my first big point in this blog is really a mirror moment. Do you seek to collaborate first? And if you do, is it because someone else is making it happen or are you the one with the passion/drive to create collaboration? Are you the leader who is finding the root cause problem that you and your teammates (or customers) can share responsibility to tackle?

Picture this: a sales manager sees an opportunity to sell something Business Meetingto a key customer that is much more than what her sales rep is seeing. Instead of jumping in to “solve the problem” herself, she pulls the rep to the side and helps him see the bigger opportunity. Then, instead of creating a one-two punch to blow the customer away with their “amazing clarity” on the opportunity, they approach their best relationship at the customer to collaborate on a way to understand the problem better and validate the size of the opportunity. The chances are that this approach will open up a much bigger opportunity than the sales manager would have likely achieved on her own. Aside from whatever financial success the opportunity represents, the sales rep is also learning how to see his business differently AND learning how to collaborate with his client for better results.

Continue the scenario down one more path. Imagine that the opportunity requires the sales manager to go back to her own company (hmmm – let’s pick on Finance this time) and get help to pull a business case together. But instead of collaborating, the sales manager simply submits a request for help. Can you guess what will likely happen? If the sales manager works in a typical company, the entire process – at best – will slow down painfully. At worst, the sales manager will be ignored and left to figure out the business case on her own.

And this is where you have to know how to do more than collaborate.

You see, while I advocate collaboration at all times, I know what it is like to be in a situation where that is simply not possible. And here is where I apply this model of problem-solving relationships.

At the top of the model (because it really should be your first approach) is collaboration. Collaboration shares the burden of the problem with others. It doesn’t stop until the problem goes away. It accepts disagreement, and even craves it, as long as it is done respectfully and in pursuit of solving the problem. Collaboration produces infinitely better results (which is another reason it belongs at the top).

The second tier of the model is cooperation. It is “acceptable” because you don’t always get to collaborate and the results are much lower than what is produced through collaboration. But the results are still acceptable. Cooperation shares the burden of the solution with others. It doesn’t stop until someone gets the solution. Hopefully at the same time, because if the other party gets their solution before you, you risk them suddenly disappearing – leaving you to finish on your own. Ever have that happen to you?

The third tier of the model is competition. It is less than acceptable, but can be effective when you have no other alternatives. Competition is all about sharing the result. Well, sharing is not quite the right word. It’s more about dividing. As in, “I want my share of the pie. And it better be bigger than yours.” When you are competing, you are constantly fighting over things like resources, accolades, power, and leverage. It doesn’t stop until there is a winner. And a loser.

Which brings me to my second big point. If you are going to be a master of solving problems, you must know all three. But if you are going to develop your credibility as a problem-solver, you must consistently skew toward collaboration. Bell curveYou see, if you can always solve the problem, but have a reputation as a competitive problem-solver (or worse, you create a culture of competitive problem-solving for your entire team), your reputation will not be positive. Except amongst the minions you have created. Trust me, their adoration is not a reflection of reality.

You have to be known as a collaborative problem-solver, who can also solve problems cooperatively and – if necessary – competitively. But when all is said and done, your credibility rests on the collaboration you create AND the massive results that collaboration produces.

This is your mission. This is your reward.

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

4 Keys for Developing Yourself as a Leader

Occasionally, I get access to top quality leaders who share their wisdom. Today was one of those days. And I just HAD to share this…

Dr JohnHere are my notes from a powerful presentation on developing yourself as a leader. The speaker was Dr. John Agwunobi, four-star admiral, former Asst. Secretary of Health in the U.S., and currently the SVP of Health and Wellness for Walmart.

May I suggest that you slow down and read this with a fair dose of self-reflection? You might actually want to read, then re-read this. I think it’s explained that well. Just sayin’…

4 Keys for Developing Yourself as a Leader

1) Know your purpose – Be able to answer the bigger question of “why?” you do what you do in life. A great way to zero in on your purpose is to ask this question: do you know the LAST job you want in your career? Most people are only focused on their next job. They are missing the greater purpose for their life. Perhaps your ideal last job is not a job at all. Whatever your answer is, knowing where you want to finish will help you determine how you are going to get there. And remember this… Without purpose, you are just floating through life.

2) Follow your passion – Be able to express your purpose with your day-to-day behaviors. Your level of passion shows your level of purpose. Ask yourself this: does your passion inspire others to support your purpose? People will follow you as a leader when they see your passion. It’s contagious. Your passion will inspire the passions of others. And that’s a good thing. And remember this… Passion is energy, energy is action, and action is results. Not following your passion will actually limit your results.

3) Fight for/protect your humility – Be able to tackle your insecurities and accept your weaknesses as fuel for learning/improving. Your humility will keep you thankful (remember, you didn’t get “here” on your own). Acknowledge the gifts and contributions you have received from others and verbally tell them how grateful you are for them. Your humility will also drive you to build teams/hire people who are better than you. It is really true – surround yourself with people who can do a better job than you, then celebrate when they succeed. And remember this… It’s not a good sign if you are the best player on the team. Your greatest contribution to the organization is the development of the people that you have been given responsibility for.

4) Live your integrity – Be able to exude the truth at ALL times (even when it is inconvenient or difficult to do). Your integrity should be transparent enough that others can not only see what you did, but how you got there/how you made your decisions. Your integrity becomes the foundation of trust in your relationships. And remember this… Being trustworthy is the foundation of earning the trust of others.

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

Developing Your Credibility as a Problem-Solver (pt. 1)

CredibilityWell, I’m going to continue my rant on problem solving (no surprise here, eh?). If you haven’t read my posts on problem solving as an economic generator or on problem solving as a process, please do so now. Shucks, you may even want to read my post where I argue for shifting your entire economic philosophy towards problem solving.

This post is going to be about establishing your credibility with your problem-solving skillset. Or more accurately said, your problem solving competency. Because competencies bundle things up like skills and other abilities into packages of inter-related concepts that need each other to be substantially more. It’s the whole sum-is-greater-than-the-parts idea.

Let’s dive in.

First question: Are you a credible problem-solver? I ask this because if you aren’t, you must either become one or get out of sales. Period. Buyers want problem-solvers, not problem creators – or even do-nothing Do-fors (as in “do this for me…”).

But before you run down the path of answering that question, let’s define what it means to be a problem-solver first. I like the way that the school that always loses to Stanford Cal-Berkeley defines the problem-solving competency as a starting point. They identify the following concepts:

  • Identifies problems
  • Involves others in seeking solutions
  • Conducts appropriate analyses
  • Searches for best solutions
  • Responds quickly to new challenges

Each of these elements, and their inherent processes, create a platform that any sales professional can transform into their credibility as a problem-solver. If you can do all of these things really well, you are most likely a credible problem-solver.

But here is where it gets tricky. If you are not able to do all of those things really well, how are you supposed to be able to establish your credibility as a problem-solver? Do you have to be born as a gifted problem-solver or can you become one over time? Do you attend a class? Or is it just a matter of getting slammed a few times experience before you figure things out?

Bonus questions for leaders: Do you have a team of credible problem-solvers? Can you develop a team of problem-solvers from scratch or should you just rely on the “special” people on your team? How do you equip problem-solvers? How do you recruit problem-solvers? And are you getting in the way of successful problem solving with your behaviors and/or inaction?

I believe that if we are going to effectively answer these questions, we have to know how to develop the problem-solving competency. And I use three pathways for developing a competency: training, coaching, and mentoring.

Let’s talk about training first. My definition of training is “putting your best into others so that the transfer of raw knowledge can become a polished skill.” CRITICAL to this definition is the idea that knowledge must become skill.

Academics can (and will) argue that knowledge is its own domain. What a bunch of rubbish. I live in a world of business reality APPLIED science, so knowledge that sits without being applied is useless. And explains why so many training experiences suck (waaaaaaay too much knowledge dumping, not enough real-world application). The development of a skill rests on knowledge, so learning about problem solving as a knowledge domain MUST be trained (essentially through instruction with increasingly difficult tests) until it becomes a skill. Which is why I only want to talk to certified technicians when fixing my computer.

Now, let’s talk about coaching. My definition of coaching is “bringing the best out of others so that natural ability can become refined talent.” CRITICAL to this definition is the idea that natural ability must become talent.

Coaching is the opposite of training. It is not about projecting. It is about reflecting. Reflecting the player’s current ability level – not projecting the coach’s. It is about getting the player to achieve the peak of their own potential. This is where being “born” with certain abilities is often brought up. But we can’t ignore the impact of neuroplasticity in learning. In other words, the brain is able to reshape itself through the stimulation of learning. In terms of coaching, you are making natural pathways stronger and more robust/refined. In terms of training, you are creating new pathways to release latent abilities – that coaching can then take over to reinforce and grow.

This is why sales managers HAVE to coach their sales reps, and sales reps HAVE to receive coaching. Whatever talent the sales rep hopes to display must be coached in order to hit their potential. Even the world’s best athletes understand this principle. The most advanced athletes are not given new information as much as they have their ability-based talents consistently challenged.

Pause. I have to add a major point of clarification to my definitionSeagull of coaching. Coaching involves observation, motivation, and developmental feedback. It MUST have all three of these components. Observation and motivation without feedback is cheerleading. Observation and feedback without motivation is the proverbial seagull – you fly in, poop, and fly away. Motivation and feedback without observation is blind management. Otherwise known as the annual performance review (just give me my bonus rating and stop saying anything else… please).

Now back to my rant.

The third component is mentoring. My definition of mentoring is “Sharing your best with others so that unprocessed experience can become articulated wisdom.” CRITICAL to this definition is the idea that experience must become wisdom.

Maybe it’s because I am from Hawai’i, where we use very different words to describe what you know (and subsequently give our elders an extra dose of respect for their mana’o), but I have always bristled at the use of the word “experienced.” As in, “he’s an experienced sales rep” or “I have a lot of experience in that area.” Experience, on its own, is meaningless. I want to get to the wisdom that the experience produces. Another way of explaining this difference is to ask, “Are you a sales rep with twenty years’ worth of experience or a sales rep with one year’s worth of experience twenty times?” Yeah, you know those guys, don’t you…

This idea of wisdom that comes from experience is fundamental to completing the development cycle. Skills and talent can get you a lot of places, but credibility – real, authentic, tangible credibility – comes from having the wisdom that goes with all of your skills and talent.

Gold nuggetWhich is why I appreciate the blogs of people like Bob Terson, Dick Ruff, and Charles Green so much. They drop decades of wisdom into their posts like little nuggets of gold. And if you are going to be a credible problem-solver, you MUST have your own pocketful of gold. Which will most often look like you knowing when – AND WHEN NOT – to solve a problem. Did you catch that? Let me say it again. Developing your problem-solving competency isn’t just about getting everything that training and coaching can provide. It’s about learning from mentors who can show you their scars (and facilitate the healing of yours) and help you see the patterns in the experience/DNA of different problems and recognize when to use your skills and talent. And when to simply hold. Or even walk away.

This last bit – wisdom – is the critical piece to transforming your problem-solving competency into a bastion of credibility. Knowing when and when not to solve a problem will protect from those futile attempts that no one wants to see you even try to solve. This is especially true of your customers, because they don’t want to follow you down the same path. But if you can take your wisdom and become the mentor of your customers, helping them avoid poor decision-making and trying to tackle obstacles they should simply move past instead… well, you have done something special, haven’t you?

So I ask you one more time: Are you a credible problem-solver?

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

Uh, Houston? We have a problem.

EarthUh, Houston? We have a problem.

Those immortal words have been used as a punch line to many situations, but their original utterance was of the most serious matter.

Made famous by a Hollywood movie, the astronauts aboard Apollo 13 were definitely not laughing when they contacted their support team a trillion miles away. (Okay, actually more like 200,000 miles. But it might as well have been a trillion miles. And since we’re checking for historical accuracy, the original quote was, “Houston, we’ve had a problem here.” Okay. I feel better now.) An oxygen tank had exploded, increasing pressure inside the service module and causing a 13-foot panel of aluminum skin to pop off. Actually, the pressure caused the bolts attaching the skin to pop off. (Side thought: Can you imagine how much pressure it would take to pop one bolt – let alone all of them? Wow.) Fortunately, the problem was addressed and everyone got home safely.

What I love about this story is actually the way that they solved the problem. It is a perfect illustration of what we – and our clients – should be going through.

(By the way, I made every step end with “-tion.” You can enjoy that free of charge.)

Step one of problem-solving is actually problem creation. Seriously. If no problem exists, no solution is needed. Go sell some place else, because the opportunity to help is non-existent. But here is the obvious tricky part. Problems don’t just pop up out of thin air. They are created by a combination of factors (pressures, trends, people, etc. – what my colleague Tamara Schenk likes to call “forces”) that produce expectations. Expectations that have to be met. And it becomes a problem when there are limited alternatives to meet those expectations. It becomes a big problem when those unmet expectations are significant, AND there are still very limited alternatives to meeting them. So you HAVE to know the expectations and alternatives involved. Here’s the best part. If you can see how the problem was created, even if the client cannot, you will be given the best chance of helping solve the problem.

This also means that you are going to have to create a habit outMagnifying Glass of generating insight and being curious. You cannot just generate insight when the client asks for it. You must know their business as well as, if not better than, the client. Talk to random people. Mingle with the front lines, the back office, and executive row. Ask questions. LISTEN. Be ready to enter a discussion about problems meaningfully.

Step two of problem-solving is problem identification. By the client. This is critical. If they don’t see the problem (or worse, they don’t care), there is very little you can do from this point onward. You must help the client see the problem. The most common obstacle to this is when the client sees a portion of the problem, but not the bigger problem itself. There they are, picking at the leaves at the end of a branch, while the root system is just growing and growing. Great problem-solvers follow the branch to the trunk, then down into the roots until they see the problem in its entirety. Then they expose the roots to the client so that the problem can be officially identified. When the problem is small, this is relatively easy. But when the problem is complex, it can take much longer than originally planned, involve more people than originally wanted, and require more resources than originally set aside.

And God forbid that your own team doesn’t want to solve the problem. They’ll whine moan provide so-called “feedback” that things are taking too long, involving too many people, and wasting resources. Such people are actually not interested in solving the bigger problem. They’re picking at the leaves of a different branch. To make the owner of that branch happy. While you are trying to work with the owner of the tree. Have fun with that.

Step three of the problem-solving process is solution generation. As my co-author, Brian Lambert, likes to say, “You have to anchor your solution against the problem. Once you have that anchor point, your solutions are legitimate. Without that anchor point, your solutions simply… aren’t.” Using the problem as your anchor point allows you to brainstorm multiple ideas that all help. You may not be able to use all of these solutions. That’s okay. Just keep trying to solve the problem. Ask yourself, “Does this address the branch, the trunk, or the roots? Am I only working at one part of the tree? Do I need to expand my (and my client’s thinking) about how to solve the problem?” DON’T limit your thinking to just what is real. DO expand your thinking to include the possible.

Step four of problem-solving is solution selection. It’s pulling all of the requirements, the risks, the limitations, and resources together to select the solution bundle that solves the problem best. And I used the term bundle on purpose. Because the “solution” is usually as complex as the problem and will involve multiple components. And, perhaps most critically, one of those components is time. Which means that the solution to be selected may be only phase one of other, future phases. Just get that phase started. AND get the client to understand (and agree) that other, future phases will be needed to fully solve the problem.

Step five of problem-solving is solution implementation. If step one is paramount, step five is a photo-finish second place for the overall experience. My belief is that everything looks great on paper until people get involved. (I know. Ponder THAT for a moment.) Here’s where we come in. And where we can provide real value. Getting the execution of a solution to step out of the realm of words and into the realm of reality is massively hard. We can help Future signcommunicate not only the solution that has been selected, but also the problem we are trying to solve. We can help optimize the context that the solution has to live within. By just pausing to look 6 months into the future, we can identify potential obstacles and even potential encouragements that will impact implementation. Getting the people and resources prepared for these factors is not just pro-active, it’s smart. Because you always implement to the future reality, not the past reality.

Step six of problem-solving is solution evaluation. But I am not suggesting simple metrics. Great evaluation requires great insights. You don’t get insights from dashboards. You don’t get insights from answering, “Did the problem go away?” You have to know WHY the problem went away (or didn’t). You have to know WHO made the critical difference in the process (or didn’t). You have to know HOW the solution addressed the problem (or didn’t). Without these kinds of insights (and more), you are going to not only miss the opportunity to get credit for solving the problem, you are going to miss the opportunity to learn from the problem-solving experience, to acquire the ABSOLUTELY MOST IMPORTANT, CRITICAL, VITAL, ESSENTIAL, VALUABLE THING in the world – wisdom. Because wisdom solves problems in a way that skills and talent never can. Wisdom drives great decision-making. And if you are a great decision-maker, Life (not just business) will come to you.

And THAT is a thought we can all ponder for a good, long while.

I mua. Onward and upward.

by Tim Ohai

I Can’t Say It Any Plainer: SOLVE the @$%! PROBLEM!

I was having a discussion with an organization I am helping and we gotWorried about money to talking about how to get their desired improvements going. One of the folks at the table declared, “We just don’t have enough money.”

I about fell out of my chair. But instead of yelling the “NO!” that was screaming inside my head, I just said, “You are defining the problem incorrectly. It’s not that you don’t have enough money. Your problem is that you don’t make enough money.”

And in this particular case, that was especially true. Their entire economic model was built on a reality that was most relevant in the 1970’s. THAT’S 40 YEARS AGO! That’s almost half a century. And most importantly, it is not relevant to today’s reality. The current economy, the current value offered, the people they employ, and especially the people they serve are radically different. With different expectations and different alternatives to meet them. And this organization is spending a TREMENDOUS amount of energy, resources, and time to figure how to solve the wrong problem.

Sound familiar?

Which leads me to today’s rant.

In professional selling, we started with emphasizing the selling process (which was an 1800’s invention). Then, we got smarter – as our clients got smarter – and emphasized the buying process (which was a 1900’s invention). Now, in the glorious Information Age, we have a major shift to make in our thinking. We have to emphasize the problem-solving process.

Rabbit holeFollow me down a rabbit hole for a moment.

I understand that you need a solid selling process. Having a process ensures that your selling activity is repeatable. But I also hope you agree with me that your selling process has no value if it doesn’t align with your client’s buying process. Goodness, if your selling process ignores the buying process – well, you’re an idiot. But I said that with genuine condescension love.

Today’s buyer (and the buckets of research that back this up) does not want to “buy,” per se. They want to solve their problems. And they may or may not be very good at that. But if you know how to solve problems, and you are able to understand how they are trying to solve their problems, you will have the best opportunity to sell.  Why?

Because buying is a subset of the problem-solving process. It’s an option that problem-solvers may or may not get to while they are tackling a problem. But if you know how their problem-solving process works, you are setting yourself up for two very important things.

First, you are being set up as someone who actually knows how to solve problems. And to develop your reputation as a problem-solver. Once you tap into your client’s problem-solving process, clients will call you/bring potential business to you because of your reputation and skills. This is the very BEST way to develop new business opportunities.

Second, if you know your client’s problem-solving process, you will then know how to influence their buying process – when that option presents itself during the problem-solving experience. You will be given access to the real problem to be solved, shaping the expectations that fuel it AND highlighting the alternatives that will solve it.

And this is what today’s seller should be focused on. DO NOT start with the selling process. DO NOT start with the buying process. QUIT being so 1900’s in your thinking.

DO start with the problem-solving process. Because if there’s no problem that your client really needs to be solved, whatever needs/pains/worries/concerns you are looking for will be at best misleading and at worst a giant hole that sucks all success from your selling activities.

DominoesOnly then, once you have tapped into your client’s problem-solving process, you can crack the code on their buying process (which, by the way, will be different depending on the complexity and priority of the problem to be solved), so you can then build a really solid selling process (which, by the way, is an oversimplification, because there is never just one, singular process to manage in the selling experience). Now THAT is good selling.

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

Have you ever seen a monkey get angry?

Angry monkeyHave you ever seen a monkey get angry? It’s not a pretty sight.

I spend a fair bit of time in Africa each year. On one of my trips, I went on a safari. (Note: once you’ve seen animals in the wild, you’ll never want to visit a zoo again.) During that day, my group and I pulled into a rest area to eat lunch. Guess who was already waiting for us. Yep. Monkeys.

At first, you think they’re cute. Then you watch them for a while and you slowly realize that they are filthy little thieves/opportunistic punks. They have all figured out that when humans show up with a bag or box, there WILL be free food inside. I can’t actually blame them. I certainly would rather shoot for a free meal by dodging tourists than dodging predators. Besides, some dumb tourist will eventually hand the food over as a gesture of inter-species goodwill. Suckers.

And by suckers, I’m explicitly talking about the humans. Because once a human gives even the tiniest portion of food away, I’m convinced that a telepathic message is sent to the rest of the entire monkey colony saying, “We have a target. Take your positions.”

So I watched this whole thing play out, observing with the typical curiosity that we all have while watching a train wreck. A tourist “successfully” gave a monkey a bit of food. The thieving scam artist monkey sat there, happily munching on the food while “patiently” waiting for more. What did the tourist do? Told his friends to come over and “bring the camera.” But as soon as the small group turned their attention to the deceitful nice monkey, a handful of other monkeys rushed in, grabbed their plastic grocery bag full of food and drinks, then tore back to the bush to split their new found booty. The tourists only caught on to the ruse at the last moment, chasing after the monkeys unsuccessfully, while the original monkey slipped away to enjoy the spoils with his mates.

But here is when the most interesting part happened.

One of the monkeys grabbed a plastic bottle of juice. And he couldn’t figure out how to open it. At first, he just sat there, looking at the bottle then looking at his friends then looking out into space then looking at the bottle then looking at his friends again. After he tried biting it and pulling on it a couple of times without any progress toward opening the bottle, he started to get angry. Really angry. He showed his fangs, screamed until his friends looked at him, and threw the bottle down. When it wouldn’t open after that, he suddenly acted as if he was scared of the thing, scooting away in short bursts, alternating between short screams and backwards scooting, until he was “safely” away from the bottle (which just lay there, on its side, collecting dust).

So why did I tell you this story?

Because it illustrates two VERY important principles.

First, it shows what I call the definition of a problem. What you may see as a monkey and a bottle, I see as a set of unfulfilled expectations with limited alternatives to solve them. This is the essence of a problem.  The size of the problem is determined by the size of the unfulfilled expectations. The bigger the unfulfilled expectation (or more likely multiple expectations), the bigger the problem. If you shrink the expectation(s), you shrink the problem. Anyone ever have a big deal suddenly disappear because “priorities” have changed”/expectations have gotten smaller? The problem was no longer a big enough issue to put energy into solving.

But expectations are only half of the formula. For a Problemgenuinely complex problem to exist, it must have limited alternatives to fulfill the expectations. In other words, a set of big expectations that are lying unfulfilled (like missed revenue targets, spiraling expenses, uncontrolled personal risk, etc.) must have limited alternatives to address whatever unfulfilled expectations need attention. The alternatives to deal with the expectations must either be limited or suddenly taken away.

If I took you into the African bush for an overnight adventure, you would have all kinds of expectations – with safety being your first priority. But as long as I gave you options to address your expectations, there probably wouldn’t be any problems (except for those of you who can’t stand camping of any kind, because you’ll complain about everything no matter what). But if I started taking away the options that meet your expectations, what I am calling your alternatives – like the fence around the camp, the armed guides, the electricity, and so on – your experience would go from exotic vacation to Jurassic Park nightmare.

The same thing happened to the monkey. His expectations of a free drink were increasingly stressful as he could not find an alternative to fulfill his expectations.

Which leads me to my second point. This story shows how people typically respond when complex problems create stress. Certainly, we are not monkeys, but we can sure act like them Stresssome times. When we become stressed by a significant problem, we can shut down (freeze) like the monkey did at first. We look at the problem, we look at our friends, we look out in space, we look back at the problem, and so on. While our brains sit frozen. And the pressure only increases. So we can become combative (fight). We lash out. At anyone. Or anything. We get angry, hoping our emotional energy will somehow create an alternative magically. Which doesn’t work. So we can withdraw (flight). We run away. We hope the problem will go away while our attention is put elsewhere. While we we ignore it completely. While we get as far away as possible.

This also makes me think of our customers. They are struggling with complex problems. They may not even be acutely aware that the problem exists (which makes your skills at uncovering expectations and alternatives EXTREMELY important), but they are surely feeling the effects of the problem. Because they are stressed out. They are frozen, fighting, or running away. Or a mix of all three options. And you can either be turned off by their reactions or you can recognize that the reactions are just that – the effects created by the existence of a complex problem – and put your efforts into addressing the root causes and being a problem-solver.

And effectively calm the monkeys down.

I mua. Onward and upward.