As I wrapped up my laps around the neighborhood Saturday, I stopped to catch up with my across the street neighbor "Steve". After 20 years, our typical conversations revolve around the infrequent home sales, lawn service companies, and messy oak trees that refuse to hang onto their leaves.
But this conversation was different.
"Steve" has a C-level seat with a national company that is rapidly expanding through acquisitions. Frustration with their technology team and concerns about their Frankenstein infrastructure were weighing heavily on him.
As I listened to Steve, it was clear he wanted a sanity check.
Are we behind because we've just implemented x? (embarrassment)
Shouldn't our IT people be able to answer these questions? (expectation frustration)
Are my concerns realistic? (reassurance)
How do we get our hands around an ad hoc collection of applications? (strategy)
How do I help the rest of the C-team to get past overwhelm? (leadership)
What he said several times was "We don't know what we don't know
That's a very hard thing for most of us to say out loud. And yet it's one of the most transformative steps in practical problem-solving.
Think Like an Algebra Word Problem
I offered our help, starting with this single exercise -- create a where-are-they-now picture. Then use it as the visual roadmap for their technology infrastructure decision-making.
For now, let's just draw the blueprint.
Don't worry about what's next.
It was his reaction to that last sentence that was completely unexpected. When Steve heard that he didn't have to think about what to do next, he visibly exhaled and relaxed. Shoulders came down. It was a thing of beauty.
I didn't see that coming at all.
We all promise ourselves that we'll take one step at a time. But our non-stop, get-it-done-now brains aren't on board. We continue to feed our overwhelm and add to the stressful to do list.
It's time to stop this mental madness.
Remember those horrifying word problems we all suffered through in algebra class? When we learned to slow down and put each word into context, the problems became solvable – well, at least most of the time anyway.
We don’t know what we don’t know is a badge of confidence, maturity, and humility.
Encourage saying “we don’t know what we don’t know” in your organization. Everyone wins.
Approach problem-solving like an algebra word problem. One word at a time. Don’t get hung up on the next word yet.
Practice asking, “Is this the right solution?” instead of stating, “This is the right solution.”.
Be honest about the services you provide to your clients – and what you don’t. When we aren’t clear about the services we deliver, our clients are going to make assumptions. These fill-in-the-blanks stories lead to unnecessary frustration, unmet expectations, and lost relationships.
Make a list of 10 things you can share with a client that will reduce their anxiety level.
Make a list of 10 things you can do to simplify a big goal. Practice James Altucher’s idea subtraction.
One Final Thought
Thinking back over the conversation, I realized one thing I never heard Steve say was, “We're doing it this way.” Period. End of discussion. Instead he asked, “We’re doing this. Is this the right thing to do?
That's one of those complicated question that leads to simple answers.
is a lifelong curious learner who believes a knowledge-first approach builds valuable client relationships.
She is fueled by discovering the unexpected connections among technology, data, information, people and process. For more than four decades, Linda and Quest Technology Group have been their clients' trusted advisor and strategic partner.
Linda believes that lasting value and trust are created through continuously listening, sharing knowledge freely, and delivering more than their clients even know they need.
As the CIO of their first startup client said, "The value that Quest brings to Cotton States is far greater than the software they develop."