Saturday, March 12, 2011

Fundamentals - Intellect Part 1

There are many dreamers and visionaries, and there are many managers. But one of the key traits that set real leaders apart from both is that the real leader builds a ‘path’ between the vision and the real world. Between crafting a vision and identifying a goal on the one hand and actually moving towards the full realization of that vision, lays the process of making the vision into something more than ‘pie in the sky.’ The central trait in turning the vision into reality is intellect.

But, you will say that intellect is something that you are born with. While you can pursue education, read the great books and surround yourself with smart people, in the end you aren’t going to make yourself smarter. My answer to that is an unequivocal yes and no.

It is quite true that you are born with certain mental abilities (IQ, whatever – I don’t want to argue about how to measure intellect, there are many ways, you may pick your favorite), but the key question is whether you can improve those elements in your intellect that would allow you to develop clearer goals and visions, as well as the means to achieve them? And the answer to both those questions is yes.

Creating Visions and Goals

The first issue is simply this: how do you develop a new vision? This may sound like an order to ‘come up with a new idea’ as if they are found on the new idea trees in the town square. But, in fact, there are several fairly simple processes that can be used to come up with new goals.

1 – Pump Up the Standards

Perhaps the most obvious means to come up with a new vision is to simply add to the old one. This sounds terribly obvious, but there are a fair number of folks in the world who seem to forget it when placed in a position of having to develop new goals. Simply put, if the organization is running well, and there are few strains to the system, and the environment does not seem to be changing into a threatening one, you can keep the organization moving forward by simply expanding on the existing goals. In short, just ‘aim higher.’ For a company, increasing your market goals while improving quality and reducing costs all provide viable goals. Those same type of ‘marks’ can be used for nearly any organization: a football team can win the Super Bowl and when pre-season conditioning begins the goal is to not only win the Super Bowl, but to go undefeated; for the defensive line to give up fewer yards, and to produce more quarterback sacks. For the offense it can be to score more points with fewer turnovers and a more balanced attack. Each player’s performance can be similarly dissected.

Such an approach, whether in sports or in sales or service or engineering performance or in any other area, can provide meaningful challenges and meaningful motivations to the people of the organization, and provide the added benefit that they aren’t disruptive to the organization.

2 – ‘Steal It’

This may sound a bit odd, but it is in fact more than likely that you will ‘steal’ your goals and vision from someone else. Simply put, its all been done before. One of the greatest leaders of all time – Alexander the Great – based his specific vision of a world empire ruled through merit, a meritocracy, from the teachings of his tutor – Aristotle. (It does help to have one of the smartest men of all time as your tutor). As a leader you should be constantly trying to ‘improve your game,’ and one of the best ways to do that is to read what other leaders have done and said; autobiographies and biographies are fertile hunting ground and should be under constant search.

There is a nearly limitless stream of commentary on the internet, as well as a wide range of professional journals in every possible profession, and the availability of books via the internet or via a book store or ordered on line should allow you to find a range of authors that strike a cord with you and from which you can pull ideas. This will take time, it is the study of a lifetime, but it is also an incredibly rich study.

3 – Ask the Right Question: What If?

The easiest way to explain this is with a short story, told to me by one of my math professors many years ago about one of the great mathematicians of the 19th century, a Russian named Viktor Bunyakovski (1804 - 1889). Bunyakovski was a brilliant guy (he submitted three different doctoral dissertations at the university in Paris in 1825, and over the period of his life he submitted more than 150 papers on various mathematics proofs and issues in mechanics.) In fact, he became somewhat famous for his reputation for producing a steady stream of new ideas. When asked how he did it, he reportedly responded that he simply asked the question ‘What if this equation were changed?’ His most noted work – known as the Cauchy-Schwarz-Bunyakovski inequality for the three different mathematicians who independently developed it – was begun when he put a simple equation on the board and asked the question: ‘what if a times b didn’t equal b times a?’

The point isn’t to make everyone a fan of higher order mathematics. Rather, the issue is to ask you to take all those things that you have been told in your field that are so, and question them. Take a look around your industry or your field. Write down all the commonly accepted “truths,” those remarks that might begin “Everyone says…” or “You can’t…” or “We will never…” Now, ask yourself what would happen if any one of those could be proven wrong.

4 – Eureka!

Keep a note pad handy. Leave one in your car, another by your bed, another in your jacket pocket. When a stray thought that seems to fit strikes you, don’t hesitate – write it down. Keep these ‘manna from heaven’ in a convenient pile at your desk and flip through them from time to time. Many will mean nothing, but some will rise to the surface. When they do, you will know it.

5 – Engage Your Trusted Friends, Your Kitchen Cabinet

Finally, talk to friends, particularly friends who aren’t in your ‘business,’ your type of work. What do they think? How do they see your world? What do they think is missing? They have a fresh and very real perspective that you and the people at work do not. You need to plug into that perspective.

This is the first part of what I mean by intellect.

Next: How do you turn the vision into tasks?


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