May 17, 2011
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How do you determine your top priority?
Too often, leaders get bogged down by routine, and they fail to meaningfully answer that question.
One’s top priority may be simple and obvious, but often it is glaringly difficult to confront. Fear of the impediments to tackling key priorities head-on has spawned an entire economy of lower-level alternative approaches that promise faster results with less effort. With so many people earnestly selling so many tips and tricks that promise a simple and easy fix, it is very easy to eagerly latch on to one of them and fall into what I call the rut of the “if-then” statement.
For example, a common if-then statement goes something like this: “If we remove all defects, then our customers will be thrilled.” This sounds great on paper. It guarantees success without too much nasty introspection, and it sounds even better when you realize that it frees you from actually listening to what all those pesky customers have to say.
When an if-then policy like this gets adopted, everyone mindlessly focuses on removing defects and forgets the highest priority – actually satisfying customers. Your customers may not care about minor defects. Instead, they may want your product in a different color, or maybe they just want someone to talk to them. Sadly, the if-then statement makes us focus on a lower priority, defect removal, and we lose track of the highest priority, improving the customer’s overall experience.
When I was a professional double-bass player, I often performed for conductors who were stuck on an if-then statement. One conductor adopted a truly wacky and totally unique policy: His bass players must vibrato on every note. (Vibrato refers to moving the left hand to create voice-like oscillations in pitch.) His theory: “If the bass player vibratos, then the whole show will be better.”
But this was a performance of Swan Lake, and in a ballet pit orchestra, vibrato by the bass players is meaningless. It is far more important that the bass players crank out as much volume as possible, so the violas and the dancers can hear the downbeats. Vibrato actually diminishes volume, and when you’re playing a low F on a string bass in a pit, no one (myself included) can hear vibrato anyway.
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