This article by Tony A. Rose first appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of Business World magazine, a publication by Russell Bedford International.
The elephant in the room – English idiom meaning that which all can see but none choose to discuss or confront.
We all have elephants – problems, needs or truths that we ignore even though we must face up to them. Often our elephants may be of a professional nature. We may also have personal elephants. In Say Hello to the Elephants I offer a way to confront issues, along with tools to address problems, achieve clarity, and make decisions. I call this Quadrant Thinking.
Quadrant Thinking is a four-part process. In a series of four articles I will present an overview of each quadrant.
• Quadrant One: Clarity
Here you will learn about how to think through issues and answer the question: what will this problem look like when it has been perfectly addressed and eliminated? Achieving clarity means answering the 5Ws – who, what, why, when, and where? Only then can you move on to the ‘how’. Quadrant One is strategic by nature.
• Quadrant Two: Solutions
Having a clarified understanding of the 5Ws, you can choose between potential steps to make progress towards the vision and goals you have established. Here the developed solution will be in the context of the clarity you created in Quadrant One. Quadrant Two is tactical by nature.
• Quadrant Three: Implementation
Having identified the vision and goals and the preferred solution, it is time to get it done.
• Quadrant Four: Sustainability
Looking at what has been accomplished, you can see if you achieve the results you were looking for.
Saying hello to your elephants means deciding to confront the obvious problems in your business. It all begins with clarity.
Quadrant One: Clarity
Whether you are planning your day or the next week, month or year, you must identify your purpose clearly. This is the step where you establish the mission, vision, values and goals of any situation.
As a business person you have to make choices every day. Only by achieving clarity will you be able to see your options clearly and make the right choices in the context of these strategic questions. Defining your goals creates the standard by which you can choose from the various alternatives. Goals create clarity but only if they address the ‘why’.
Believe in a bigger future
To have a bigger future you must believe in a bigger future. Be optimistic, be hopeful, and surround yourself with people, situations and opportunities that encourage hope.
Looking forward to something can make the difference between success and failure. Having something to aim for means you set goals that motivate you to get there.
Clarity is the enemy of the status quo
Even with the best intentions you may fail to get there because you don’t know where there is. Clarity is the means by which you clear the hurdles that prevent you from succeeding. Clarity and dealing with the elephants that stand in your way will move you further and further towards where you want to be.
Focus on the goal not the distraction
You can’t achieve clarity if you don’t focus on the goal. Distractions can take the form of people, setbacks, fear of failure, and even fear of success.
• Identify the people holding you back, then ignore them
• Don’t dwell on a setback any longer than is necessary to learn from it
• Understand that everyone has failed at something. Those with a clear vision do not see it as defeat
• Having a clear vision of what success looks like enables you to welcome new challenges, not fear them.
Clarity planning takes effort – and pain too
Reaching clarity is not always easy and it can be painful. However, considering you are often going against the status quo and perhaps working against others’ intentions for you or your company, pain can be a key part of clarity planning and has three knock-on effects:
• You must accept pain as part of the process
• The act of reaching clarity can present you with painful truths
• You must be patient.
Disappointment, frustration and anxiety are all painful but it is up to you whether they stop you from moving forward. When you finally achieve clarity the pain will have been worth it.
Finding your elephants and procrastination
Some of your elephants will be obvious but you may still feel like ignoring them.
Most people procrastinate because they lack clarity of outcome. They don’t know what they want so they don’t know what to do to achieve what they want.
Once you have clarity you can avoid procrastination.
Quadrant Thinking gives you three options:
• Deal with it
• Delegate it
• Schedule it.
Elephants do not go away so deal with them.
Finding your elephants and the decision swamp
When you lack clarity it seems like the harder you try to solve a problem the worse it gets. This is what noted behaviourist Dr Brad Spencer calls the decision swamp.
To stay out of the decision swamp you need to change your thinking. Start by looking at problems as symptoms – what you perceive as a problem is often a symptom of a different problem. Once you are clear on what the problem is you can be clearer about the actions you need to take.
Wielding your strengths
Just as identifying problems is essential to reaching clarity, so is identifying your strengths – the core elements that make you and your business unique.
Strengths give you confidence to do the right thing and avoid walking into traps. Your strengths will help you plan for the future and choose the right path to get you there.
Finding your elephants, even if you do not have an MBA
You need to ask the right questions to see the elephants that stand in your way. Use a SWOT analysis to examine your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
By asking the right questions you can work on eliminating fears and threats, and capitalise on strengths and opportunities.
With clarity, solutions become manageable. Once you know what you want you will find it much easier to identify what you need to do to achieve it. We will discuss this further in Quadrant Two: Solutions.
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