May 11, 2022

How to think big – 6 questions I ask myself

I like to sort cutlery after it has been cleaned – I just want to touch it as little as possible. My wife, on the other hand, prefers to order cutlery as it goes into the cutlery basket in the dishwasher, and of course her method is wrong. 🙂

One of my favourite quotes is from Winston Churchill who said, “We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us.

It’s true in architecture, you can see it clearly when you visit your local bank or airport. The design of the building encourages people to behave in certain ways. In my local bank there is a circle clearly marked in the carpet where people are meant to queue when they are waiting and a lowered ceiling above the tellers delineating their workspace, kind of hinting to you that you shouldn’t encroach on that area.

The power of the environments we live in to shape our behaviour is so powerful that for the last decade there has been a push in larger organisations to move to open plan office spaces to prevent the formation of different cliques (or silos) in an organisation.

Architecture is not the only thing that Mr Churchill was referring to here.  The institutions we work in, our habits, even the way we or others have done things in the past, limit our thinking. That’s what they are designed to do and for the most part that is a good thing.

We need these structures to be able to functions well. These structures mean that we don’t need to think about everything we do every time we do it. We turn thoughts into systems and structures, we call them policies and procedures, or even just the way we like to do things that we have to do repeatedly (like the cutlery).

Systems and structures are great but they have their downside also.  Once in place they shape the way we think and make us blind to more effective ways of doing things.

A great tool I use to overcome this limitation in my thinking is to focus on outcomes. Once I am clear on the outcome I ask the question: How can I get there with the highest return on the effort expended?  I have been using this for the last 3-4 years and seen some remarkable results in the process.

You can try it out for yourself. Think of something you are currently working on and ask yourself these questions:

  1. What is the outcome that I want to achieve?
  2. How long is it going to take to reach that outcome?
  3. How can I achieve the same goal in 10% or less of the time?
  4. What resources do I need to achieve the goal?
  5. Is there a way to achieve the goal with 10% or less of the resources?
  6. How could we make this 1000% better?

I’d love to hear your comments and thoughts. Did you find this post useful? What sort of content would you like? Why not leave a comment below.


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