Work is not about being busy. We can all do that. Work is about making a difference.
As Steve Jobs said : “We’re here to put a dent in the universe”. It doesn’t have to be a big dent every day, but we all want to feel we are having a useful impact on something that matters. Otherwise why turn up?
Except it’s rarely that simple. You can be incredibly busy, but situations get complex, people get difficult, and some days you’re the one who feels dented. In all the the noise and craziness, it would be nice to find more clarity and focus.
That’s always been true, but we seem to be creating a world where it’s needed more than ever. Where making a difference as a leader starts with what you pay attention to.
The work of a leader essentially boils down to two things:
- running the business – operating and refining things as they are;
- changing the business – evolving and transforming things into the future.
Changing something while you are running it is messy. Partly because businesses get complex, but also because people are involved. We deal with the tangibles of a business relatively well e.g. the strategy, structure, systems, etc. But what makes the dent in the universe is not a restructure or a digital strategy. It’s people using them to do things that make a worthwhile difference, and that’s where it gets messy.
Psychologists tell us any transition from old habits to new thinking is hard, because we like the comfort and confidence that comes from using what we know. So even when we say we want new outcomes, we often look for them through very familiar lenses and filters. Which makes the journey that much slower. And messier.
To make better progress, we need two fundamental skills:
- reframing – looking from new angles to test our thinking and find new insights
- refocusing – joining the dots to make new sense of what needs to be done
And it turns out the best way to do both is to develop the art and craft of asking smart questions. When you need to navigate the messiness of changing something while doing it, smart questions cut through the noise and confusion.
“We can’t be creative if we refuse to be confused. Change always starts with confusion; cherished interpretations must dissolve to make way for what’s new.”
Margaret J. Wheatley