Originally appeared June 2007.

Andrew Bass’s Pragmatics Newsletter

Practical techniques and thought-provoking ideas

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Openness to Reality

According to a perhaps-familiar but still-instructive story, a frog thrown into hot water will jump straight out, but the same frog put in cold water that is slowly heated will remain in its nice warm bath until it is boiled alive (who thinks of these things? Worse, who tests them?).

The lesson both for frogs, and for people, is that it can be dangerous to disregard current realities for the sake of short term comfort.

Here are some everyday examples: people procrastinate endlessly about a manager whose behaviour is causing poor morale or high turnover. Or they to take their own staff’s word that the firm’s service is considered excellent, rather than asking their clients or customers. Or they get defensive when someone points to a potential competitive weakness, rather than reviewing and if necessary adjusting their strategic position.

This kind of evasion may be somewhat effective as a short-term (and short-sighted) anti-stress measure, and I think we all have the tendency from time to time, but in business – as in survival – it can be fatal.

What can be done about it? We can start by offering a model of more effective behaviour ourselves. This might mean:

  • Confronting poor performance rather than hoping it will get better on its own (see The Columbo Technique in my book, The Performance Papers, or email me for the extract).
  • Showing that we are capable of facing inconvenient or uncomfortable facts ourselves, rather than shooting the messenger.
  • Calling a client or customer and asking if there is something you should know about your service that you may not know. Doing the same with 2 – 3 frontline employees.
  • Displaying a willingness to disagree and be disagreed with – to worry less about who’s right, and more about what’s right.
  • Encouraging ourselves and others to look for evidence that disconfirms, rather than supports, bolsters or ‘sexes up’ our current assumptions.

It’s almost a truism that these are uncertain and turbulent times. And so it’s always a good idea to be open to news of what might be heating up around you..
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Copyright 2007 Andrew Bass.  All rights reserved.

Permission granted to excerpt or reprint with attribution.

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