Sunday, May 9, 2010

Un-confuse the Chaos

Have you seen this slide? No doubt some well intentioned military staff officer, likely one operating at an oxygen-deficit, came up with this slide to attempt to describe operations in Afghanistan. It's a beauty, isn't it? Does it look like your own vision slide? How about your project delivery process, customer relation model, or org chart? My head hurts!

Listen, warfare is chaotic enough. I'm not sure whose idea it was to try to reduce it down to a single PowerPoint slide. No doubt someone thought this would turn on light bulbs and provide an understanding of how victory would be achieved for the forces in Afghanistan. Really?

I loved the comment from the military brass when they saw this slide. The sentiment was that when they understood this slide, they would have no difficulty winning the war. You got it, General. No war was ever won with sexy visual aids. And no vision has ever been achieved without leaders who can clearly articulate what they are doing and why. This ain't it! Send that trooper back to the drawing board...literally. And let's find a way to keep it simple.

When it comes to vision, the leader's job is to create order out of chaos, to "un-confuse" the situation, to help people see clearly how victory will be won. Yet, sometimes I think people no more understand what we are putting forward as our grand strategies than the great warriors in Afghanistan got where this slide was taking them. Whether it is in combat, health care, or the execution of whatever project we are working on, we need to devise simpler strategies and communicate them in more straightforward ways.

We can do better. I DO like the idea of putting our strategies on paper. My team will tell you that I love to pick up the markers and head to the whiteboard. But when we do, it must make things more clear, not less. Let's agree to these points when it comes to creating and communicating through visual aids:

-- Sketch out your vision, ideas, or master plans on paper or a dry erase board. If you can't do it...don't think it will make more sense when you try to digitize your ideas.

-- Make sure visuals are clean, simple, and easily understood. Check with those whose job it is to implement your plans. If they don't get it...your visuals probably don't add value.

-- Everything doesn't lend itself to PowerPoint! Why not try writing out a few paragraphs or putting together a white paper for more complicated issues? What did we ever do before Bill Gates?

-- If things look this complicated on paper, they probably are even worse on the ground. Most of us mice will not be able to navigate this sort of maze to find the cheese!

Look...many of our strategies and processes are confusing enough. Let's not add to the chaos with crazy slides, multiple arrows, and infinitesimal details. Slides like this produce a different kind of "vision" -- blurred! Find a way to help people see straight and "un-confuse" the situation. That's Leader Business.

Update: Friends...I know I have been delinquent in updating this forum. As many of you know, I am working hard to finish up on Leader Business, the book. I'm almost there. If you have the time, energy, or the intellectual curiosity...drop me a note and I will send you a brief excerpt so you can see where I am going. It is a rough draft, but you will get the idea. I'd love your feedback!

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