Provoking thought

What Can We Do?

A Dutch comedian once said:

You can split the world population into roughly two groups. But… I wouldn’t do it. It’s a lot of work.

Nevertheless, just for funzies at this last day of the year, let’s go through a quick population split exercise with managers. To enable this I will tell a well kept management secret. The ultimate way to assess a manager’s level of mastery of the profession.

We can distinguish roughly three levels:

First is level 0. At this level you are just starting out. You know nothing.

At level 1, you learn the magic of using “we” for everything. At sub-level 1a, you will still think of it as the “royal we” (really just “I”). At level 1b you’ll expand this as a way to encourage thinking as a group (“there is no I in team”). Individuality has no place here, we’re a team — we will get the project done! Ultimately, at level 1c “we” will turn into a euphemism for “you.” That’s when you are ready to transition into level 2.

At level 2, you learn the magic of “what can we do” questions.

What can we do to bring this project back on track?”

What can we do to make the deadline, even though half the team resigned due to burn-out?”

The magic of a “what can we do” question is only partially that it uses “we” while really meaning “you.” The larger magic trick is that it’s a trap. Saying “nothing” is not an option. The question is not “can we still bring this project on track?” The implicit assumption in the question is that yes we can. “We” a.k.a. you, the target, is forced to figure out a way how. The target doesn’t want to disappoint so will do whatever is in their power to figure something out.