What You Really Want is Clarity (and how to get it)

September 27, 2015

Great cultures ,Popular Articles ,Productivity ,Values


There’s one word I keep hearing at companies when they express their desires. It’s like the holy grail people are seeking. What people want most, whether leaders or workers, is this:


And what’s interesting is I see this most in companies that are successful! Successful companies have a plethora of opportunities, choices and options. And so the pain comes from questions such as:

  • What’s the priority?
  • What do we focus on?
  • What happens when our priorities compete?
  • How do we stop the chaos?
  • How do we delegate decision making while ensure the right decisions are made?
  • What data do we need to make decisions?

The funny thing is that focusing on these questions only makes the problem worse, because it actually brings up even more options. 

I was running a culture game around conflict and it was interesting how challenging it was for people to follow a basic language protocol that focused their communication. It was like they were wrapping their brains around how to be more specific and concise when they were used to simply talking and figuring things out as conversation went on.

This was in stark contrast to a podcast I heard with a 24 year old Army Ranger whose clarity in communication was incredible. He could think so clearly and communicate with quick precision, without meandering thought. I immediately thought: This is the kind of person I’d like to hire.

So there are two ways to solve this dilemma of clarity. First, as I’ve always said, the biggest impact you can have on your culture is who you let into the organization.

1. Hire clear thinkers and communicators. 

It’s always tempting to go with the person who has the exact experience we need on their résumé. But that’s a terrible idea. Unless it is ultra specific (think: nuclear chemist), then hiring someone who has already “been there, done that” means they won’t grow a lot and so they won’t give their best.

Whereas if you hire someone who:

a) loves to learn (and learns fast)
b) thinks clearly (more on that in a moment)
c) communicates clearly (succinctly, on point, and looks you in the eye)

Then you’ll have someone you want for life.

2. Establish the 3 P’s.

The reason an Army Ranger can think so clearly is because their lives are built around the 3 P’s:


Whether it’s the core values of Whole Foods, or the credo of the Navy Seals, the strongest organizations run on principles. Principle define who’s in and who is out. They act as guides for decision making and they reduce politics by aligning people to agreed upon concepts rather than to people in power. If you haven’t figured out your principles, check out the core values process in my book The Culture Blueprint.


There’s an anecdote from the Checklist Manifesto that says a beginner pilot uses a checklist to prepare for a flight. Do you know what a veteran pilot with 30 years experience on a 747 uses? The same thing: A checklist. If it’s clear that we must do it and hold to a standard of excellence, then a protocol like a checklist is very useful. And this is not just for processes, but also for conversations. That’s why I have a protocol that I teach for conflict resolution. By staying within the process it allows people to feel safe.  New management systems such as Holacracy are based on this concept.  If companies had a protocol for delegating it would relieve so much pain.


Policies can actually be quite liberating when used effectively. For example, a policy can be that any employee can use up to $500 to remedy a customer service error without asking for approval. That policy can empower people to make decisions while still keeping a safeguard on the process.

If you feel overwhelmed by all the decisions you need to make, consider if there’s a breakdown in clarity and how precise communication, principles, protocols and policies can help.

The Epic CEO Hack (or, the cheapest innovation tool)

October 15, 2014

Hacks ,Productivity


An innovation hack is an action that is “low input, high output.” That means it takes very little investment, but the gains are tremendous. I watch for the hacks of effective CEO’s and this one is shared by both the late Steve Jobs and Tony Hsieh.

Innovation Hack: Walks.

Yes. That simple. They go for walks, a lot. Whether it’s for meetings or just taking time for themselves, they take long walks.

Research is proving the common sense idea that sitting for extensive periods of time is very unnatural. One even called sitting the smoking of our generation.

I took an hour long walk today, with a 3×5 card and a pen. At first I listened to an audiobook with headphones while I walked. Then I noticed I stopped listening to the book and started listening to my own ideas. I would walk for awhile, let the ideas simmer, then write them down and repeat the process.

Some might call it taking the time to listen to our own intuition. Others may say there’s a spiritual element to it all. Whatever it is, it works. Try it right now. It may be the cheapest most effective innovation tool.

NOTE: You’ll see I finally added a way to get updated on new posts. See the sign up bar in the upper right corner.

Productivity Hack: Hack the Wifi

March 14, 2013


I’m at a coffee house, and the wifi is down. Awesome. No, seriously. Awesome! Now I can actually get stuff done.

My friend Dawn, author of Small Footprint Family, had her internet connection go out completely at her house this week. A few hours later, she had finished formatting her book – a task that she had put off for months, assumed would take weeks, and would require assistance from freelancers. Dawn is the antithesis of lazy. In fact, the time she spent online was spent working on marketing, SEO, and blog posts. But eliminating that option opened up a new possibility.

Dawn’s husband Ivan had never been able to sleep more than 5 hours a night. That night he slept for 7 hours. Why? Because with the internet down, there was never that stressful feeling that he could be doing work from the office. It reminds of the Jewish laws for the Sabbath. The specific wording in the commentary is that the command is not just to rest, but to rest “as if you never have to work, ever again.” Can you feel the difference between those two levels?

My friend Patricia decided to put fate in her own hands by specifically choosing a coffee shop that has NO internet connection. By going there to work just a couple hours a day, she completed her entire business plan in a week.

What is something you’ve been putting off? Something you know you must do. Something you think will take a long time, but you won’t know until you try it? Great, now find a coffee house with no wifi.