Tuesday, 18 February 2014

In Praise Of Imperfection

Most of us spend our working lives figuring out how to make our product or service more attractive. How do we get more bums on seats, bigger basket size or share of throat? However we describe it, our job is to make things better for customers. 

The same applies to each and every one of us at work.  We each have an agenda, a project or an idea that we need to land.  We need to figure out how to make ourselves and our work so attractive that colleagues and customers beat a path to our office / cubicle / hot-desk and demand to help out.

No one likes a smarty-pants, the smug know-it-all who always seems to be one step ahead.  In contrast we all have a soft spot for the well-intentioned colleague who is sweating over the quality of his or her project.  And this is where imperfection plays such an important role.  Finding a way to present thinking that is 90% baked (and looks it) with an exhortation to co-create the final 10% is a real skill. 

At ?What If! it has taken us many years and hundreds of project assignments to work out the difference between just-unbaked-enough (encourages co-creation) and fully baked (no need to engage).  It takes guts to share an idea in a way that says “help me get better” as opposed to an idea that says “I’m perfect, I don’t need your help”.

Here are three practical tools that will magnetise your toughest challenges:

1.  No PowerPoint – find a blank wall and tell the story of your idea with hand drawn flip charts or supersize Post-it notes.  There’s something more thoughtful and personal about sharing thinking like this rather than the usual deck.

2.  Make it physical – if you are presenting options to a group of people get them to stand up and move to the option they instinctively prefer and ask them to describe to the rest of the group why they chose that option.  This creates a natural ‘advocates’ forum.  Now the level of debate is much more passionate and personal.

3.  Signal – be explicit with your audience how you’d like them respond.  Something like “I’ve been working on this for a week, I’ve done my homework and would love your help shaping the options”.  An exhortation like this changes the atmosphere in the room, corridor or phone call.  Suddenly we all line up behind shaping the best outcome.

The paradox is that if you want to absolutely nail something, to be the one who is known for being 100% buttoned, then somewhere along the line you will need to unbutton and embrace imperfection.