This trilogy started with a discussion of three books, the last of which is Getting to Maybe, co-authored by Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman and Michael Quinn Patton. The subtitle for the book is “How the World is Changed,” which carries interesting ambiguity: does this refer to “how changes happen in the world” or to recent trends that have changed the world? It doesn’t really matter.
In my understanding, “Getting to Maybe” entails prolonging the discussion. The emergence of a “yes” or a “no” indicates are hard stop or start in direction. Some examples of conversation endpoints are:
- “No, we are not going to pursue this partnership,”
- “Yes, we need to develop a new offering,” and
- “Yes we need growth, but, no, your ideas for growth are beyond our capabilities.”
Depending on who is involved and how those individuals operate, the time involved to reach these end-points could be minutes or months. A “maybe” is not an end, it is a continuation, extension, or hiatus. There is an understanding–on both sides–that the dialogue will continue or resume.
Recently ending a lengthy run for the development of 3Ms “Post-it” as the most overused business cliche is the Google 20 per cent rule, whereby employees must devote one day a week to unrelated projects. This could easily be termed “maybe time,” which would allow those bringing forward the above ideas to:
- Continue exploring future possibilities for “this partnership” to take shape;
- Tinker with the current offerings to recreate relevance with an existing market segment; and
- Examine the fluidity of our capabilities to explore novel growth strategies.
The power of “maybe” is in accepting that no one knows for sure. Decisiveness is necessary, but can at times be limiting. There are times when keeping too many options open becomes counter productive. Given the speed at which things change, one might expect an increased need for decision. I would argue that with the state of constant flux, some things may benefit from being able to simmer for a little while. Maybe time let’s these things ripen… or rot.
I have run into friends and colleagues whose strongest motivation was to combat a perception that he or she “couldn’t” do something. Maybe time legitimizes a pursuit that would either be done “underground” or would be a nagging “shoulda” when things inevitably turn south. Passionate and motivated employees will likely make their own maybe time, but will appreciate having it included among official activities.
To “get to maybe” also demands those in authority (formal or informal) to recognize and pull back from “gut feeling” decisions, when maybe is a viable option. Backing up from a knee-jerk decision takes self awareness or deft positioning of the “maybe” or both in order to further the dialogue.
No matter who is working together, the right ideas can emerge if information flows well. At different stages “Yes,” “No” and “Maybe” from all sides of the interaction can support that information flow. Go ahead, call me naive.
I was called “naive” this past week during a conversation with a client.
The context of the comment was skeptical rather than critical because I had suggested that it was possible to have productive conflict conversations where teams neither like nor trust each other. My optimism/naivety comes in no small part from three books, whose titles and approaches complement. Below is the list, and at the risk of minimizing each work’s unique contribution, I provide one essential take-away from each:
- Getting to Yes: Use objective criteria as support; be receptive to objective support for the other position.
- The Power of the Positive No: Distill what is unacceptable (e.g. your “No”); pursue the acceptable/desirable.
- Getting to Maybe: Dialogue creates opportunities; extend the dialogue by latching onto the “Maybes”
So how does this help a conflicting senior team discussion when all niceties and “benefit of the doubt” are long gone?
You don’t have to have “the answer” (e.g. the Win/Win “Yes”) to provide support to a position. Those at the top of the org chart should be prepared to explain their rational, even if it is: “I don’t know for sure, but I think we need to do something and this approach is closest to the strategy that we are all working towards.”
MAJOR ASSUMPTION #1: One hopes that this can be correctly interpreted as, “If you don’t want to do this, you will have to change my mind.” Our org-chart topper has to be truly open to having their mind changed, provided the counter proposal is grounded in objective information… no matter who brings it forth.
MAJOR ASSUMPTION #2: One also hopes the dissenting second-in-command has intrinsic motivation for the venture to succeed. This motivation doesn’t have to be financial, but certainly could be based on self-serving profit sharing. It could also be interest in job security, emotional investment in the project/team/venture, pride in overcoming a challenge, etc.
Remove either of those assumptions and hope for a quality result is, indeed, naive.
If you are the team CEO, project head, team lead, etc., are you really open to dissenting opinion from those that report to you? If you are not ready to listen, you better be “enlightened.”
If you are on the team and you don’t like the direction: (1) are you motivated to express your dissent (as opposed to holding out for a personally satisfying “I told you so” opportunity); and (2) are you prepared to back up the position to move from “I told you so” to “I tried to show you so” with objective support?
Look up or forward to thoughts on “No” and “Maybe.”
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