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Courage - The Key Business Value

by Rick Baker
On May 10, 2008

Courage is our company’s Key Value.

In summary, we have chosen Courage for our Key Value because:

  1. Courage enables Self-Knowledge and

  2. When it is backed by Courage, Self-Knowledge can be the foundation of most, if not all, other major values, traits, qualities, and attributes that contribute to character.

If our personal value systems are like dominoes then Courage must be the first domino of desirable character. When it comes to personal character, no other domino can take the place of Courage.


Dominoes fall in sequence…






That domino sequence was simplified…in practice, it would be a more complicated sequence:






Here I mean ‘Self-Education’ in its broadest sense. It includes other dominoes like introspection and [if we want it to] autosuggestion [self-talk]. The main point is, when Courage is present Self-Confidence can grow. If we remove Courage then Self-Confidence cannot grow. Courage enables Self-Confidence. With dedication, Self-Confidence can be self-taught. Coaches can help us understand the dominoes but they cannot give them to us. We have to create our own dominoes and we have to use them regularly.

The process of developing Self-Confidence only works if it is backed by Courage.



Self-Confidence is a ‘great enabler’.


Courage is the ‘great enabler’. 




We may have different views about the routes the dominoes of personal character take.

But, we should agree Courage enables some very-positive things…




























Considering all these dominoes linked to Courage, it is easy to see...

Courage enables positive Change  



Footnote:  In his 1937 classic, ‘Think and Grow Rich’, Napoleon Hill selected ‘Unwavering Courage” as the #1 attribute of Leadership. 


Marketing | Spirited Leaders | Values: Personal Values

Seeking Simple

by Rick Baker
On May 1, 2008

Synchronicity always causes me to pause and reflect.


For example: I was browsing Bryan and Joyce's (2007) book 'Mobilizing Minds' when I came across a section titled 'Unproductive Complexity'. I had just written an e-mail, in response to a question. In my response e-mail I had talked about how it seems to me people frequently take simple things and make them or view them as complex...that is, 'making mountains out of molehills'. We were discussing a 3rd party's communication with us and it seemed to me that party was really over-complicating the matter at hand.

Shortly after, I was reading the Mobilizing Minds section titled Unproductive Complexity, which began as follows: ‘For a while in the 1990s, we thought that digital technology would enable us to overcome our communication challenges.' Facts and figures were provided by the authors. And, they stated the following: 'In a 2005 survey conducted by the McKinsey Quarterly, of senior and top executives, 60 percent said their company's size and complexity have made it somewhat difficult, or much more difficult, to capture opportunities than it was just 5 years ago.'


This struck me with synchronicity.


As I read on...'The problem is that today companies rely on a model designed for the 20th century, one that depends on vertical, top-down hierarchical authority. The problem is that in the 21st century, the key to creating value is not just in providing top-down direction, but also in enabling and motivating self-directed, thinking-intensive professionals and managers to work with one another horizontally across the firm.'

The book referred to big companies, success-limiting silo organizational structures, band-aid matrix overlays, and troubles due to hierarchy.


It seems to me the problem of complexity should be approached in an as-simple-as-possible way.

Considering…'The problem is that in the 21st century, the key to creating value is not just in providing top-down direction, but also in enabling and motivating self-directed, thinking-intensive professionals and managers to work with one another horizontally across the firm.'

At first reading, the advice of that quoted sentence seems to be on the right track.

I don't think it is new or provocative advice. It is different wording but the various messages in that advice have been stated by others and they were as pertinent 25 years ago as they are now, in the 21st century.

We do need to set adding value as the key goal of business. We do need top-down direction for order and control as we achieve that goal. And, we do want to have as many self-directed, thinking-intensive professionals and managers as we can. And, of course, we want them working together in harmony to achieve corporate goals. All of that makes sense.

Put in other words...

Our organizations need effective hierarchy and we need to employ talented, self-starters who work together effectively, add value, and achieve desired goals.


How do we do that?


A Question to Consider:

Can we handle the complex better by concentrating on the simple?


Considering the excerpt, '... enabling and motivating self-directed, thinking-intensive professionals and managers to work with one another horizontally across the firm'

While we probably agree that piece of theory is directionally correct, how do we put it into practice?

We could assume people ‘get it’ and so they will naturally be able to take action to make ‘it’ happen. That could be a very dangerous assumption. It could be very dangerous for big, well-established organizations. It could be even more dangerous for smaller, more-entrepreneurial organizations.


That set of words contains considerable complexity, for example:

  • enabling and motivating
  • self-directed, thinking-intensive professionals and managers
  • work with one another horizontally across the firm

These things strike me as complex because they raise many questions, for example:

  • Can one person motivate another person?
  • If a person is self-directed, thinking-intensive, and professional then does that person need external motivation?
  • How do people successfully 'work with one another horizontally across the firm'?


Some thoughts on how we could help people work more effectively with one another...

  • have a simple, clear, and concise Corporate Vision
  • have a simple, clear, and concise Corporate Mission
  • have Corporate Values and define them in simple, clear, and concise words
  • display those Corporate Vision, Mission, and Values at high-traffic areas of the office
  • regularly, both internally and externally, have conversations about those Corporate Vision, Mission, and Values
  • state Corporate Goals in simple, clear, concise, and SMART words, repeat them frequently at Business Unit, Department, one-on-one, and other meetings
  • state Business-Unit Goals in simple, clear, concise, and SMART words, repeat them frequently and explain how those Business-Unit Goals align with the Corporate Goals
  • state Department Goals in simple, clear, concise, and SMART words, repeat them frequently and explain how those Department Goals align with the Business-Unit Goals and with the Corporate Goals
  • provide Role Descriptions in simple, clear, and concise words
  • state Individual-Employee Goals in simple, clear, concise, and SMART words and explain how the Individual-Employee Goals align with the Department Goals, with the Business-Unit Goals, and with the Corporate Goals
  • at the Corporate, Business-Unit, Department, and Individual-Employee “levels”, review performance regularly, under defined process, using simple, clear, and concise words.
  • help Individual Employees understand how their roles and their performance impact on others, directly and indirectly, throughout and outside the company.


In addition to these basic things,


Create ways to help people understand how they and others fit in.


Perhaps, start by looking at your business as a jigsaw puzzle. That jigsaw puzzle can be created by using 10 pieces, 100 pieces, 1,000 pieces or 10,000 pieces or more. 10 pieces could represent the number of pieces you could use to describe your Corporate picture. It’s a big picture, so you could choose to use many more than 10 puzzle pieces, but don’t. Choose to use 10 big puzzle pieces. While some will argue “That kind of puzzle would be worse than childish: a big colourful 10-piece puzzle would be something one would give to an infant.”

That is true.

It is also true that communication and branding experts spend careers seeking the essence, the concise, the clear, and the simple message in an effort to truly connect with other people. While, communication and branding experts are doing that sales experts are teaching about 30-Second Elevator Commercials.

It seems to me these people are seeking simple

If 10 puzzle pieces is the right number for Corporate-level picture/puzzles then perhaps 100 pieces would be required to complete a Corporate puzzle that contains Business-Unit details. If the company doesn’t have Business Units then perhaps 100 pieces would be required to create the picture containing some Department details. That is: if we need 10 puzzle pieces to adequately show the Corporate picture then we will need at least that many pieces to describe each Business Unit and each Department. So, when we add the Business Units together or when we add the Departments together or when we add both of those we will have something like 100 puzzle pieces…that’s the order of magnitude. Or, as an alternative, maybe having more detail is important…maybe we need 1,000 pieces. Regardless, as we construct the more-detailed picture/puzzle we have two choices.

  1. we can keep the size of the puzzle pieces the same and so the whole picture/puzzle gets a lot bigger or
  2. we can shrink the size of the pieces so the whole picture/puzzle remains more-or-less the same size

The picture/puzzle metaphor takes on another leap in order of magnitude when we move from Business-Unit-level detail to Individual-Employee detail. Instead of thinking in terms of a 10 piece or a 100 piece or even a 1,000 piece picture/puzzle, we need to think in terms of a 10,000 piece or a 100,000 piece picture puzzle. And, as the details and complexity expand, we have two choices:

Choice #1: we can look at the entire picture while losing the ability to look at the tiny individual pieces or

Choice #2: we can look at some of the tiny individual pieces while losing the ability to see the entire picture.


If we step back and think about it, we are likely OK with that 2-choice limitation…as long as we can alter our choice whenever we wish.

We know Choice #1 is the most-desired answer in certain situations while Choice #2 is the most-desired answer in other situations.

The problem is – in practice, we get mixed up. We regularly make the wrong choice.


Missing the forest for the trees.

From the Individual Employee’s perspective...

That old metaphor has some meaning in this picture/puzzle metaphor. If we choose to freeze the size of the puzzle pieces so we can see the details then our business picture/puzzle is huge. The picture is so huge we cannot see most of it let alone all of it…so we miss the forest for the trees. Conversely, if we freeze the size of the picture/puzzle so we can keep the big picture in focus then the pieces become so tiny we have no ability to see and understand them. What’s worse, as Individual Employees we lose the ability to understand how our personal pieces fit in our company’s picture/puzzle. When this happens there are many negative implications such as: our orientation is at risk; our connection is at risk; our focus is at risk; our ability to know corporate culture is at risk; our ability to work in harmony is at risk; our ability to add value is at risk, etc.

To excel as Individual Employees we need to understand our pieces of the puzzle and we need to see the big picture. We need to do both. But, we need to construct our picture/puzzles with care.

We need to plan the picture/puzzles.

To excel as Individual Employees we need to understand certain other Individual Employee`s puzzle pieces and how those pieces fit together with our own and how they fit in the big picture. At the detail level, likely of most importance, we need to understand how our pieces mesh with our boss` pieces.

To excel as Individual Employees we need to accept we will never be able to see or understand all the pieces in the puzzle. Even if that were possible, it would be inefficient and ineffective. So, we must trust those numerous other pieces are either in their proper places or moving toward that direction.


Getting back to that quote from Mobilizing Minds

'The problem is that in the 21st century, the key to creating value is not just in providing top-down direction, but also in enabling and motivating self-directed, thinking-intensive professionals and managers to work with one another horizontally across the firm.'

How do the people and the various pieces they bring to our business picture/puzzle do top-down direction, enable others, and work with one another horizontally across the firm? [Note: I have intentionally left out the motivating pieces - that’s a whole other puzzle.]

It seems to me the answer is we must encourage our people to 'seek simple' and not to 'express complex'.

Every Individual Employee should understand and be able to describe his/her business’ Corporate picture in simple terms…the Vision Statement, the Mission Statement, the Corporate Values, the Corporate Goals, etc.

Every Individual Employee should understand and be able to describe his/her Business-Unit picture [if applicable] and Department picture…in simple terms…starting with Department Goals.

Every Individual Employee should understand and be able to describe all the other Business-Units [if applicable] and Departments in the Corporate picture. And, every Individual Employee should understand and be able to describe how his/her Department fits in the Corporate picture and how his/her Department is related to other Departments. The same applies to Individual-Employee roles vis-à-vis the roles of certain other Individual Employees. We must always keep the big picture in focus…zooming out regularly to make sure we don’t lose it. And, at the same time, for certain selected areas of the picture/puzzle we must be able to zoom in so we can see the details of our individual connections.

Obviously, a person’s ability to understand and express his/her knowledge of the big-picture and his/her unique ‘individual picture’ will depend on many factors. For example, on average new employees will be less capable of understanding and expressing these pictures than more-experienced employees.

Regardless, the Corporate Culture should encourage proficiency.

To promote picture clarity between Departments and between Individual Employees, we need to discuss the work, the impact of the work, and the flow of the work…from work donors, to work doers, to value recipients.

So, we need to catalogue and understand work-process and work-flow systems.

Work needs to be systematized, to the extent that is possible and reasonable. When we discuss work-process and work-flow systems we need to do it in concise, clear, and simple ways. Discussions need to be frequent, and they need to be repeated. To show the logic trail for work-flow know-how we need to start with Corporate Goals. Then we need to zoom in on Department Goals and inter-Department Goals. We need to zoom in even farther to show how Individual Employee Roles are connected…work-flow impact, work-flow cause and effect.

As we plan and construct the pictures of our business we need to be seeking simple.

Then, when we do the zooming in to our detail pictures and the zooming out to the corporate big picture – as we do our daily jobs well – we will be finding the value that seeking simple ensures.


Entrepreneur Thinking | Seeking Simple!


by Rick Baker
On Apr 14, 2008

In one of my dictionaries, a Gage Canadian Dictionary, the word 'innovation' is defined as:

  1. A change made in the established way of doing things
  2. The making of changes; act of bringing in new things or new ways of doing things: He is strongly opposed to innovation of any kind.

At the front cover of his book 'Innovation', Tom Gorman uses the following Peter Drucker quote:

"Innovation is the specific instrument...that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth."

At Chapter 1, Gorman uses the title, 'Innovation = Problem Solving'. And, in a caption that appears to be a dictionary excerpt, Gorman provides the following definition:

in • no • va • tion

  1. A new product, service, process, or approach to a problem
  2. A new way of thinking about something
  3. The act of innovating, as in "Innovation occurs in every culture"

I know from recent experience, the discussion of innovation can very quickly get deeply philosophical. Here are some questions, which capture some of the differences in the ways people think about innovation:

  • Must innovation, by definition, be a physical/tangible thing? 
  • Must innovation, by definition, be linked to change?
  • Should innovation, by definition, be linked to problem solving?
  • What's the difference between creativity and innovation?

Perhaps, creativity describes new things that can be enjoyed for their own sake rather than for any change they may bring about? If that is the case then change may be an important facet of the definition of innovation but of little or no importance when considering a definition of creativity?

In other words - perhaps we should acknowledge utility is less tangible for creativity and more tangible for innovation?

Perhaps, for creativity utility can be so nebulous it should not even be a facet of definition?

Are creativity and innovation mutually exclusive? Or, is one a subset of the other? If so then which one is the broader thing...which is closer to concept?


Business and Innovation:

Overall, I'm wondering if one of the largest rifts between our thoughts about innovation is around technology. Must a business innovation contain some aspect of technology or can a business innovation exist independent of technology?

For business purposes, would it make sense to define innovation as 'a thing or action that solves a business problem'?

Maybe we should state innovation - a thing or action - must have the effect of creating a change...or, should we be more specific and state innovation must create a change of commercial value?

The 'change' part of that sort of definition is consistent with my Gage Canadian Dictionary. And change is simple and it is a broad enough thing (say, a concept) so it should not generate any confusion or controversy. However, the 'adding commercial value' part isn't so simple...it is a qualification but it is a subjective one. My Gage Canadian Dictionary does not express the nature of change it expresses in its definition of innovation. While we may want to assume Gage Canadian Dictionary intends the change to be positive rather than negative or of value rather than valueless, that isn't stated in my Gage Canadian Dictionary. In fact, the sample italicized in my dictionary definition - "He is strongly opposed to innovation of any kind" - provides a clear message that some people are opposed to innovation...presumably, that's the case because those people do not see innovation as either positive or value-adding. Or, perhaps the opposition is simply a resistance to change.


For business, could we start by considering the following type of definition:

          Business Innovation (def'n):

          A thing done or provided to add value by solving a customer's problem or satisfying a customer's need.


Embedded in this definition are:

  1. A business innovation must be tangible...a thought or an idea isn't enough to be considered a business innovation. Only when that thought or idea is converted into physical reality - a product, a service of action, etc - can it be considered an innovation. 
  2. An innovation in business begins with a customer need or problem...all business innovations should be traced to a specific, identified customer need or problem. 
  3. An innovation in business will cause and be a change. That change will be measured in terms of value added from the customer's perspective...as a specific, identified customer need is satisfied or as a specific, identified customer problem is solved. 
  4. So, to qualify as a business innovation the thing must be customer-centric. 
  5. A business innovation need not be tied to technology. Technological innovations in business would be a subset of business innovations. 
  6. Potential questions about 'direct' and 'indirect' value, as seen from the customer's perspective, questions about the ability to discover with precision customer's needs, and questions about the ability to measure the value added from the customer's perspective, etc. (Such is the essence and challenge of Marketing).


If we can agree on a definition of Innovation then we will have a solid footing upon which we can build as we answer other important questions, such as:

  • how do we want to define the relationship between innovation and entrepreneurship?
  • how do we want to nurture and promote business-innovation processes in our workplaces?
  • how do we place ourselves in our customers' shoes and with precision understand their needs and problems then deliver measurable value through innovation?


Definitions - Spirited Words Defined | Entrepreneur Thinking | Marketing


by Rick Baker
On Mar 25, 2008
TurnAhead: def’n

For businesses experiencing distress, TurnAhead means delivering a planned combination of a turnaround and a leap ahead to a much-more profitable place
TurnAhead Concept: def’n

In 100 words of less, our idea of the problem and how we will turn it ahead to an opportunity.
TurnAhead Proposition: def’n

In 75 words or less, our S.M.A.R.T. explanation of the problem and how we will turn it ahead to an opportunity.
[S.M.A.R.T =  Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Bounded]

Designed to help people focus on the very important part of business, the territory known as:
TARget MARkets, VALue PROpositions, Differential Advantage - TARMARVALPRODA.


Definitions - Spirited Words Defined

Some thoughts on‘Good to Great’, ‘The Tipping Point’, and Business Start-Up or TurnAhead

by Rick Baker
On Mar 24, 2008

If a good business idea exists and the right people to implement it are in place then there is a chance to attract money, create and build a successful business.

The good idea part and the having the right people part were captured by Jim Collins in ‘Good to Great’…‘Hedgehogs’ and ‘Buses’. Jim Collins used the flywheel metaphor to capture the thought - success builds momentum as people push together.

Malcolm Gladwell believes business success can achieve tipping points, where epidemic-like growth can occur. Three ingredients are required: Mavens, Connectors, and Salespeople.

Some of our thinking about how to succeed at business start-up or business TurnAhead borrows thoughts from these two authors.

How does this play out?

How might one borrow thoughts from ‘Good to Great’ and ‘The Tipping Point’ then go about building a successful start-up business or doing a business TurnAhead?

Perhaps, the answer is clearer when we split the business activity into 3 separate components…



To use Jim Collins’ Hedgehog Concept, we first need a business idea. It has to be an idea people can get passionate about. If the ambition is to grow a large/great business then people need to think big, like – “What can we do better than anyone else in the world?”   But, whether large/great/best-in-the-world or not…how does one go about starting that business? Let’s assume we agree a good first step is to establish the Hedgehog Concept for the business…ie, clearly establish:


That sets the framework for the business – it is the overall strategy for the business. The overall strategy must be set and done. In other words, there can be no second-guessing of the Hedgehog.

With the Hedgehog done, what other strategic work should a business do?

The Hedgehog establishes the strategic footings… what about the strategic foundation walls? What do those next-level strategic supports look like? How much? How much detail?

What are the right next-level strategic questions?

The answer: we need to begin by thinking about the People.

Using the Collins’ metaphors:
  • Does the business have the right people on the bus?
  • Are those people pushing the flywheel as required


Business start-up or TurnAhead will be relatively fast-and-easy if the business in question has perfectly established its Hedgehog and filled its bus with perfect people…the flywheel will spin ever faster…and faster and faster, maybe even to tipping-point speed.

But, what if the Hedgehog is set, the people are on the bus, and the flywheel doesn’t seem to be spinning and accelerating as quickly as it should be?

What is wrong?

What’s the problem?
  • Is it a Strategic weakness?
  • Is it People problems?
  • Is it something else?
  • Is it some combination of the above?

Let’s assume an audit proves the strategy is sound…let’s assume the Hedgehog is a good one.

If the ideas are sound then the next consideration is the people. Using Collins’ words – “Are the right people on the bus?”


Embedded in all this, the business ideas/strategies are captured before and at statements and pictures called the Hedgehog. Those ideas are the spark of the business.  The spark inspires passion, passion-in-people…that’s part of the Hedgehog. The spark must inspire passion in a sufficient amount of people. When enough people are inspired by individual or shared passion those people will act and they will act in ways that align with the Hedgehog, they will start the flywheel spinning…in other words, their combined action will cause the company to achieve its desired goals. When that’s happening, Collins would describe it as – “The right people are on the bus!”


But, how would a business go about finding then putting the right people on the bus?

Or, how would a business go about making people changes if it becomes evident the right people are not on the bus?

Nobody will argue - People are the critical aspect of success.

Gladwell talked about 3 types of people who seem to be present when there is a tipping:
  • Mavens: technical specialists who seem to love to both know and talk about the gory details
  • Connectors: people-persons who introduce unrelated people who then do commerce together
  • Salespeople: naturally charismatic people who persuade other people with ease

As a business seeks people for its bus, or as a business goes about trying to make people changes when it appears the seats of the bus are not properly filled, perhaps the three people-categories above can be of help.

If I understand Gladwell accurately, Mavens, Connectors, and Salespeople stand out as noticeably different from other people. They possess qualities that make them important to businesses that aspire to rapid and/or large growth. If a business employs these 3 types of people then the chances for success and even tipping increase. Implicit in this, I am assuming the people embrace the business’ Hedgehog.

Success Formula:
Collins’ Hedgehog + Gladwell’s (Mavens, Connectors & Salespeople) = Business Success


In words:
If a business has an accurately-thought-out Hedgehog and employs enough Mavens, Connectors, and Salespeople then the business will achieve business success.


To ensure the right people are on the bus, the qualities of Mavens, Connectors, and Salespeople should be understood and care should be taken during recruiting to make sure the people possess these qualities.

Obviously, other skills and traits will be required to perform the specific functions of the specific business…these could be described as Industry-Specific technical skills and traits. These people skills and people traits will vary from business to business. These skills and traits can cover a broad spectrum…from super-technical speciality to general business acumen.

What if the business does not employ Mavens, Connectors, and Salespeople…can it still succeed?

It seems to me:
  • A business cannot achieve quick or large success if it does not have more than one talented salesperson on the bus. The salespeople do not necessarily have to be as naturally-gifted and impressive as those described by Gladwell, however, it is tough to argue that Salespeople of that calibre will both hasten and expand business success.
  • A business may be able to succeed without Mavens and Connectors on the bus, however, people on the bus must at least know how to connect with Mavens and Connectors. I would describe these people who know how to connect as Ally Seekers.

Ally Seekers

Are Ally Seekers salespeople like Gladwell describes Salespeople?
  • Perhaps.
  • While they may or may not be Salespeople, Ally Seekers must possess a strong desire and some skill at seeking out other people who can ‘fill the commercial gaps’. Ally Seekers do not need to be naturally charismatic…as in born salespeople. Ally Seekers do not need to be persuasive…ie, persuasion being the key skill of the salesperson. Ally Seekers need to have pleasant-enough personalities and they need to believe people [only people] get things done. For example, if the business is lacking salespeople then that business’ Ally Seekers would have their antennae out – looking for salespeople.
  • While Ally Seekers do not have to be Gladwell-described Salespeople, they can be Gladwell-described Salespeople. Salespeople would make excellent Ally Seekers.
  • Ally Seekers may become very skilled at making connections and that is a key aspect of gaining trust and a network of contacts. All of this could cause Ally Seekers to want to develop skills at sales. So, Ally Seekers could be Salespeople-in-training.
Are Ally Seekers technical experts like Mavens?
  • Likely, no.
  • Ally Seekers do not have to possess the technical or detailed knowledge as Mavens do. Ally Seekers need to know how to find [connect with] Mavens. With the easy-availability of information, an Ally Seeker could prepare Maven-seeking plans then sit at a desk most of the day scouring the Internet…seeking Mavens.
  • Over time, Ally Seekers may become well known. They may become well known for specific technical expertise and they may be thrilled to possess detailed information. They may become Mavens.
Are Ally Seekers true Connectors?
  • No.
  • If I understand Gladwell correctly, Connectors know huge numbers of people…like a multiple of 10 times what average people know. Gladwell’s Connectors strike me as shotgunners who know where their pellets hit so they can sharpshoot at will. Or, Connectors are connectors who have numerous rifles and they are skilled at shooting all of them at a variety of different targets…so, when someone calls them they pick the right rifle and use it to connect with the desired target. Whereas, Ally Seekers need to be skilled at shooting certain guns at certain targets.
  • Ally Seekers must be proactive, whereas, it seems Gladwell’s Connectors do not…people come to Gladwell’s Connectors because people know they are connectors by reputation. Conversely, Ally Seekers may have little or no incoming interactions.
  • It is not clear how Gladwell’s Connectors became the Connectors they are. Clearly, they are much more gregarious than the average person. If an Ally Seeker sincerely wants to be a champion of the Ally-Seeking role then certainly, over time, an Ally Seeker has the opportunity to build a large network of contacts. Ally Seekers may be Connectors-in-training.


  Collins’ Hedgehog
Gladwell’s (Mavens, Connectors & Salespeople)
Ally Seekers     
Business Success


The bottom line is: Ally Seekers can fill the gaps where Mavens, Connectors, and Salespeople are lacking.



Entrepreneur Thinking

Communication has been a lively topic lately

by Rick Baker
On Mar 8, 2008
I've attended presentations on the topic and the matter is always a major consideration in the workplace. When the topic is communication, two thoughts keep coming to mind. The first is Steven Covey's Habit #5: “Seek First to Understand Then to be Understood” (“Seek First…”). The second is “What's In It For Me?(WIIFM?).

I don't know who coined the WIIFM? saying and its philosophy, however, I do know I have heard numerous business consultants instruct about it for several years. In summary, their instruction has been: when you deal with people don't lose track of the fact those people will always be thinking – “What's In It For Me?” I first heard the WIIFM? saying and its philosophy as a piece of Sales Instruction…ie, it was presented as part of a sales training course. The sales-training messages were: (1) when dealing with potential or existing customers the Salesperson must understand and never forget those people are always thinking "WIIFM?" and (2) in order to increase sales success the Salesperson must adjust his/her behaviour in order to address the customers WIIFM?.


At the surface, that logic could be accepted.
  • The customer needs a reason to purchase.
  • By asking himself/herself WIIFM?, the customer justifies a decision, ‘to buy or not to buy’.
  • If the Salesperson is skilled at adjusting his/her behaviour in a pre-planned way then that could increase the likelihood of sales success.

On the other hand, those same sales consultants insisted emotions play a large role when buyers buy.

So, perhaps there were two psychological conclusions: 

  1. buyers employ logical thought (WIIFM?) as they make purchasing decisions and
  2. buyers' emotions often (or is it always?) influence their purchasing decisions.

I'm suspecting the combination of these two psychological conclusions spawned the sales doctrine that can be summed up as ‘Find the Buyer's Pain and Make That Pain Go Away’ 

Put another way, Salespeople were instructed to become diagnosticians, something like Doctors...Salespeople were told to diagnose the customer’s pain and prescribe the remedy. And, of course, that would lead to making the sale. We were instructed, however, the Salesperson's role differed from that of the Doctor because the Doctor used logic and precedent to do the diagnosis of an already-existing pain while the Salesperson had to figure out how to cause the customer to feel the pain.

I mean – the sales training taught us: 

  • the Salesperson had to guide communication in a manner that would induce the customer to truly experience emotional pain,
  • the customer would first gain awareness of the nature of that pain and then come to realize the remedy for that pain,
  • that remedy, of course, would be the service or product of the Salesperson, and
  • with one having induced the pain and the other having felt it and enjoyed its remedy, and with one having done the sale and the other having done the purchase, the seller and the buyer would have concluded a successful business-communication experience. 

That’s the sort of sales training that I heard when I first heard the WIIFM? philosophy.

Later, the use of WIIFM? instruction became more widespread. We were told it didn't just apply to customers, it applied to everyone in our workplace...indeed, some instructed us that it applied to all interpersonal relationships. Of specific concern, it applied to communication in the office and more-specifically it applied when bosses communicated with employees. Most recently, I've heard it applied in an even-more-specific way...we must be extra careful to make sure we don't lose track of WIIFM? when we deal with ‘Gen Y’ or are they ‘Millennial’ employees. (Whatever the right terminology is, I am referring to our youngest employees.)  

Covey’s Seek First to Understand Then to be Understood. This is certainly an insightful instruction. It is tremendous in theory but sometimes it can be tough to do in practice. For most of us the practice is tough because we have lots of great ideas we want to share with others. And, on top of that, sometimes we forget the value of listening. Listening is one of those good habits so it is easy to break. Regardless, for most communication it makes sense to try to understand the other person before you expect them to try to understand you.

If everyone tried to follow this Steven Covey Habit #5 then business communication would improve. That is - in general, business communication would improve. There would be situations where communication would not improve. In fact, in some situations the value of the communication could be neutered. At the risk of being ridiculous…consider the situation where the employee is running through the office screaming "FIRE!!!". Coworkers and even the boss might find the best course is to simply act by making a prompt exit from the building. One could argue that isn't just a ridiculous example, it doesn't contravene "Seek First..." because everyone would immediately understand what "FIRE!!!" means so no seeking of understanding would be required. On the other hand, the boss might be really busy at the time and he/she may be tempted to stand some ground and make sure the employee who is yelling “FIRE!!!” has a good reason for such an interruption. Regardless, each of us can come up with fair-and-reasonable examples of business situations where "Seek First..." is not the best way.  

Or, maybe that's not true? While I've heard many business consultants instruct about "Seek First...", about WIIFM?, and about both I've never heard one of them instruct if or when these ‘rules’ can be or should be broken.

Perhaps it goes without saying?  

Perhaps the instructors assume we know "Seek First..." and WIIFM? are guides and they expect people will use common sense to judge when these guides can be or should be set aside? But, I've never heard any instructor make that sort of comment. In fact, every time I've heard it taught, WIIFM? has been presented as if it is a hard-and-fast fact of life. The instruction seems to be: when we deal with people we must always recognize the other person is using What's In It For Me? as the measuring stick that dictates his/her interest in and reaction to what we are saying.

The WIIFM? philosophy provokes thought and questions.  

  • If WIIFM? prevails then how does an organization build teamwork?
  • If WIIFM? prevails then how should bosses communicate with the people who report to them?
  • If WIIFM? prevails then to what extent must the boss temper his/her personal WIIFM? needs in order to communicate successfully amidst the array of WIIFM? needs of his/her subordinates?  

Seek First to Understand Then to be Understood” and “What's In It For Me?” are interesting pieces of advice.

It seems to me "Seek First..." is a Habit that serves well in many communication situations. However, for business communication it must have some limitations.  

It seems to me the advice on "What's In It For Me?" is at least a bit out of control. One should not ignore the fact other people have needs. However, that's but one facet. Needs are relative. That's another facet and, in business, that facet will conflict with the philosophy and instructions of WIIFM?.

Twenty-five years ago, a boss taught me a variation of the “Golden Rule”...it was – “He Who Carries The Gold Makes The Rules”. Not having heard any advice on WIIFM?, I accepted that Golden Rule and went about trying to be the best subordinate I could be. Not having heard any advice on "Seek First...", I went about trying to understand my boss' requests...again, so I could be the best subordinate I could be.  

Perhaps it goes without saying, but I will say it anyhow...for most of us, the “Rules” we are taught will tend to influence our behaviour.

The WIIFM? approach to communication is a piece of advice that is grounded on a reasonable starting point. Other peoples’ needs are important. That grounding would be a much more useful starting point if it yielded philosophy that could be embraced as a two-way street. If both parties accepted they must adjust their communication to accommodate the other person's WIIFM? then the practice of the philosophy of WIIFM? might be able to generate much more communication value. However, it seems deeper exploration will show us just how oxymoronic the WIIFM? philosophy is.  

The way I am looking at it, the WIIFM? philosophy either:

  • works as a one-way street where one person must drive the car in the direction dictated by the other person or
  • fails to work as a two-way street because both drivers will always struggle to determine which direction they should point their car.

The One-Way WIIFM? Street: 

The way I've heard it taught, the WIIFM? philosophy works as a one-way street. The Salesperson is taught to adjust his/her behaviour to address the WIIFM? needs of the customer. And, the boss is taught to adjust his/her behaviour to address the WIIFM? needs of the subordinate. While nobody has clarified it, the one-way street starts with the Salesperson going through a personal what-are-my-needs exercise...”What's in it for me if I deal with this customer?” Then, the Salesperson must apply the WIIFM? philosophy during communication with the customer. Similarly, the boss' one-way street starts with his/her personal needs then moves to the subordinate's WIIFM?. Perhaps bosses and Salespeople will achieve greater success by traveling down these One-Way WIIFM? Streets?

The Two-Way WIIFM? Street: 

I have never heard an instructor or a consultant provide WIIFM? advice to both Salespeople and buyers or to both bosses and subordinates. I would be very interested to know if any buyers have received WIIFM? indoctrination…ie, have any buyers been told to make sure they consider ‘what's in it for the Salesperson?’ and ‘how can I adjust my behaviour to address the needs of the Salesperson?’ Also, I'd be interested to know if any consultants advise both subordinates and bosses, together, on how to employ the WIIFM? philosophy for communication. Under that joint education, subordinates would be taught to back their communication with thinking like ‘what's in it for my boss?’ and ‘how can I adjust my behaviour to address the needs of my boss?’

While I have serious doubts, for the moment let's assume the Two-Way WIIFM? Street can happen. Let’s assume both customers and Salespeople can learn how to employ the WIIFM? philosophy…attending to one another's needs. And, let’s assume subordinates and bosses can do the same thing. Every person seeks to understand the other and to adjust behaviour accordingly to ensure the needs of the other are addressed. At the surface, maybe that sounds reasonable? Maybe that sounds like a great way to go about communication? 

I don't think we need to spend too much time thinking about how good (or bad) this would be in practice. It is flawed at theory, well before practice. In fact, it seems the flaws of the Two-Way WIIFM? Street illustrate what could be fatal flaws in the construct of the WIIFM? philosophy.

Here are some steps in logic:

  • If WIIFM? generates better communication when one party in the communication employs it then surely even better communication will happen if it is embraced by both parties in the communication.
  • But, as stated in its name the foundation of the WIIFM? philosophy is - "What's in it for me?".
  • With that in mind we must conclude each of us will always start by thinking - "What's in it for me?". We will not start by thinking – “What’s in it for the other person?”. We will start by thinking – “What’s in it for me?” and with that established we will move to “What do I need to do to satisfy the WIIFM? needs of the other person?
  • Having gone through those two thinking steps we will then adjust our behaviour to accommodate the needs of the other…I would alter my behaviour to satisfy what I believe is your need while, at the same time, you would alter your behaviour to satisfy what you believe is my need.
  • Each of us would be playing a communication charade on the other while each of us would in fact only be truly motivated to satisfy our own needs.
  • Our tandem, self-imposed behaviour changes would simply be means to personal ends.

Each of us must be solely motivated to satisfy our own needs or nobody would have come up with this WIIFM? thinking in the first place.  

If that isn't true then it is logical to conclude the creators of the WIIFM? philosophy feel it only applies to one person in the communication. This appears to be the fact. If a Salesperson is communicating then the WIIFM? philosophy only applies to the customer. If a boss is communicating then the WIIFM? philosophy only applies to the subordinate.

WIIFM? is a One-Way Street communication philosophy. That street has a set direction. When the philosophy is applied it flows from the person who wants to cause change to the person who must do something in order to effect that change. 

Each of us in business must be motivated by our own needs. And, our business behaviour, whether natural/involuntary or constructed/thought-driven, is done to satisfy our own needs. If the teachers of WIIFM? philosophy don't agree with this then it seems to me their logic is flawed.

Or worse, they are promoting a curious form of caste-thinking, which works something like this: 

  • Salespeople are purer than customers. [Or, if it is preferred – Salespeople want to cause change while customer-buyers do not.]
  • Since they are purer, the behaviour of Salespeople is not driven by personal needs. Rather, Salespeople are solely motivated by the WIIFM? needs of their customers.
  • Salespeople are able to construct communication in a manner that enables them to determine customers’ needs…I mean deep-rooted emotional needs.
  • In order to satisfy those customers’ WIIFM? needs, the Salespeople perform behaviour specially constructed to guide the communication process in a manner that ends up satisfying the needs of their customers.

Similarly, bosses are purer than subordinates. Subordinates are stuck at WIIFM? while their bosses are solely trying to help them get all that subordinate WIIFM? need satisfied.  

No reasonable person will accept a philosophy that is based on caste-thinking as described above. So, it appears the foundation of the philosophy of WIIFM? is flawed. The starting point is accurate: people are motivated to satisfy their own needs and that motivation brings ‘what's in it for me?’ into every business communication. But, actually, to be accurate, it brings at least two separate pieces of ‘what's in it for me?’ thinking into each business communication...that is, one piece for each person involved in the communication.

Recognizing caste-thinking must not be behind the WIIFM? philosophy, it is highly unlikely the One-Way Street teachings will yield communication success. That is true because in the absence of caste-grounding the parties to a conversation will always be at odds. One party in the communication will be aware of his/her own needs and will adjust his/her behaviour to address his/her perception of the needs of the other person while that other person will be working to serve only his/her personal interests. Since no caste differences exist each party will be starting from the same place: that is – “My needs are most important to me”. Each party will have a more-or-less similar ability to perceive the needs of the other. That is, each person will have equal opportunity to employ the WIIFM? philosophy. However, only one will be doing it. At least, one person will be thinking only one person is doing it…that person being the one who received WIIFM? communication training. That person, apparently, will be engaging in the communication believing the WIIFM? training is providing him/her a leg up. Or, that person will be thinking – “My self-adjusted behaviour changes will enable me to accomplish my goals…and, yes, I believe the other party in the communication will not be adjusting his/her behaviour as I am doing”.

Even if it isn’t fatally flawed, I don’t think this What’s In It For Me? philosophy has much value.

Steven Covey provided better advice when he stated "Habit #5: Seek First To Understand Then To Be Understood".

Certainly, there will be times in business where this Habit #5 cannot be employed. In certain situations, bosses will have to provide instruction without seeking input or consensus from subordinates. We in business ought to be able to have some faith in bosses' good judgment. In other situations, it will be impractical or unacceptable to seek understanding of others. Some needs are personal and personal territory should be respected. And, time will be a factor. 

The 5th Covey Habit is good advice.  

Seek First To Understand Then To Be Understood is good advice because it:

  • recognizes every person has needs, so it enables us to work on a two-way street.
  • works on a one-way street. Even if one person in the communication refuses to follow or fail at performance of the 5th Habit, the communication will still have some chance of succeeding.
  • is balanced and that is a fair way to handle communication. It is fair to place a similar burden on each person in the communication.
  • works for subordinates as well as it works for bosses. There is no caste-thinking, no hierarchical lines separating who must give from who must receive.
  • works for customers as well as it works for salespeople. There is no caste-thinking, no lines separating who must give from who must receive.
  • promotes respect for others, without ignoring respect for self.
  • promotes listening. People like receiving that from others.
  • builds Value into communication and that in turn builds Value into business.


Change: Creating Positive Change | Communication: Improving Communication

Copyright © 2012. W.F.C (Rick) Baker. All Rights Reserved.