White Board Philosophy
Back in the Nineties, I would have many meetings in my office, as well as visitors internal and external, executives, subordinates, and casual drop-ins, all marching through my space in a daily parade of corporate humanity. I got the idea of unobtrusively finding out their views on various issues that I was thinking about. In one corner of my office whiteboard, I would write a question and under it, list one or two possible answers. I never mentioned it, but as the meetings ended and people filed out, they would often stop to read the question, and then add a response of their own. They noticed, and wanted to be a part of the process. Here are 3 examples of my “Whiteboard Philosophy:”:
1. The Question: “A asks B a question. What might A really want?”
1 A is teaching B (Socratic Method).
2 A is testing to see if B knows the answer.
3 A wants to verify an answer already received from C.
4 A wants to flatter B; acknowledge his importance.
5 A is trying to establish rapport with B; to learn about B.
6 A is seizing the initiative, catching B off-guard, putting B on the defense.
7 A wants to report to D that B was asked.
8 A is asking a preamble to the real question, not yet disclosed.
9 A hopes to unnerve B; get B to over-answer and divulge something
10 A wants to intimidate or demean B
11 A is making a rhetorical statement; B’s answer is unimportant.
12 A really just wants B’s answer.
2. Bosses to Beware of: In my experience, the worst type of boss was the boss who was unsure of himself and tried to cover that insecurity with bullying, a mean-spirited nature, and/or an inability to express themselves without resorting to tired old clichés. What bosses set off your warning systems?
1 Any boss who refers to himself in the third person.
2 Any boss who begins a meeting with some version of: “Look to your right. Look to your left. One of you won’t be here in six months.”
3 Any boss who introduces a difficult, stupid or unnecessary project and says: “Let’s do the job and have some fun.”
4 Any boss who accepts any kind of management praise by saying: “It’s not just me. It’s the little people.”
5 Any boss who uses nouns as verbs (“Let us solution that problem”), or uses trite clichés (“Remember: A fish dies by the head).
6 Any boss who uses a quotation from the movie “Patton,” or imitates the Patton speech in front of the flag. It is old, hackneyed, and (I think) treasonous.
7 Any boss who can’t establish a subcommittee without calling them “Corporate Seals,” “Company Ninjas,” or even “Tiger Teams.”
8 Any boss whose first response to a disaster is: “I wasn’t informed.”
9 Any boss who ever says anything remotely like: “I shouldn’t be involved in that …. At my level.”
10 Any boss who makes a simple instruction sound like it came directly from the Board of Directors, or a major shareholder vote.
11. Any boss who routinely blocks subordinates from exposure topside.
12. Any boss who delegates responsibility, but not authority.
13. Any boss who bad-mouths his predecessor
3. Why Work Long Hours? This is yet another of my whiteboard questions. This time, I wrote: “Why would anyone work extremely long hours on a regular and continuing basis?” The crowds responded:
1 Overtime: They want the extra money.
2 It’s an Emergency Situation (business-wise, war, famine, etc.)
3 They’re milking the System: They’re paid hourly when they should be on salary.
4 Ineffective: They’re in over their heads.
5 Type A’s with no family, no home, nothing else to do.
6 Fanatics, Zealots, Workaholics, people with a cause.
7 Slaves, prisoners, people under duress.
8 Means to an end: Power, prominence, promotion, continued employment.
9 Have unrealistic work loads.
10 Fear, Insecurity, etc.
11 They are concealing something from discovery