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Focus on the Question

by Randall Craig on February 17, 2010

Filed in: Blog, Make It Happen Tipsheet, Strategy

Tagged as: , , ,

Whenever there is uncertainty, we look for answers. We investigate alternatives, and then choose a course of action. Often, however, we are unsatisfied with the results, or have a sinking feeling that we’ve missed a key piece of information along the way.

Albert Einstein had an interesting approach to this: “If I had 20 days to solve a problem, I would take 19 days to define it.” Or said another way: to get to the right answers, you need to ask the right questions.

While common sense and experience might suggest what these questions should be, we don’t always have the requisite experience. (Or the common sense?) Thankfully, many of these questions are embedded within Analytical Frameworks, and can easily be applied to the problem at hand. Some of the frameworks may be familiar to you, others not. For more information on each, just Google each of the framework’s names.

Examples of corporately-oriented analytical frameworks:

  • 4P marketing analysis: Price, Product, Promo, and Place.
  • Consumer analysis: Who/what/where/when/why/how.
  • SWOT: Strengths/Weaknesses/Opportunities/Threats.
  • Porter’s 5 forces: Supplier power, threat of substitutes, buyer power, barriers to entry, rivalry.
  • Internal vs External Factors.
  • PEST: Political/Economic/Social/ Technological.
  • Fixed vs Variable cost analysis.

Examples of personally-oriented analytical frameworks:

  • Job Quality Checklist: When to leave your job.
  • Personal Balance Sheet: How to evaluate and set your work-life balance objectives.

Of course, just because you might know and use one of these frameworks, doesn’t mean that you ignore your “gut” – it just means that you have more questions to choose from, and more avenues to explore.

This week’s action item: When faced with a critical decision, don’t immediately rush to conclusions, but focus on the questions instead. Whether you use analytical frameworks or not, asking great questions is the best way to get a great answer – and great results.

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)


Meeting Magic

by Randall Craig on August 14, 2007

Filed in: Blog, Make It Happen Tipsheet, Time management

Tagged as: , ,

How many useless meetings have you attended? And how many have you been in charge of? Whether the meeting is a team status review, sales pitch, or interview, following a structured approach can make an appreciable difference. Consider this framework:

  • Define the purpose of the meeting: Before you even consider scheduling, define for yourself what the best outcome of the meeting will be. “The meeting will be successful if we ___________ “. At the end of the meeting, you can double check to see if the objective is met.
  • Plan the agenda (and distribute it). If participants understand how the meeting will be played out, they will be better able to prepare. Furthermore, developing the agenda based on the meeting purpose helps determine who should be invited.
  • Invite the right people. No one will show up unless they are invited. If the purpose of the meeting is to make a decision, then the decision-makers must be in the room.
  • Give Pre-work. Asking people to prepare – or at least review work that you have prepared – will mean that everyone hits the ground running.
  • Start and end the meeting on time. Keeping to the schedule shows respect for people’s time and priorities. If you’re late for a job interview, you probably will not get the job. Why should our mutual expectations change once we’re on the job?
  • Set expectations and rules of order. Will the meeting be free-wheeling and informal, or be managed with Robert’s Rules of Order?
  • Facilitate professionally. Great facilitation ensures that everyone participates, that the agenda is addressed, and that the meeting objectives are met.
  • Take minutes and note action-items. If you think that minutes are not required, maybe the meeting isn’t either? Minutes document the discussions, decisions, and resulting action items.
  • Follow-up. Check with people just after the meeting to make sure they have what they need to move forward. Then circle back later to check status on their action-items.

While this framework is designed for regular business meetings, with some minor adjustments it also works for job interviews and performance reviews.

This week’s action item: Look in your calendar, and commit to incorporating at least some of these items into your next meeting. If it isn’t your meeting, reach out to the organizer, and make some suggestions: why not ask for the agenda or volunteer to take minutes? Or better yet, point them to this Tipsheet, and make some meeting magic.

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)