I asked a loaded question and got back exactly the answers I expected

Ramit Sethi · July 17th, 2007

Probably the most interesting part about this post, in which I asked you what you wanted to read on iwillteachyoutoberich, was the answers I received. Out of 154 comments, about 80% of the responses fell into the categories I pre-suggested.

Think about that for a second. Imagine what kind of disparate (and useless) answers you’d get if you went into a meeting and asked, “What should we do?”

What if, instead, you said, “Here are 3 choices I’ve thought through. Which do you like best, and why?”

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Taking 5 minutes to frame your question matters. As David Kelly, CEO of IDEO, notes, “One of my buddies always says never go to a meeting without a prototype, and he always wins.” Seth Godin has also written on this topic.

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  1. Sabrina's Money Matters

    One of my favorite quotes is, “Chance favors the prepared mind”.
    Indeed a methodology that works…

  2. I agree that almost all meetings turn to waste when you show up without an agenda. I was involved in a company two years ago that spent 75% of its lifespan with weekly meetings where nothing (NOTHING) got done and we would spend an hour doing this (NOTHING). It wasn’t until the final stretch of the business where we required a specific agenda that we saw any momentum. Surprisingly, the length of our meetings cut down to around 30 minutes as well!!

    The most productive move – cut out meetings all together!!

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  4. Ryan Geist

    I like it. I’ve certainly learned this lesson during my last couple years in consulting. As a “big thinker” type, I LOVE brainstorming – it is absolutely my favorite part of the creative process. But it’s just not efficient. “What if” are the two most commonly used words during a brainstorming session – hardly a call to action.

    In school we can “what if” all we want – we’re discussing theory, provoking thought, maybe even inducing a higher level of thinking with some blacklights and Pink Floyd. But life after school – when you actually have to get shit done – is a different ball game. You can’t gain validation for your ideas from your professor anymore. In fact, no one will really validate your ideas, if you present them as your ideas.

    This is where the options sing their swansong (i’ve been dying to use that word). If you want your idea or vision to be adopted and implemented, build its fundamental components into each option you present. Change up the things that don’t matter that much – and play those differences up in the meeting! This isn’t trickery, it’s strategy.

    If you have a sound plan, it doesn’t matter which option they choose – they’ll pick that one that makes them happy. And that’s important – one that makes THEM happy. You and your preferences are not going to carry much weight in the decision-making process (if any at all!). But by providing options, you are really ensuring that you have the most influence in the outcome of the meeting. The “debate” over which option to choose will likely not even include you – it will be amongst the member of the audience. They’ll fight it out amongst themselves, and will eventually choose one of your options and suggest you make some minor changes to it. That is the best! Give them credit for as much of the “idea” as you possibly can… even though you know it was all you 😉

  5. Callum

    Offering choices helps to focus a decision, but it also restricts creative thought. For example, take a prototype to a meeting in order to get support, yes. Take a prototype to a meeting in order to create something new, no.

    Open Space Technology is a great example of effective, unstructured creative thinking.

    Both have their place. Leading your readers to choose topics you want to talk about does seem like a sensible idea… 🙂

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