In my work with clients, I always want to help them explore effective ways to accomplish more and generate better results. Recently, I saw a short video by Tim Ferriss, author of the 4 Hour Work Week and other books with the 4-hour theme.

The subject of the video dealt with doing three things to learn something fast. In this case, it was to learn how to play the drums and perform with a band in front of several hundred people. Stay with me because there are applications to leadership.

Learning to do something new, such as playing the drums, was a complex challenge for Tim. The first thing he did differently was to ask himself, “What would this task look like if it were easy?” His rationale for this question was to uncover and overcome the roadblocks and obstacles that seemed to accompany the complex situation.

In the case of leadership, we have to deal with complex situations all the time. That’s why you are paid the big bucks! Think of a complex situation you recently dealt with or are currently dealing with as a leader. Part of the complexity is possibly due to the obstacles you believe are in the way.

Ferriss’ point is many of the obstacles are there because we have placed them there! He is probably right about this. Some of the obstacles I can think of include thoughts such as these:

  • My past results are an indication (read – limit) to what can be done today. Reality – this is an obstacle because it limits your ability to think creatively. As leaders, we need to have the attitude that ALL problems have at least one and likely multiple solutions.
  • My boss would never let me do that. Reality – we are stuck in perceptions and principles that may have served the organization in the past, but clearly are an obstacle for today’s issues. Marshall Goldsmith has been credited with the observation, “What got you here won’t get you there.” I often tell clients what they did to get to their current level of revenue will not get them to the next plateau of revenue. Change must happen and as a leader, the change must start with you.
  • We don’t have the money or the time to do that. Reality – we view money as a finite resource rather than an enabling vehicle to accomplish things of great value. Sure, new growth may require spending time or other unbudgeted or unplanned resources. But you have likely become aware of significant issues with the present strategy since you put the original budget together. Switch your thinking to “investment” rather than “cost” because investments are made with the full expectation of a greater return.

As leaders, we must help our teams get past obstacles by helping them imagine what this situation would be like if the solution were easy rather than difficult.

The second thing Ferriss did to assist new learning was to break the complex thing (either problem or solution) into small pieces. This is not a new technique by any means, however, sometimes we all (myself included) need reminders. Do you think an author of a 200-page book just sits down and writes until all 200 pages are flawlessly produced? I don’t think so.

Instead, they develop a concept or thesis, and clearly articulate the need the concept addresses. Next they identify ways to implement the concept; and finally, they identify the benefits for the reader if they implement the concept.

These smaller items or ideas are turned into chapters. Each chapter is further broken down into major themes. Then, and only then does the smart author begin to write. Sometimes, they start on Chapter 7 also! (Any innovative author knows there’s no rule that says you have to start at chapter 1.)

After this, the author sends the manuscript to a few trusted advisors for their input, reaction, and suggestions. The author has taken a complex situation (writing a 200-page manuscript which others will find valuable) and broken it down into smaller pieces.

The third observation Ferriss made about speed learning was to practice before going live. In his case, his idea was to get 10 strangers in a room to hear his drum solo. His reasoning was to simulate the actual delivery environment – 10 strangers would create the nerves and sweaty palms experience and he could assess how he performed.

How many of us think through a solution in private and then, when we are fully convinced in our own minds our solution is brilliant, present it live when it counts? We often flop because we didn’t ask others to help us with our thinking or listen to a trial run. Maybe it is a pride issue or simply not thinking others could add any value to your idea.

President Harry Truman said, “It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you don’t care who gets the credit.” Those words are so very true in leadership.

Who are your thinking partners? Who do you rely on to bounce your ideas off? Who can help you look at a problem or issue as if it had an easy solution? Hopefully, you were thinking of specific people as you read those last few questions. Hopefully, this is a habit you practice routinely. If not, or no one came to mind, let me know. I most likely can be of help.

We can all take steps to accelerate our learning. As I’ve often said, leaders are learners and if you’re not learning, you are not growing; if you are not growing, you are dying.

Best regards,