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Times, standards, and expectations all change. As we near July Fourth, let’s use a Founding Father to illustrate. Here’s a Thomas Jefferson quote someone tweeted several weeks ago:

  • “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do” – Thomas Jefferson

Great quote, wonderful language, very true statement.

But way too long. If Jefferson were true to his words and writing for business today, he’d need to cut it by nearly 30 percent:

  • “The most valuable talent is never using two words when one works.” –”Edited” Thomas Jefferson

And on Twitter, even more editing and a twist would be expected:

  • “Most valued talent? Not using 140 char if 100 work.” –Thomas Jefferson Updated – 51 characters

Do you get the meaning from each version? Yes.

Is the Twitter version as elegant as Jefferson’s original? Absolutely not.

The key is understanding the setting, your audience, and their expectations to make sure you are using exactly the right number of words to get your point across.


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Here’s a 3-step approach when you’re stuck for a viable solution to a challenge:

  1. State the assumptions being made about the challenge.
  2. Specifically remove each assumption, one at a time.
  3. Ask and answer, “Without that assumption in place, what new possible approaches are there to the challenge?”

This technique can be just the thing to eliminate the stumbling blocks you’re facing.

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From the Funny Eye for the Corporate Guy Blog series, Apprehensories.

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If you have the opportunity to listen, I’m substitute hosting on the Hot Talk 1510 AM “Eye on Small Business” radio show at 9 a.m. CDT Friday, June 26. Regular host Kelly Scanlon, publisher of “KC Small Business” magazine is at the NAWBO national conference in Chicago, where she was selected as President-Elect of the national organization.

Our topic is “What Can You Do When You Can’t Do What You’ve Done Before?” We’ll discuss what small business owners can do to embrace and succeed with innovative business strategies they might dismiss as too risky or uncertain in less challenging economic times.
You can listen live on the internet, and if you want to tweet a question, use hashtag #kcsmallbiz. I’ll try to monitor any questions and incorporate them into the program.

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This week’s guest post is another international submission, from Tim McKenna, CEO of Australian-based Team Technology. He’s a professional electronics engineer turned professional systems analyst and programmer. As described in his Twitter bio, Tom is a creative thinker, inventor, entrepreneur, and ICT professional with lots of ideas for business strategies and start-ups.

Tim shares his perspective on a frequently discussed issue – challenging your own perspective to be able to imagine possibilities beyond today’s reality:

An Innovation Dilemma

A major innovation barrier is people having preconceived ideas about how a product or process is structured or meant to work. This has been termed Structural Fixedness.

“Structural Fixedness” inhibits creativity since it prevents us from redefining a view of something we currently take for granted – our frame of reference. It doesn’t thwart innovation altogether, but we do become limited to exploring only ideas built upon what we already believe to be true. Our frame of reference, of course, changes depending on the nature of the concepts, processes, or problems we’re dealing with.

Our individual frames of reference result from our learning and experiences; they’re part of who we are. We cannot perform our jobs, or even operate as adults, without knowledge, behaviours, and belief systems. If we wish to be truly innovative, though, we need to have the courage to challenge and renew our own frames of reference. This means pushing the boundaries of our comfort zone, which isn’t for everyone.

My background is in engineering, project management, and software development. I consider myself an innovator in the software field. Since my background is somewhat different from most software developers, I don’t feel bound by the same “rules,” especially since they can vary greatly depending on whom you talk to or where you work. The result? I tend to question concepts and practices others probably take for granted.

To add to the problem, we have “best practices” and “bodies of knowledge” thrust upon on us. It’s a dilemma that best practices help ensure quality outcomes while by their very nature restricting innovation. They do this by functioning as rules about how certain tasks should be performed. Yet in rapidly changing industries – such as software – new products, tools, and development methodologies appear all the time, making it a struggle to define best practices anyway.

Breaking established rules sets us up to become targets for critics who are uncomfortable with the concept. Co-workers and others in the industry become insecure when forced to question their own knowledge and principles, which also adds to criticism.

Violating rules and achieving successful outcomes is the surest way for innovators to attract criticism and animosity. By successful, I mean a business, a client, or market is pleased with the result. So while important audiences are rewarding your willingness to look at and behave differently in these situations, to the rule-bound, you’ll seem like a bank robber who gets away with millions AND gets to spend it, all while escaping the law! – Tim McKenna


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During a presentation, I was highlighting the blog post on finding a strategic PITA (pain in the ass), describing how it was originally inspired by a senior person at our ad agency who never fails to dissect our ideas in painful, yet tremendously valuable ways.

A number of the attendees were in advertising and were surprised someone from an agency could get away with taking strong stands with a client. The experience for most of them has been that the agency has to conform to what the client wants to do, with little challenging involved. They wondered how my strategic PITA gets away with what he does.

My reply was he is able to do it because we want him to do it. It’s a waste to engage smart people with diverse perspectives and then expect them to hold their tongues and simply agree with what we want to say or do.

Whether someone has the experience and intellectual horsepower to be strategic is only part of the issue. The important part, particularly in client-vendor relationships, is whether you’ve given another person permission to take on the “pain in the ass” role you need. So, have you given your potential strategic PITA the go ahead yet to be truthful? If not, do it today!


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