Simple Solutions within the Complex

Last year I posted several Leadership Minutes about Proficiency and Competence in which I spoke of a leader’s need to work to the point where one knows their craft so well that their proficiency is based in the subconscious, that is, that they are unconsciously competent (a UC). You can review those videos online or at curtis.net [ Video 1 ] [ Video 2 ]

That being said, I recently heard a story that ties into this same idea of so deeply knowing what you do that the answers come quickly and easily, at time bewildering your direct reports. Simple answers come to the proficient leader that is always practicing, studying, and thinking about her craft.

The story was widely circulated in the early 2000s. It appeared online and in emails in many different versions. It goes something like this.

A philosophy professor gave an unusual test to his class. As they watched him, he lifted his chair onto his desk and wrote on the board: “Prove to me that this chair does not exist.” The class went to work, composing long complex explanations related to perception, existentialism, epistemology and the like. However, there was one student who took less than thirty seconds to answer and handed in his paper before many of the students even began to write. This obviously attracting surprised glances from his classmates as well as his professor. The following week the class received their grades for the test. The student who took less than thirty seconds to answer the test received the only “A” grade in the class. His answer was simply, “What chair?”

 
The story is one of a multitude of similar urban myths which poke fun of high-minded academia, in which an apparently very difficult or impossible question is destroyed by a terse comprehensive answer.

As a leader, proficiency in your craft comes only with long term, repeated exposure to the decisions, the systems and the circumstances with which you deal. The highly proficient leader can see the simple, encompassing answer within the complex. For the committed leader, proficiency — that is being an unconscious competent — is attainable if he or she is willing to put in the time.

I made a quick video related to this post. You can view it HERE. If you like it, please share it.

Dumbest Guy in the Room

As an organizational leader, it is really easy to create an environment in which you are always the smartest person in the room. The person “in the know.” Your direct reports look to you for vision and direction and they faithfully carry out the plan. In moments of uncertainty, they look to you and you render your decision. If not kept in check, this environment can unknowingly poison both your perspective of self and your future growth as a leader.

The strategic leader intentionally, and frequently surrounds self with people who are smarter than they are. They relish being “The Dumbest Person in the Room.” They understand that this is where growth happens, where new ideas are generated, and tolerances are stretched into new avenues of creative expression. These new insights tend to be elusive without this intentional process.

Don’t wait until the next time you need insight to find a mentor or coach. Furthermore, don’t find a mentor or coach that is specific to your field. They think like you do. Find someone different, an artist, a theologian, a thespian, an architect or doctor and meet with them regularly. The more unrelated to your life experience the further they will draw you from your box. Besides, it is a pleasant respite to not have all the answers.

And most importantly, remember, ignorance in this case truly can be bliss!

Here is a short video to make the point.