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This chapter is from the book

Do the Right Thing

“Do the right thing.”

That’s what my Dad encouraged me to do when making decisions or handling any difficulty.

Because clues were not always immediately clear and the standards for “the right thing” were ambiguous, I didn’t know the right thing to do each time—or, for that matter, what doing the right thing meant. The good news was that this ambiguity led me on a search. The bad news was that at times I took my limited experience as the limits of the world. Many of us make this mistake. Positioning yourself at a constructive vantage point increases the likelihood of seeing things clearly and making the right judgment.

The Eighth Floor

A manager from Sun Microsystems, located in the San Francisco Bay Area, was trying to grasp the meaning and implication of seeing things from the right vantage point. We were on the eighth floor of a ten-story building. Walking over to the window, we looked out over all the traffic on Highway 101 and the surrounding neighborhoods. It was 5:30 p.m., and the surge of workers heading home was predictably clogging the highway’s on-ramps and slowing traffic into that aggravating crawl we’ve ironically dubbed “rush hour.” One blue Toyota, in particular, caught our attention. Its driver was trying to work his way around the jam by using surface streets. He was doing a good job until he made a left turn, no doubt thinking it would be a shortcut.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t see that this “shortcut” would make his trip much longer, because he would be heading straight into a construction zone. From the eighth floor, we had a commanding vantage point of the traffic flow. The left turn seemed like a good idea from the view on the ground, but we had the right vantage point to obtain complete information on the traffic.

We’ve all had such opportunities, when we could see what others couldn’t see. Moreover, such an opportunity isn’t just one person’s opinion, point of view, or perspective. It comes from being in a commanding position from which you can rapidly see the condition of “traffic,” the reality of the situation, the interactions of the parties involved, the forces at play, and the tendency for movement, which can all result in making the right judgment.

No doubt at times you felt you had a commanding vantage point. Why don’t you have a commanding vantage point all the time, or even most of the time? What keeps us from getting to the eighth floor and looking out that window?

Our driver was burdened by more than the traffic jam. First, he interpreted his circumstance based upon his selective perception—that is, through the filters of his background, experiences, attitudes, and interests. His selective perception helped him to read the situation quickly, but it narrowed his comprehension of what he was actually up against.

Second, the driver picked the first solution that seemed “good enough”—making the choice based on limited information.2 This lightning-fast mental process leads to constructing simplistic and, at times, limiting models that might not capture the actual situation. “It seemed like a good idea at the time” is a common refrain.

When faced with a problem, people reduce it to a manageable level and find solutions that are not too far from the status quo, much as the driver did when he took the first possible turn off a crowded road. It was a possible solution to the problem of slow traffic, but from the eighth floor, it was clear that the first solution was far from being right. Advantage-Makers take an eighth-floor view—when it comes to business problems, they do not stop at the first possible solution—instead they immediately look at the bigger picture.

The behavioral tendency to choose the first solution can create a real cost for you. If you base your decisions on the order in which solutions arrive, what if the solution you choose increases your business slightly, but the next option—the one you did not consider—would double your effectiveness, your yield, or your market size? You would be leaving a lot of money on the table.

I’m not suggesting that you make an exhaustive list of all the options every time you make a decision. Gut feelings can reflect the wisdom of experience. Sometimes it really is appropriate to go with your first gut decision and rapidly course-correct.

If we, on the eighth floor, had a communication system, we could have sent the right information at the right time to help the driver. In reality, had he turned right instead of left, he would have made faster progress. In many situations, having good scouts is critical to making informed decisions.

Getting information in a timely fashion can make a significant difference; it can change a loss into an opportunity. Many of us make the error of shutting off information or limiting our judgment to what we can see based upon our own past experience. This is a huge mistake.

Positioning Yourself at the Appropriate Vantage Point Fosters Clear Judgment

Advantage-making leaders strategically shift to commanding vantage points to see opportunities, create advantages, and influence outcomes.

A commanding vantage point is a targeted viewpoint from which leaders can

  • “Read” the situation—the expected and unexpected patterns of dynamic interactions and perceptions among people, groups, and organizations
  • Shift their own perceptions, decisions, and behaviors as needed so that their positions are as dynamic as the environment

Advantage-Makers are the rare leaders who have mastered the art of strategic shifting. By shifting their focus and finding the best vantage point from which to look at a problem, they maximize opportunity and shift the odds in their favor.

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