2011 In Three Words

Chris Brogan does this thing every year that I quite like. He comes up with three words for the new year - not goals, or resolutions, but rather filters: the bar over which all must pass. It's a useful way to think about approaching a new year, especially if you aren't the Napoleon Hill type (I'm not, and I suspect many of you are not either.) I like what my friends C.C. Chapman, Chris Penn and Deb Ng have done with this idea as well, and you could do a lot worse than study their examples. Here, then, are my three words for 2011 - words which will impact this space considerably over the next 12 months. The first is a bit long, but the other two are mercifully short, so I hope you'll indulge this first one:

Inquisitive You will find no shortage of populist wisdom on the Internet (and especially on social media) about the importance of taking action. Execution, they will tell you, is everything. Over-thinking leads to self-doubt. Better to make the wrong decision quickly - to fail faster, in the words of Samuel Beckett - than to suffer from "analysis paralysis," right?

That all sounds hard to argue with. Note this, however: in every business meeting, there is this one person - the one who won't stop thinking. He's the one who constantly comes up with the caveats, the risks, the reasons why you might not want to act, or might want to act differently. He or she also comes up with the things you didn't think about before, and while there are the seeds of great ideas in those observations, they may also contain roadblocks and speed bumps. In short, these people are the ones who won't stop asking questions.

If you studied 100 average leaders at random, here is what I think you would find. 80 of them see the incessant questioner as an impediment - an "over-thinker." These leaders take decisive, damn-the-torpedoes-style actions, and sometimes these actions are effective, which perpetuates the myth of the golden gut. Other times, they aren't so lucky, but they doggedly move on to the next action, which again may or may not prove correct. Another 19 of these leaders would get scared off by the questions, the caveats, the "over-thinking," and either take no action, or a half-measure at best. This, again, may or may not be the right call, but there is likely to be an opportunity cost associated with their actions, if nothing else.

Great leaders - the 1 in 100 - know how to listen to the "over-thinker," incorporate their input, and then take a different action accordingly. That's what makes them great.

I've always been that guy who asks the questions. Questions make things better. Questions bring clarity. Many of the people who accuse the questioners of "overthinking" things are, in fact, underthinkers. Great leaders need quality inputs. In 2011, I will accept nothing, challenge everything, and provide you, dear readers, with that input. If you are still reading this screed, you may be that 1 in 100 (at least, that's my hallucination.)

Daring The flip side of asking too many questions, I suppose, is the failure to take action. I don't see why thinking things through and taking decisive action have to be mutually exclusive, but in all honesty I have probably lived too cautiously for the past few years. In 2011, I'll have the same bias for action I've always had, but with an increased tolerance for risk. As James Graham, the 5th Earl of Montrose once said,

He either fears his fate too much, Or his desserts are small, Who dares not put it to the touch, To win or lose it all.

I like dessert, so in 2011 I expect to take more risks than normal. It's time.

Discriminating We don't like to believe that we discriminate against anything - "discrimination" is now essentially a catch-all term for hatred and intolerance. One shouldn't discriminate against people, for any reason. Yet, if we fail to exercise our powers of discrimination against ideas, opinions and received "conventional" wisdom, we risk becoming indiscriminate, which leads to an unexamined life. In 2011, I am going to discriminate more. This means being significantly more selective about my inputs - unsubscribing to those who mail it in, and turning my attention to those lesser-known voices who do more to push the debate and dialogue forward.

I think we do a lot of preaching to the choir in social media - I can't imagine anyone would argue that. Read the comments section on most any popular post and you will see a chorus of affirmations, agreements and even the occasional "hell, yeah." I think some of us have forgotten what the "chorus" was intended to be in Greek tragedy: not parrots for the actors, but a surrogate for the audience - questioning the motives of the characters and warning them about the dangers ahead. BrandSavant will continue to be a marketplace for ideas, and all ideas are welcome. But some ideas are better than others. I expect you to challenge me, just as I shall challenge you.

So there you have it: Inquisitive, Daring and Discriminating. Those are my three words for 2011 - what are yours?