Eight Ways to Practice Pragmatic Consensus-Based Decision Making

On the surface, consulting everyone and deciding by consensus seems like a no-brainer, the perfect model for making any and all decisions. Its rationale is that   every decision should reflect an equal amount of input from all parties, interested or otherwise.

For centuries, the importance of individual voices in decision making has been enshrined in Western thought. One of our collective narratives out of this era   is that in a democracy, everybody should have a voice. The problem is the bigger the state/organization/company and the more political parties, legislators and special interests in the mix, the more difficult arriving at a consensus becomes. Seth Godin illustrates this problem in his book Linchpin when he notes that coordination of handshakes gets increasingly complex when you add more people into the mix. While the idea of being heard is very important, it is important to recognize that since most of us are faced with hundreds of decisions every week, many mediated by other people, it is nearly impossible to have the same level of input on each decision.

Despite the complexity of large organizations, like governments or large companies, it is possible for consensus to be reached. In order to foster effective consensus-based decision making, practical logistics have to be exercised. There also needs to be a mechanism for making a final decision to move forward, even though there may be some opposition. Steve Jobs called this “shipping” a project – a project is nothing unless it’s on-time and complete.

I grew up in a church with a consensus-based model, and one thing I noticed was that every issue was always up for discussion, and if someone wanted to re-open an issue and put a halt to implementation, it was easily done. Meanwhile, other churches seemed to have different ways of doing things – there was equal and open   discussion, but once a decision was brought to a vote, they moved on to new business – no re-opening the old decision.   In some ways, this model was preferable because it was more efficient. While both scenarios were “consensus-based”, one was far more efficient than the other.

To enable pragmatic, efficient consensus-based decision making, here are some simple rules to follow:

1. Learn who the stakeholders are and make sure that collectively they each have a voice.

2. Help articulate the major themes for each group.

3. Listen to the values of each group, and what drives them to be there (often this is more meaningful than the issue).

4. Thrash early, not late. Ask Seth Godin if you have questions about this.

5. Focus on common ground.

6. Commit to making a decision by a certain date and then implementing it. If no consensus can be reached, agree to an amicable “no-deal”.

7. Don’t confuse people with problems. Breakthroughs often happen when people get to know each other better.

8. Tell corny jokes like, “A termite walks into a bar and asks, ‘Hey, is the bar tender here?’”

Did Slash from GNR write the perfect business book for 2012?

If you remove all the drugs & debauchery from Slash’s memoirs, he may have written the world’s best handbook for building a career in today’s complicated world.

Photo by Simonlouw

Slash grew up in 20 square blocks of Hollywood and Beverly Hills. He discovered guitar as his passion and honed his skill while friends fed him, gave him places to sleep, drugs to smoke and part-time jobs. He partied at a young age and was exposed to industry: his mother dated David Bowie, he met the Rolling Stones at a house party, and a good friend of his spent years stalking Aerosmith. The SoCal music scene was so incestuous that Slash attended high school while Motley Crue smoked cigarettes outside his classroom window. The Hollywood Area was a hub of artistic and musical creativity.

People in LA joined and left bands at will to jam and develop. Artists had loads of free time to craft and pursue their ambition. While Slash forged his early identity, Tracii Guns formed LA Guns and battled for club space with Axl Rose & Izzy Stradlin’s Hollywood Rose. These bands, which merged to become the first Guns ‘N’ Roses, were revolving doors of musicians. The early ’80s was a developmental period for Slash and his future band mates. They evolved as individuals, but more importantly had constant interactions within the Hollywood music scene that developed the vital friendships that would catapult them to success.

While reading the bio, I also read Tom Rath’s Vital Friends (Gallup Press), which shaped how I interpreted Slash’s telling of events. According to Rath, a vital friend is “someone who measurably improves your life; perhaps a person at work or in your personal life who you can’t afford to live without.” Not everyone in that scene could have been successful in GNR; Tracii Guns didn’t carry the band to the same level of notoriety. More important than talent, Slash needed to find musicians as driven as he was, and crazy enough to think success was possible. He eventually found collaborators and they amplified each others’ successes. In Slash’s own words, each member of GN’R was

“Street-smart, self-sufficient and used to doing things his way only…. we became a unit that had each others’ backs as fiercely as we stood up for ourselves… we didn’t take kindly to criticism from anyone… and did nothing to court acceptance and shunned easy success.”

In my mind, GNR forged something new. When compared to the scene at the time, no other band was like them. Despite the band’s relatively short-lifespan (they had other problems), Appetite For Destruction is one of the great rock albums of all-time, up there with Who’s Next, Back In Black and Led Zeppelin IV. Back-to-front there are no bad songs.

GNR wasn’t waiting for the market dictate their fate; they were determined to force their brand into the market and gain acceptance on their terms.

This doesn’t just apply to music. The world has an insatiable appetite for the new and next best. Sometimes it’s not for marketers to decide what’s right for us; seams open up simply because someone followed a passion. The world has an iPod because Steve Jobs followed a passion. We have a self-help movement because Tony Robbins followed a passion. These innovations tapped into a core longing, one we maybe didn’t even know we had. GNR did and it exploded into commercial success.

It’s easy to understand when 4 guys get together to start a band, even if they suck. No one laughs at them for trying. But we laugh when average Joes try to create something that’s never been tried before. Why is it so weird when people follow a passion to an area other than art or music?

This is important news for a lost generation that stalled in the 2000′s. Maybe it’s time we followed the GNR formula: instead of battling it out as individuals labouring anonymously, hoping for approval, maybe we should form our own “bands” around passion and see where that leads us. Some things in this world need to be said and maybe they’re better driven home with the intensity of a Guns N’ Roses concert.

Header photo by liza31337

Time Management for Guys… A Six Pack for Success

tylerToronto / flickr (the content has nothing to do with time management, but the mind map does!)

This article was co-written by Robert Bryce and Peter Mackenzie.

Grandma used to say, “Some people can fall into a bucket of crap and climb out smelling like a rose”. As we grow older, we start to realize the wisdom behind those words. Why do some people have a ton of excrement in their lives and still keep it together while others fall apart? Men, it comes down to 6 simple rules for beating the clock:

1. Don’t half-ass 2 things. Whole-ass 1 thing.

Multitasking doesn’t work and it certainly doesn’t work for guys. Figure out what’s important, what gets results and do it. If you spend all your time jumping from one thing to the next, maybe it’s time to ask yourself if there’s a way to simplify your work.  Start asking yourself, “Is there an easier way to get the same result?”    If not, “Who can I delegate this too?”

2. Take it if it’s easy.  And if it’s easy, take it twice.

Reach for the low-hanging fruit, gentlemen.  Focus on what you’re good at, on your strengths, and don’t waste a lot of time on things that you suck at.  It’s a simple rule, “If it’s easy and it gets results, do more of it.”  Use the KISS system “Keep it Super Simple”

3. Something not not worth doing isn’t worth doing well.

This is the most pivotal lesson I learned in high school.  Our best friend said this and we never forgot it, although we think he might be in jail now.  By now, you should see a simple theme emerging: “Work to your strengths, not your weaknesses.”  If you continually work for employers that have you spend more than 20% of time on busywork or things at which you suck, maybe it’s time to go in a different direction. 

4. Work with people you like.

It’s a myth that you shouldn’t have friends in the workplace.  You’re going to be spending 50-70 hours per week with them for the next couple of years, so it helps if you can have friendship in addition to a semi-professional working relationship.  Sometimes you have to draw the line and kick some butt, but that happens in friendships too.  There’s no reason why people can’t be friends at work as long as they both realize that results take priority.  Friends have an easier time deciding what those results should be and how to streamline processes to make room for other creative pursuits.

5. Giggedy, Giggedy.

Have fun always.  Guys are hard-wired for fun mischief.  It’s science.  Life should be fun, work should be fun.  If your workplace doesn’t allow you to get up to a little no-harm mischief now again, you work in the wrong place.  All managers should be forced to read Dave Barry’s “Complete Guide to Guys.”  Productivity will skyrocket.  And if it doesn’t, no one will notice.

6. No Pissing Around.

Gents, true productivity is a responsibility that each of us must must man up to when things skid sideways.  NHL legend Bobby Clark once drank beer for thirteen straight hours without leaving his bar stool to drain the pipes.   Impressive, yes, but endowed with same human anatomy as the rest of us, it was Clark’s absolute focus and appetite for greatness that separates him from ordinary mortals. Each of us has this level of bladder control if we want it badly enough. It’s a matter of blocking the disruptive thoughts and unwanted distractions that creep into each workday.

If your stock hasn’t improved after making this six pack of changes… consider changing brands.

Did BC just radically change our energy policy?

In four years as a Refrigeration Apprentice I learned that it takes a lot of energy to convert a gas into to a liquid.   Which is why I did a double-take when I read that the BC government has endorsed three liquified natural gas (LNG) plants near Kitimat.  In a province that has grown in leaps in population and energy consumption, I thought “Wow, that’s a lot of energy, where will it come from?”

BC’s wonderfully ludicrous politics makes for  excellent dinnertime conversation.  One of my favorite anecdotes is about a bunch of dam happy BC Hydro engineers who lost their jobs in the early 1980s because BC’s load forecast flattened.  Plans for a Site C dam were shelved simply because we had overdosed on capital-intensive projects and never had to give a second thought to energy consumption.

Fast forward 30 years, BC’s population has grown by a few million, average home has grown from 1400 sq ft to 2700 sq ft, and I suspect the number of electrical outlets in the average home has more than doubled.  Items once reserved for elites are now everywhere, from residential hot tubs to energy-vamping home theatre systems.  Suddenly in the 2000′s, the energy picture looks different: BC Hydro steps up “Power Smart” conservation campaigns, proposes 10% per year rate hikes, and claims that infrastructure needs to be upgraded to accommodate increased demand.  We’re indoctrinated with the idea that conservation and retrofitting is considerably cheaper (and more environmentally friendly) than developing new energy sources.  Not a bad strategy.

Jump forward a few more years to 2008:  Gordon Campbell is elected to a second term and makes it clear that BC will lead the world in reducing GHG emissions, signing deals with Washington, Oregon and Arnold Schwartzenegger to create a “Green Corridor”.  Ambitious provincial targets are set to achieve 93% clean energy production and 33% reduction in GHG emissions by 2020 (80% reductions by 2050!)  Neat!

So in a time of unprecedented conservation, I was surprised when I found out that BC was wholeheartedly buying into the LNG movement.  Not that I disagree with it – it sounds pretty cool actually.

We don’t have to look far for the energy to drive these projects after all.  The plan to develop Site C (although still controversial and under review) was announced before Campbell was shooed from Office (he was pretty crafty in maneuvering the Climate Action Plan and allowing for economic development – I wouldn’t want to play chess against him).  Under traditional policy, BC is required to be energy-self sufficient when its dams are at “critical low” levels – enough cushion to weather 3 consecutive years of drought.  On Feb. 3rd 2012, however, new Liberal Premier Christy Clarke announced a significant change: BC dams would now only have to ensure self-sufficiency at “average” water levels.  In doing this, she reduced the need to build new generation projects and freed the necessary capacity for LNG.  We’ve essentially had free energy sitting around all along and we’ve been hedging it based on some apocalyptic scenario… like Global Warming or something.

Thankfully people much smarter than me make sure that our energy supply (and water supply) is protected.  Not to mention the slap and tickle of overlapping natural gas, electricity and rival energy markets that buttress LNG production (markets are never wrong.)   Unforeseen environmental considerations aside, this seems to me like a fairly intelligent investment in BC’s future.  Premier Clarke is quoted as saying, “It is an opportunity to establish an entirely new industry in British Columbia.  This isn’t something that happens every day and it’s not something that even happens every decade,” and I’m tempted to agree.

Still, in years when BC drops “below average”, we may need to import dirty electricity from Alberta.  Coal is a filthy energy source, far worse than oil sands bitumen or natural gas, and if BC’s water dries up anywhere similar to the Colorado River, we can kiss our 93% clean energy target goodbye.

So here we stand.  I still think I’m behind Clarke on this and when the NDP win the next election, I hope they back LNG too.  Real environmental solutions require the ability to make major energy shifts.   And although the Energy Industry likely doesn’t produce a fraction of the jobs that people think it does, the jobs it does produce are intelligent and high-paying.  LNG also creates nice royalties that pay for cool things like health care and education.  See you soon, Alberta and Saskatchewan!

Compared to hydroelectricity, burning natural gas may not seem like a step forward, but considering that hydro reserves are limited and the rest of the world is burning coal, LNG may save countless tonnes of CO2 emissions.  LNG may prove an absolute environmental disaster for other reasons, but again, hopefully there are smarter people than me working on this.   Fracking is already happening and we won’t be the only ones to head down this fracking path; hopefully BC can establish “Best Practices” for the rest of the world to follow.

All-in-all, LNG may have benefits worth the risk.  Some suggest that developing the natural gas economy could eventually lead to a hydrogen economy as both energy sources will likely require similar infrastructure.

Photo courtesy of Steve Punter

How to NOT Look Like an Idiot

We all have those moments where we rush into a situation too quickly or are overzealous in making a good impression. Particularly in cyberspace, ease of access has given us unprecedented opportunity to act without thinking, and bad decisions can plague us.

When you’ve made yourself look like a fool, how do you bounce back? Those of us who like a challenge know that sometimes there is a second chance to make a good impression. Jon Bon Jovi once said, “Success is falling down 9 times and getting up 10,” and people love that guy.

  1. Acknowledge that, yes, you did make a fool out of yourself. Stating that you have a problem is the first step in any good recovery. So attend some meetings.
  2. Laugh it off. Successful people can laugh at themselves. Knowing when to lighten up is an important skill. Psychologists have studied how a blunder can shape others’ perception of us and evidence suggests that a little incompetence can actually increase our likeability and trustworthiness. Of course, if people already think you’re an idiot, you will simply confirm their diagnosis.
  3. Make a good recovery. The next move you make better be a good one. There’s nothing like spilling coffee on yourself and then cracking a good one-liner. Even if it comes at the expense of someone else, it’s better to be labeled a jerk than a klutz.
  4. Get out clean. Give your quarry some breathing room. If you hang around too long, you will look desperate. Head for the hills or you will end up babbling like Ricky Gervais.
  5. If you run into this person again, repeat Step 2 frequently. You are lucky to have a story that people can tease you about as this is the foundation of all good relationships. So laugh at yourself and quietly take note of their flaws. Just find things that are fair game like having no luck with the ladies; joking about your friend’s failure to make child support payments is low.
  6. Listen to more Ray Lamontagnehttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrZkaj37kA0 The guy is good.

If these steps don’t work, run like hell. There are no heroes here. Live to fight another day.

Photo courtesy of JD Hancock