November 13, 2017
Talking Points

Think your way to success

John Graham

There are plenty of people in the workforce who do "something," but not so many who do what needs to be done. And this is both a problem and an opportunity.

Success depends on being among the few others count on to get the job done right — and that takes thinking. Here are questions that can serve as a guide to thinking your way to success:

"What if this isn't what my customer needs?" What if I'm trying to force it, attempting to make it work — and it isn't? Most of us tend to push forward as fast as we can to come up with a solution. The goal is not to come up with any answer; it's to come up with the right one. Slow down; it takes thought.

"What if I put it aside and revisited it tomorrow?" You need to write a letter, memo, or article, but the clock is ticking and you can't get it started. You hate the assignment, your boss, yourself, or all three. You tell yourself to keep a low profile so it won't happen again.

The goal is not to wrestle the task to the mat or do battle with it; it's to do your best work. That takes "noodling," putting it aside to let your brain work on it for a day or so. It's amazing what happens when you let your brain work on it.

"What if I asked them for their thoughts and ideas?" The heart of marketing and sales is problem-solving. They also demand a "bring-it-on" attitude to be successful — and that can be a problem because it blocks other views and ideas. Asking what others think is an effective way to test your idea, plan or confirm the appropriateness of your solution.

"What if I offered several options instead of just one?" This may seem dangerous, but it's as threatening as putting people in a "yes or no" position, and "no" is easier to say than "yes." Offering several options creates a new dynamic where there's room for give-and-take. It makes it possible to come to a positive decision.

"What if I don't have all the information I need to make the right recommendation?" Not long ago, an older woman, a widow, living in a condo community was seen accompanied by a man on several occasions. After a couple of "sightings," the rumor spread with brush fire intensity that she had a boyfriend. A few weeks went by and someone said, "That was her brother who was visiting her from Europe."

We call them snap judgments, conclusions made on the fly that get things moving, more often than not, incorrectly. Taking time to figure out what we're missing separates us from those who are satisfied with just getting by.

"What if I tried something new?" It's easy to get used to doing things a certain way and tune out anything that forces us to break existing patterns.

It's effortless to stick with the same solutions, repeat the same concepts, fall back on the same products and services. If what we do today is a constant replay of the past, we contribute little or nothing to help meet the challenges affecting our customers, our industry, and the company where we're employed.

"What if I became a go-to person?" "Staying under the radar" helps avoid getting noticed and causes less stress. It's also a good way to be passed over or be added to the "no longer needed" list.

Anyone who wants to advance thinks differently. Getting known for innovative ideas, changing ways of doing things, or specialized expertise attracts attention and gets you noticed for your value.

"What if I asked more questions?" It's irritating if someone asks too many questions in a meeting. They can drag things out. Even so, not asking questions is a huge mistake. Questions clarify issues and uncover valuable information, fill in the gaps, and help avoid making mistakes.

John Graham of GrahamComm is a marketing and sales strategy consultant and business writer. Contact him at, 617-774-9759 or

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