I’ll be the first to admit that when I’m moving at the “speed of business,” as UPS used to say, more often than not I’m looking for my team to cut to the chase. I need to know that they know all there is to know about what they need to know. I need to know that they’ve left no stone unturned, that every contingency has been accounted for, that risks have been assessed and properly mitigated, and that issues, especially recommendations, have been thoroughly vetted. I need to know they know all of this because, like you, I can visualize the big picture quickly — though that’s not because we’re special.
According to research by University of Washington psychologist, John Gottman, featured in Malcom Gladwell’s 2005 bestseller, BLINK: The Power of Thinking without Thinking, every human being has the ability to make sense of something quickly. It’s what Gottman calls The Theory of Thin Slices. “We thin-slice because we have to … and we come to rely on this ability because there are lots of situations out there where careful attention to the details of a very thin slice, even for no more than a second or two, can tell us an awful lot.”
Business leaders — particularly entrepreneurs and founders — tend to grasp concepts relative to the day to day operations of their businesses quickly and efficiently, and it’s precisely because of this “efficiency,” and quite often for efficiency’s sake, that more often than not we just want our team to get to the point and bottom line it for us. And that’s OK, as long as it’s not be the only way.
As presidents and CEOs of corporations large and small, we may want — at times we may even feel like we need — to simply get to the bottom line, but we can never allow ourselves to lose that sense of genuine interest in the full story — or like the late Paul Harvey, legendary radio newsman and broadcaster of the mid-20th century, used to call it, “the rest of the story.” That was the name Harvey ingeniously gave his unique daily afternoon radio segment which he started broadcasting years after he became successful with his daily morning news segment. I remember enjoying The Rest of the Story even more than Harvey’s news broadcast precisely because he went beyond the news of the day and touched upon what was personal and interesting and inspiring. It was as though this career newsman understood that behind the news were real people with real lives, and every one of them had a story that should be shared. Harvey not only kept us informed, he kept us connected — decades before Facebook and Twitter ever did.
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I’m convinced that this is why social media has taken off the way it has — because each of us feels the need to stay connected. Sometimes we can do it in 140 characters or less, sometimes we can’t. But we all have a story to share, and once in a while it’s nice when someone else is interested in hearing that story.
This is especially true for the members of your team. More often than not they give their all for your organization. They work long hours and invest significantly in the success of your business. Sure, they’re getting paid to do their work, but that shouldn’t minimize the fullness of their contributions which go beyond compensation. They work with a sense of pride which fuels their purpose and gives meaning to their effort. There’s a story behind those reports they’re turning in. I’m often surprised by the gems my marketing team uncovers during research, tidbits of little-known yet relevant facts which always enhance my presentations and significantly improve my chances of closing a deal. The problem is that when all I’m interested in is the bottom line, I not only miss out on the opportunity to better prepare myself, I miss out on the opportunity to connect with my team. And why? For efficiency’s sake? What good is efficiency to a team when the connections around it are weak?
Distinguished artist, writer and philosopher Makoto Fujimura talks about this need for the unnecessary in his theory, Culture Care, when he says, “art is useless which is why it is essential to humanity.” During a presentation at a global Acton Institute event earlier this year, Fujimura said, “The bottom line of utility and efficiency has become the primary means by which we measure success, and we are all dehumanized in that world. We are all just machines or cogs of a machine which are only useful as long as we can keep rotating and spinning off efficiently for the purpose of the machinery.”
There’s more to business than just the bottom line, and there are real people with interesting stories behind those reports we require.
May we never be so efficient that we lose ourselves, our dignity and our humanity.
Manny García-Tuñón is a columnist for El Nuevo Herald and President of Lemartec, a design-build firm headquartered in Miami, Florida. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and www.mgtunon.com