The one hour, time-certain meeting convened at 10:00 AM.
It’s 11:45 and we’re only about halfway through the agenda. The enormous conference table is completely surrounded, and even more people fill the folding chairs around the walls.
A DOT engineer is making his presentation on the department’s strategy to reconfigure a high-traffic roadway. The engineer has charts and graphs, sketches and plans. Plus, he’s armed with beautifully rendered artists’ renditions of how the new roadway will look. It’s clear (well, it’s clear to me anyway) that the professionals have spent a lot of time and effort working on this recommendation.
Then the questions and answers start.
A man at the far end of the table stands up and addresses the engineer: “Did you consider reducing the six lanes to four?” he asks.
The engineer responds calmly, pulling out the charts he’d already shown to illustrate the traffic patterns. “Yes, of course,” he says. “There’s way too much traffic to lessen the number of lanes down to four. You can clearly see that in these overviews.”
A woman jumps up. “I’m sure people would like to walk there. Did you even think about adding a sidewalk?”
The engineer calmly points to the display boards he’d already shown. “Yes, we looked at placing pedestrian corridors on both sides of the road as well as the median. We believe the safest and most efficient routes are exactly where we’re showing them.
Someone else pipes up. “Did you think about…?”
At this point, I expect to see the DOT engineer’s head explode.
“Did you think about this? Did you think about that? Did you think about the other thing?”
No matter what the audience asks, the engineer responds calmly. But I know what he really wants to say:
“ARE YOU PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR MINDS? OF COURSE I THOUGHT ABOUT THAT!! I’M A FREAKING TRANSPORTATION ENGINEER FOR PETE’S SAKE. SOLVING TRAFFIC PROBLEMS IS WHAT I STUDIED IN SCHOOL.
IT’S HOW I MAKE MY LIVING. I’VE DEDICATED MY ENTIRE LIFE TO SOLVING TRAFFIC PROBLEMS. THAT’S WHAT I DO. I’M A TRANSPORTATION ENGINEER!!”
Why would the audience think they know more about traffic problems than the transportation engineer? Where do they find the impudence to ask such demeaning questions? And why would they think that with all the study the engineer had already done, they’re going to instantaneously come up with the key question that will make everything perfect?
Who is the Best Person for the Job?
How many times have you asked your physician or nurse practitioner about a medication you saw advertised on TV?
How often have you told the keynote speaker what they should have talked about?
How often have you told the designer building your brand about the font you’d like them to use?
How often do you scream at the football coach to run the plays you know would win the game?
Yes, these are all funny questions. But they hint at the more serious idea of focusing on what we’re good at while we let the experts in our lives do what they do best.
How to Get the Best Results?
Letting the craftspeople and professionals in your life focus on what they do best is the best way to get the best result. And focusing on what you’re uniquely qualified to do is also the best way to get the best results and have the best time doing it.
What do you think about that?
This reminded me of the “art” of asking and listening to questions. I think there is too little thought given to both.
1 word response: “Amen!”
Bonjour Bruce !!
U R The PERSONIFICATION Of ” The ART Of RE-INVENTING YOURSELF ” .. .. ..
CUTTING-EDGE | INSPIRING INNOVATIONS | TURKEL TRENDING
PLEASE CONTINUE WoWING OUR WORLD With Daily Doses OF WHAT WE Call
” L I V I N G L I F E 🎏 🚢 🌈 D E L I C I O U S L Y “
Amen, in spades!
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
I am an advertising creative director/copywriter.
Everyone knows how to write copy and create ads better than the professionals. How do I know this? I’m told all the time. By product managers, by purchasing people, by CEOs and by relatives.
You’re 100% correct. Let the people who’ve trained and gained experience do what they do. And if you don’t trust them, don’t hire them.
Did I forget to say, thank you?
Thanks Andy. When I was an advertising creative director/art director I learned that there are three things every American can do better than the pros:
1. Drive their cars faster than those idiots at the Indy 500.
2. Call better plays than those idiots down there on the football field.
3. Write better ads than that crap we see on TV.
Sorry to hear that things haven’t changed so much. Thanks for your kind words.
Halberstram’s “The Best and the Brightest,” was all about deferring to the experts. How’d that work out for America’s young men? Maybe for private sector experts whose future is on the line less skepticism may be appropriate but for government “experts,” always question their competence and you might have a fighting chance to succeed.
Interesting aspect of our daily lives……I am very aware of this unfortunate communication pattern. If the questioner phrases the question in a manner that elevates the topic to a higher level of productive analysis …it is actually good for the quality of the outcome.
But, of the question is asked in a demeaning or attacking manner, the presentor is immediately placed in a disadvantaged defensive perception to the audience….difficult to overcome the negative perception then.
At that time, the presentor must quickly decide how to respond without breaking trust… very difficult situation to balance and to control crowd behavior.
Of all the many tips I have read over the years, the situation described in “How to Get the Best Results” really hit home. I am an IT consultant with over 40 years experience and trained by IBM. I have been involved in countless presentations that followed the scenario you described.
After the meeting, I would meet privately meet with an executive and explain why letting the professionals do what they do best would be in their best interest.
Unfortunately, my results have been less than stellar. Generally speaking, executives have a difficult time distinguishing between professionals and novices, especially in a highly technical field. The inability, or fear, of not being able to identify the true professional forces the executive to ask inane questions of all presenters.
If you can determine a method for an executive to identify the professional from the less experienced, you will really have something.