By Dr. Ron Mahurin
Have you seen the series of commercials for Farmers Insurance? Over the past several years, they’ve produced a very clever campaign. They feature stories of animals gone wild, bizarre car accidents, and claims from homeowners that make it into the Farmer’s “Hall of Claims.” Each commercial concludes with the simple punch line: “We know a thing or two, because we’ve seen a thing or two.”
If nothing else, the tag line communicates experience, knowledge, and perhaps even asks for the consumer to trust Farmers’. They know. Because they’ve seen.
As a leader in your organization, my hunch is that you know a lot too, because you’ve seen a lot. If there was a higher education and non-profit Hall-of-Fame accepting nominations for “weird things I know because of what I’ve seen” you could probably submit some very strong nominations.
As a leader, having seen a lot really does mean a lot. You’ve had first-hand experience in all sorts of situations—both positive and negative.
Leading your team. Casting a vision. Raising funds for your organization. Working with your board. Dealing with crises. Managing scarce (and even scarcer) resources. The list certainly could go on.
So I’d like to ask you to do something right now. Pause for a moment before reading on: think about one or two of the things that you’ve seen in the last 90 days that has impacted your organization—for good or for ill. Write them down on a note beside you.
Good. Look at those two bullet points. Think about their import - to you and your organization.
Now read on.
First, did you notice how I’ve reversed the order from the commercial tagline? I didn’t ask you to first think about what you know. I’ve asked you to first think about what you’ve seen. So what’s the relevance of switching the order?
How often do we stop to see the thing that is in front of us first? It’s not easy to do. As a problem-solver, I want to bring everything I know and put that into play almost immediately. Of course that approach or sequence makes sense in dealing with simple challenges and every day decisions. We know what we see, and we see what we know.
The Big Things
What I’m really talking about here are the big things. The things for which for all of your knowledge and experience, you absolutely need first to see. To examine. To gain understanding. To pause for a moment. To gain clarity in what you see; before you engage what you know.
This is not about decision-avoidance or procrastination. It truly is about clarity. Knowing that you’ve truly seen (and understood) something. So that you can engage your ‘knowing’ muscles and get to work.
Organizations, like individuals, are prone to using their knowing muscles first. Especially organizations that have highly educated and intelligent people working in them. Yet unlike the catchy commercial tagline, we don’t simply know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two. We may in fact need to take inventory of why the thing we are seeing—a new challenge, a new opportunity—may in fact be different from the things we’ve seen (and therefore known) in the past.
The Hard Work of Seeing
What difference might it make if you and I, and those with whom we work, were committed to the hard work of seeing – verifying what it is that we think we’re looking at—and then applying what we know. We look beyond our first glance to see those around us; our teams, our staff, our constituents. We consider what they know and how they can and should be part of the solution or strategy for addressing the challenge.
This process of seeing, or discovery, is vital to keeping your perspective (and perhaps your sanity). In a world where timelines are condensed, budgets are challenged, people are impatient, markets are converging, and things just don’t seem to make sense – we need to see first.
The See Muscle and the Know Muscle
Having the discipline to see in order that you might know and then act is not a muscle that many of us regularly practice.
It’s easier to know - to act - and then test and see the results. What difference might it make if we developed our sight to clarify what is most important. It will give us the confidence that what we know to be true after seeing will serve us well.
That discipline, or process, is how I’m seeking to live and work in this moment. Yes, I have my “knowing and doing” lists all prepared. Yet somehow as I lean into the “seeing” part of this equation, there can be greater confidence and clarity about the knowing part of the equation.
So ask yourself these tough questions:
- How clearly am I seeing what is right there in front of me?
- Is my knowledge/experience in any way blinding me to what I see, and how I respond to what I see?
Sometimes it helps to have others who can help us see what we can’t see; someone who will remind us that there are ways to see things in a different way.
Go back for a moment to the exercise I posed for you. What event or situation, challenge or opportunity, or other things did you see?
Take a moment to jot down some thoughts and pass them along. Drop me a note (email@example.com) or post a comment on the blog site.
I’d like to see what you’ve seen.
See. Know. Then Decide.
I love feedback!