To be competitive, you need to be able to see other perspectives

We've reached a point in our country's history where authority and power seem to be manifested by the need to shout down one's opponent. Discussion and compromise are words freely bandied about, but they've largely lost their meaning.

What is really lost is perspective.

Just as there are two (or more) sides to every story, there are plenty of different ideas on how to get things done. No one person has a corner on that market.

Consider the story of three people who looked at the Grand Canyon:

The priest said, "What a glory of God!"

The geologist said, "What a wonder of science!"

The cowboy said, "What an awful place to lose a horse!"

How we approach an issue often colors our thinking about the result we wish to achieve. What we want may not line up with the next person's desired outcome. Our motives are not wrong, just very different. We need to respect each other's views and consider that our own may not be the only one with real merit.

Sure, that's easier said than done. But it can be done! And some of the most creative and powerful people in the world have offered helpful suggestions for expanding individual perspectives so we can truly work together.

For example, Thomas Watson Jr., the late chairman of IBM, shared some wisdom from his father, company founder Thomas Watson Sr.: "Father was fond of saying that everybody, from time to time, should take a step back and watch himself go by."

If you did that, would you like what you saw? Be honest!

Will Rogers, a uniquely American humorist known for his homespun wisdom and keen wit, summed up perspective this way: "You must never disagree with a man while you are facing him. Go around behind him and look the same way he is looking and you will see that things look different from what they do when you're facing him. Look over his shoulder and get his viewpoint, then go back and face him and you will have a different idea."

Note that both of these examples are from an era gone by, when folks seemed to be kinder and less contentious. We haven't necessarily improved our society since then -- in fact, I believe that we've gotten meaner. How is that working?

Perspective is critical in competitive situations. If you can't see solutions from a competitor's point of view, you can't compete. How will you know what they are doing better than, different from or instead of you? Who are they appealing to with their approach? How are their customers responding?

I love to ask customers what their ideal product would be. What would their ideal supplier do differently? More than once I have been stunned at the simplicity of the solutions. Those questions open up new lines of communication and trust that benefit both sides. Don't just file away that information -- use your new perspective to prepare for your next customer and competitor.

Whatever you do, don't fall into the trap of dismissing issues with statements like, "It's all just a matter of perspective." That is too often another way of saying that another person's perspective is not as important as yours.

Have you heard about the aging racehorse who tried and tried but just couldn't run fast enough to win any races, or even finish in the money? His impatient owner told the jockey, "Either that horse wins some money in today's race or his next assignment is going to be pulling a milk wagon."

The jockey loved the horse and did everything he could to spur him on. He muttered sweet words to the horse as they went around the first turn, and on the backstretch, he shouted loud words of encouragement. But as the horse faltered in the stretch, the jockey started laying on the whip with terrible force.

At this, the horse turned his head to the jockey and said, "Hey, man, take it easy on that whip. I've got to get up and go to work in the morning."

Mackay's Moral: The difference between a horse's front end and back end is a matter of perspective.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman and author. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or send e-mail to harvey@mackay.com. His column is distributed by United Feature Syndicate.

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