CorporateCoach eNewsletter

Issue No. 71, 20th September 2004


  1. Editorial: How do you know what you know?
  2. Coaching notes: How to get out of a rut

1.     Editorial: How do you know what you know?

Richard Winfield - editor and principal consultantSome years ago we ran a management development course for senior managers. It was an unstructured course based on the principles of self directed learning. On the Thursday evening, one of the participants rang his wife and told her "You don't know what you don't know." He was amused to tell us the next day that he thought this the most important learning of the course, but that his wife was unimpressed!

More recently, Donald Rumsfeld was much criticised in the UK for saying something similar. But recognising this fact is a first stage to opening your mind to possibilities.

We have just completed a seven month scenario planning exercise with a major UK trade body. Several of the comments in the review were that there were no surprises and that there was a consistency across the scenarios. We did in fact know everything that had gone into the scenarios. This was not surprising as the industry had contributed experts to build the database from which the scenarios were selected. The thing about scenario planning is that in retrospect you can see how the outcome developed. The difference from strategic planning is that you cannot attempt to forecast it. However, the development of five scenarios in some detail allows participants and others later to 'experience' the reality at a different level from a technical report. This means that they are more likely to confront them and that they are more likely to plan in strategies for detecting early signs.

A story meant to criticise consultants says that a consultant is someone who will borrow your watch to tell you the time – and then charge you for the information. I often tell this story to new clients and point out that if they were not aware that the watch could tell them the time, did not know how to use it or just had not bothered to think about the time, then the consultant was indeed providing a service. Our job is not necessarily to bring new information but to help develop awareness. Our objective is to transfer skills/processes to our clients.

One delegate complained that there was nothing new in the scenarios. However, there had been a very long list of recommendations as a result of the exercise. Would these have been generated by a simple strategy meeting?

One of my favourite comments that I heard many years ago goes like this: "What is talent? Talent is - easy to learn and easy to do." If you acquire knowledge simply and easily, you might not notice that you have learned it.

Sometimes, it is a question not of "You don't know what you don't know." but of "You don't realise what you do know."

Readers will know that I am keen to develop our international contacts. Recently I was able to meet again with Avinash Kirpal of the International Management Institute in India. He recommended an article "How to get out of a rut" by Paul Lemberg, which the author has kindly agreed for me to publish.


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2.    Coaching notes: "How to get out of a rut"

Rut: "a routine procedure, situation, or way of life that has become uninteresting and tiresome."

And, not surprisingly, unprofitable.

They say a rut is a shallow grave with two open ends. The good news (good news?!) is that the ends ARE still open, which means if you act fast, you just might out of it.

How do we get into these ruts anyway? Who would voluntarily lie down in that grave, shallow or otherwise? Dr. Edward de Bono suggests that thoughts are pathways literally 'etched' in our brain as electrical connections, that get strengthened each time we think them – thus limiting our mental options. Just like cow paths.

It all begins when one of the cows wanders home from the field along a new path. Being cows, others naturally follow, nicely beating down the grass. The next evening our intrepid cow is a bit less bold, and follows her own freshly trampled path, fellow cows in lockstep behind her. And so on, night after night, widening the path into a footpath, which over time becomes hardened into a dirt road. More time passes and the road is paved into a street, then an avenue, a two-lane highway, and ultimately an interstate.

By the time you come roaring up the onramp in your shiny SUV, your direction is all mapped out in front of you. There's no way to turn, and no where to go but towards the next exit. If you want to chart a fresh direction you are going to have to grab the steering wheel and give it a hard, gut-wrenching yank to the right.

And so it is with your thoughts and actions. Repeating them a few times all but insures you will comfortably repeat them indefinitely unless you take deliberate - possibly disruptive – action to do otherwise.

Here are seven rut busters I use with my business coaching clients that you can apply immediately to get yourself and your business out of a rut.

1. Shift your mindset from self to customer

Most business people think of themselves first. They craft product and service offers from their own perspective and consider themselves the beneficiaries of their actions. While that's not wrong, to get out of your rut do this: put yourself into the mind of your customer. Who are these people anyway? What are they concerned about? What are they trying to accomplish? If you were your customer, what would you think of that new product, marketing campaign, or mail piece? Are you selling your wonderful 'stuff', or are you providing them tangible, meaningful benefits. Ask, 'If I were the customer, would I care?' And if not, consider, 'What WOULD I get excited about?'

2. Shift your mindset from customer to client

A customer is someone who buys your goods or services. The original meaning of client is entirely different: someone who is under your care and protection. Now that's a switch, isn't it? If they're customers, your goal is to get them to buy something. But if you were to think of them as under your care – would you approach your business from another angle? How would you take care of them? How would you 'protect' them? What new programs would you want to implement immediately?

3. Revisit your vision

Whenever I feel like I'm in a rut I return to my vision and I do two things. First, I make sure it still inspires me and that it is pointing me in the direction I want to go. Once sure, I put pen to paper and rewrite it. Not just once, but over and over. And I keep writing until I can't write it anymore because I'm jumping up and down with a new idea I must do something about right away.

4. Conduct a Survey

If you don't know what to do next, ask your clients. (They are clients, aren't they?) Conduct a survey about anything that interests you. Ask them what's bothering them. Ask them what they're stuck on. Ask them what they like about your company and what they'd like you to do next. Ask them about new features, or new products, or new services. If you're not happy with your current customers, conduct a survey among the kind of people you'd like to have as customers.

And, if you can't do that, conduct a survey online. Write an attractive search engine ad, promise something of value, and drive people to a survey page. Ask them anything you like - the answers will almost always provide you with a neat mind- shift.

5. Focus on building your strengths and dump your weaknesses

From the time we are little children we are taught to better ourselves by working on our weaknesses. This is often both frustrating and fruitless, and certainly not as much fun as practicing our strengths. Try this on: What if you focused 100 percent of your energy on being world-class in those few things at which you are already very good, and out-tasked or outsourced those things at which you were mediocre. Imagine if you never had to face any of those things again and could spend all your time doing the good stuff. Would that change the way you felt about your business? Would that bust you out of your rut?

6. Not if, but how

Think of that wild and crazy idea you had recently. The one where you said to yourself, 'That would be great, but there's just no way.' Well, I know there's no way – you just said so – but if there was a way, what would it be? Answer that question as if you believed it was possible – probable even – and then get busy making it real. That's power, you know – turning your vision into reality. Talk about a breakthrough!

7. What are you willing to sacrifice?

Some important things are more important than other important things, and trying to keep all those plates spinning in the air saps your vigor for the ones that truly matter. Dissipated energy – lethargy – is one of the reasons we lie down in that rut in the first place, and dropping a few of those plates can really help things break loose. So let go. Make the sacrifice. Clear your plate and give up some of those precious things you've been holding on to. Focus your vitality on plans which will really rock your world.

Ruts? Who needs 'em.

Paul Lemberg is the President of Quantum Growth Coaching, the world's only business coaching franchise system. Paul is available for keynote speeches and workshops and can be reached via


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