A Double Take at Leadership

Have you ever been to the eye doctor?   

If so, you are likely familiar with a machine called a phoropter. While you look through the piece of equipment, the optometrist flips among different lenses in front of your eyes. The procedure is called a retinoscopy and it helps the doctor to determine your optimal lens prescription. 

You may not know the name of the machine or the test, but if you’ve been to an eye doctor, you can no doubt recall the experience.  

The doctor asks, “Do you prefer lens 1 or 2?” 

You answer. 

The doctor flips a few dials and the question is repeated, “Do you prefer lens 1 or 2?” 

Through a process of elimination, you eventually land on your optimal prescription. 

I have never heard anyone say that they hate this eye exam. Most seem to find the process to be a somewhat pleasant exercise. I think there are two reasons that we kind of enjoy a retinoscopy:  

  1. We like playing a role in solving the problem as opposed to simply having an answer thrust upon us.
  2. Given all of the lens combinations available, we know that the solution is there if we flip enough dials. 

Compare the eye exam above to how your team goes about solving problems, redesigning processes, or brainstorming solutions.  

  • Does everyone participate or are a few designated people in charge of solution generation? 
  • Do people give up too soon without exploring all possibilities assuming that the team is just doomed to deal with the problem? 

Let’s face it; even the best team members can slip into negative thoughts complaining to one another, “that won’t work here, we’ve already tried that.” 

When these sentiments arise, consider acting more like an optometrist. Instead of throwing the idea out or giving up on the initiative, engage your team members and ask them to think about what slight modifications could be made to turn an idea from useless to useful. 

Here are a few questions to consider asking when met with negative thoughts: 

  • Is this the same approach as the one we tried before? Or, is it just reminiscent of it? 
  • Has anything changed since the last time we tried something? If so, how might those changes affect the viability of trying again? 
  • How might we change the components of the approach to make it work? 
  • What items in our approach are key and which ones might we consider removing or adjusting? 

This week’s tool and video are designed to get you thinking about how you might rethink your approach to solving problems, redesigning processes, or brainstorming solutions – especially in the face of the sobering, at times cynical, “that won’t work here, we’ve already tried that,” argument.   

I recently sat down with Robbie Kellman Baxter as part of the Leadership Lab podcast to learn about her work and career. Robbie is an expert in subscription business models and customer retention. She has consulted with Netflix, Oracle, eBay, and hundreds of other businesses looking to create customers for life. She’s written two books on the subject and is a wealth of information. I learned a great deal from my conversation with Robbie, especially when it came to exploring how a business model in one organization cannot simply be ported over to another company. Instead, it takes slight adjustments, changes, and modifications to get it right.  

In many ways, Robbie is like an eye doctor. No, she doesn’t carry a phoropter with her to client meetings, but she does have the expertise to know what to tweak and how to make something work. If you’ve ever entertained the idea of adjusting your business structure or implementing a subscription model, you should listen to this episode.  

Photo by David Travis on Unsplash