Once upon a time two brave knights sought the hand of the lovely princess. The king was not about to make an arbitrary choice and so required the two to compete. Unfortunately for the knights, the king was a crafty old guy who had studied the underlying fundamentals of motivation and logic. And a challenge it was.
“You shall race from the oak tree by the river back to the castle gate, a distance of six kilometers. The winner shall be the man whose horse comes in second.”
The knights mounted their horses and rode to the tree. Making the turn and heading back, it soon became apparent that speed was the enemy. After a few hundred meters, the pace slowed as each tried to follow rather than lead. Eventually a complete stop.
One ran off and tried to hide. The other remained still. One tended to a stone embedded in the horse’s hoof; the other watched. One detoured to get water for his horse. The other joined him.
Darkness fell. The knights plotted.
Sir Rupert thought, “Perhaps if I kill my horse, it could not come first, but then Sir Rodney would kill his too.”
By morning they had discovered the nuance and once they did, they found the answer. Blow up the conventional paradigm of horse racing.
They switched horses.
Now the rider who could get back to the castle first would win as his horse, ridden by the other, must come second. The race was on.
It is like the advice we give students. Read and understand the question before you decide how to answer it. Answers frequently get in the way of the understanding so do not start there.
While the king intentionally created an ambiguous competition, many of us do so by accident. Your people cannot give fast, good and low cost service to your customers no matter how you instruct them.
Worse, you may not have the people who can see how to blow up the conventional methods to achieve the goal.
As part of any delegation process, be sure you know how the people will understand the challenge.
Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international accounting firm and is presently with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario.
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