Paul Niquette
Excerpt from Sophistication: How to get it...then what!
Internet version adapted from 101 Words I Don't Use

Copyright ©1996 Resource Books, Inc. All rights reserved.
Here are notes I scoured from my recollections of the Summer of 1970 and the founding of the "Kitchen Cabinet" [a term used -- not always with affection -- to describe the corporate group at Xerox charged with growing annual revenues for the enterprise at the rate of $1 billion (with a b) per year per year]. 
    The expression "rational process" (with a definite article in front of it) came along much later, after the seven of us went around lecturing at universities and holding management seminars. 
The concept applies to more than business meetings. Family focus forums, for example. Excuse me for generalizing, but... 
  • I have never participated in a meeting of any size which applied the Rational Process that was not a success -- by the most stringent criteria, and conversely... 
  • I have never participated in a meeting which neglected to apply the Rational Process that was not a disappointment -- if not a failure -- by the most lenient of standards.
There are seven steps. The Process outlaws proceeding to the (n + 1)st before reaching consensus on the nth -- but permits unlimited iteration back through Step 1. 
    That there are seven means nothing. I favor five, same as Maslow -- and whoever digitized my left hand. Still, seven, being the sum of four, the number of Nature, and three, the number of Providence, may give reassurance to those who yearn for more solemn authority. 
Finally, "rational" gives way to "obvious" -- after you see The Process. The seven steps...
  1. Statement of the Problem 
  2. Purpose of the Meeting 
  3. Identification of Alternatives
  4. Introduce Constraints 
  5. Advantages and Disadvantages 
  6. Develop Proposed Solution 
  7. Action Plan

1. Statement of the Problem

Do we have a problem? 
If not, let's adjourn.
Some attendees are puzzled by the use of the term "problem," which, to technical people, can mean exactly that, a "puzzle."

However serious, "problem" need not signify "trouble."

Watch out for meetings without problems; I call them point-with-pride time-wasters.

2. Purpose of the Meeting

To solve the problem, of course. 
Not necessarily.
Maybe the purpose is to define the problem. Some problems aren't. Others needn't be solved. 

Some meetings are finished when the attendees become aware of the problem. Others end when participants cannot reach agreement on the purpose of the meeting -- whatever the problem. 

Some problems call for a separate meeting with different participants. Others call for people just to do their jobs. 

Then, too, the meeting may be the problem. Or the attendees. 

Watch out for meetings with a problem but without a purpose; I call them view-with-alarm time-wasters.

3. Identification of Alternatives

Brain-storming -- great! 
Maybe so, but please, no  lightning and thunder.
The trick is not to make judgements during this step. Plenty of that later. 

Ease tensions. Get everybody into the game. More "alternatives" the better, even if they fit neither the problem nor the purpose of the meeting. 

  • Some participants have a knack for thinking up solutions for which there are no problems. They make the best product planners. 
  • Others have a gift for creating problems where none exist. They're called program managers. 
  • Bureaucrats just stare at their shoes.
First time through, often as not, this part of the Process takes the meeting back to Step 1. Best not to quit, though, until everybody has run out of ideas.

4. Introduce Constraints

We tried that before. 
So? Let's try it again.
History teaches principles not precedents. Look elsewhere for more meaningful constraints: 
  • company policy and departmental directives, 
  • applicable laws and regulations, 
  • even ethics and social order. 
History is not a reliable guide. Face it: The future is not what it used to be.

Reasoning hypothetically in the past tense injures the mind. Reasoning by analogy is suitable only for clarifying an agreed-upon point -- not for arguing! 

Financial constraints often mislead judgments. Watch out for "affordability." There may be no such thing, actually. 

  • High enough return means we can afford it. 
  • If the consequences for not doing something are severe enough, ditto.
Constraints act as coarse filters for the alternatives identified in Step 3. Beyond that, the exercise forces you to... Which just happens to be the most powerful fundament of clear thinking.

5. Advantages and Disadvantages

Decision Analysis -- great! 
Better still, Disaggregated Judgment.
Breakout your favorite judgment tools: 
  • tabulations and weighting factors, 
  • matrices and diagrams, 
  • models and magnitudes, 
  • speculation and guessing, 
  • analysis and intuition. 
For what it may be worth, I refract every problem through three lenses:
  1. Technical Factors
  2. Economic Issues
  3. Human Considerations
Each has its own primacy, and there's a neat word for this analytic discipline, "prescinding" (you could look it up). 

Try deliberately isolating...

  • tasks from goals,
  • conflicting objectives from one another, 
  • countervailing concerns and political issues.
Separate reciprocities: acquisition from growth, technology versus MOB (make-or-buy) decisions,

By all means, separate what must be done from who should do the doing of what must be done.

Consider the interests of all eight "publics": 

  • prospects and customers, 
  • employees and stockholders, 
  • competitors and vendors, 
  • regulators and -- oh right, the public-at-large. 
Focus on the mighty differences...
  • between "period profit" and "profit" (period),
  • between return on sales and return on investment, 
  • between gross profit and gross margin...
...(in each case, no former, no latter). 

Amortize fixed cost, allocate variable cost, and forget sunk cost (not available for reinvestment).

Share of market follows share of mind; people buy what they want more than what they need; price is the worst form of differentiation; psychological goods equal profit. 

Stick close to First Principles: 

  • causes precede effects; 
  • two solid objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time; 
  • assertion carries the burden of validation. 
Steer clear of the Irrelevant Thesis Fallacy: 
  • you cannot believe everything you read; 
  • we don't want to throw money at the problem; 
  • where there's smoke, there's fire; 
  • if the idea had merit, someone else would be doing it.

6. Develop Proposed Solution

Policy Formulation -- great! 
Eventually. Meanwhile, it's a Process of Elimination.
The collective challenge: 
  • to evoke and to provoke, 
  • to distill and to blend, 
  • to cajole and to combine, 
  • to induce and produce...
...a proposal which all participants will, as the saying goes, "buy into." 

That takes sophistication. Sophistication is three things: 

  1. Control of Relationship Tension, 
  2. Management of Expectations, 
  3. Conquest of Ego.
The sophisticated leader 
  • raises comfort levels in all participants, 
  • reassures people that no solution is perfect, and, in place of full agreement, 
  • stimulates GNCD (good natured cooperative dissent).
Furthermore, since "There are no solutions, only subtler problems" (A Certain Bicyclist), and since we don't have all day for this meeting, the proposed solution must include a statement of "issues."

Don't forget: The Law of Unintended Consequences will always prevail (that reality may take you all the way back to Step 1).  But also remember: Good enough is better than best. Perfection is the enemy of the good.

7. Action Plan

Good meeting. See ya. 
Not so fast.

"Thought is a prelude not an alternative to action." 

-- Management and Machiavelli byAntony Jay
Before adjournment, expect a number of assignments by the group to individuals in the group -- better still, voluntary commitments to the group by individuals in the group. 

The Action Plan takes the form of ..

  • reports to write, 
  • research to conduct, 
  • orders to place, 
  • responses to prepare, 
  • inquiries to make, 
  • people to call, 
  • plans to plan, 
  • budgets to prepare, 
  • specifications to review. 
In a word, "action." And work

propur alcon ad solap

Acronym for The Rational Process: 
  1. PROblem, 
  2. PURpose, 
  3. ALternatives, 
  4. CONstraints, 
  5. Advantages & Disadvantages,
  6. SOLution, 
  7. Action Plan.

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