|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...
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.
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.
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...
Statement of the Problem
Purpose of the Meeting
Identification of Alternatives
Advantages and Disadvantages
Develop Proposed Solution
1. Statement of the Problem
Do we have a problem?
Some attendees are puzzled by the use of the term "problem,"
which, to technical people, can mean exactly that, a "puzzle."
If not, let's adjourn.
However serious, "problem" need not signify "trouble."
Watch out for meetings without problems; I call them
2. Purpose of the Meeting
To solve the problem, of course.
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
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!
The trick is not to make judgements during this step. Plenty
of that later.
Maybe so, but please, no lightning and thunder.
Ease tensions. Get everybody into the game. More "alternatives"
the better, even if they fit neither the problem nor the purpose of the
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.
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.
4. Introduce Constraints
We tried that before.
History teaches principles not precedents. Look elsewhere
for more meaningful constraints:
So? Let's try it again.
History is not a reliable guide. Face it: The
future is not what it used to be.
company policy and departmental directives,
applicable laws and regulations,
even ethics and social order.
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.
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
High enough return means we can afford it.
If the consequences for not doing something are severe
5. Advantages and Disadvantages
Decision Analysis -- great!
Breakout your favorite judgment tools:
Better still, Disaggregated Judgment.
For what it may be worth, I refract
problem through three lenses:
tabulations and weighting factors,
matrices and diagrams,
models and magnitudes,
speculation and guessing,
analysis and intuition.
Each has its own primacy, and there's a neat word for this
analytic discipline, "prescinding" (you could look it up).
Try deliberately isolating...
Separate reciprocities: acquisition from growth, technology
versus MOB (make-or-buy) decisions,
tasks from goals,
conflicting objectives from one another,
countervailing concerns and political issues.
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":
Focus on the mighty differences...
prospects and customers,
employees and stockholders,
competitors and vendors,
regulators and -- oh right, the public-at-large.
...(in each case, no former, no latter).
between "period profit" and "profit" (period),
between return on sales and return on investment,
between gross profit and gross margin...
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:
Steer clear of the Irrelevant Thesis Fallacy:
causes precede effects;
two solid objects cannot occupy the same space at the same
assertion carries the burden of validation.
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!
The collective challenge:
Eventually. Meanwhile, it's a Process of Elimination.
...a proposal which all participants will, as the saying
goes, "buy into."
to evoke and to provoke,
to distill and to blend,
to cajole and to combine,
to induce and produce...
That takes sophistication. Sophistication is three things:
The sophisticated leader
Control of Relationship Tension,
Management of Expectations,
Conquest of Ego.
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."
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).
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.
Before adjournment, expect a number of assignments by the
group to individuals in the group -- better still, voluntary commitments
the group by individuals in the group.
Not so fast.
"Thought is a prelude not an alternative to action."
-- Management and Machiavelli
The Action Plan takes the form of ..
In a word, "action." And work!
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.