Being something of a serial Apple purchaser (I know, I know), about six months ago I decided I would rather like a brand new Mac Pro. As I am a frustrated musician, I could see this being the perfect purchase for my home studio. “It’s the choice of professional studios”, I said to myself. “It has limitless expandability”, I reasoned. “And it’s really cool”, I fantasised.
I went as far as to look at prices, even attempting to work out how I could fund one of these almighty beasts. Various web pages describing the Mac Pro were salivated at and numerous YouTube videos were watched with a sense of wonder and glee. This process continued in earnest until one day I happened to mention to my wife that I was considering buying one. Her question cut straight through several weeks of mental machinations – “On what basis do you want one of those? You already have a top of the range iMac”.
Perspective was suddenly achieved. I had everything I needed for my home studio setup in my existing kit. Why was I even considering replacing it with something way more powerful than I needed?
Alarmingly, I had never once asked myself that simple question – “On what basis?”.
In the business environment, we so often sit through meetings exploring various plans and ideas in great detail. What is absolutely staggering is that very rarely does anyone ask “On what basis are we doing this?”. If someone does dare to try out the question, they are often greeted with the same kind of response you get when you secretly build a brick wall across your neighbour’s front door during the night and they work out who did it the following morning. It’s not a popular question to ask in the middle of an intense meeting.
Why is this? Why do we so dislike being confronted with such a useful question in a business situation? Why don’t we use it more?
A key reason is that old human trait – attachment. It is common to all of us – when we have an idea of what we want to see happen, we often attach ourselves to a specific outcome. We emotionally invest in that outcome, it becomes meaningful to us and once that happens, attachment rules our behaviour.
You can test this. Find the guy in the office who is really excited about his potential purchase of a new BMW 3-Series and tell him there are better options in the market. You may get a similar look to what you experience when you pick up someone’s cup of coffee and pour it out of the window. He won’t thank you for it.
He is of course attached to the specific outcome he’s decided he wants – that particular model of car.
In the business environment, people often put forward ideas to which they have become attached. After all, it’s their idea, right? This is the result of an emotional decision-making process rather than a logical one. For more information on the background of how people use emotion in making decisions, take a look at my other blog post – “Why Batman is Relevant to Your Business”
So people in business decide on a particular outcome they want, they pick the means by which it will be achieved and they become attached to it. As a result they don’t question their own logic.
So what happens if you ask the question “On what basis?”. Well, it turns out that this question is one of those lovely phrases that is inherently logical. There is absolutely nothing emotional about it. If you introduce a logical phrase to the brain it resets your mind into a thinking state rather than a feeling state. Now, you may get an initial emotional reaction from someone who’s attached if you put this question to them, but once you get them engaged in processing the question they will quickly switch into logical thinking mode. This is where you want them, because at this point they are separated from their emotional attachment and engaged in solving the problem logically.
By doing this during meetings at work, you can quickly make a big impact on the quality of decision-making and corporate planning.
If you are in any doubt about the impact of a simple phrase, consider this. Would history have been different if someone at Decca Records in 1961 had asked “on what basis do you think guitar groups are on the way out?” after the decision to reject The Beatles? Could a lot of unnecessary cost and bad publicity have been avoided if back in 1985, someone at Coca-Cola had asked “on what basis do you think we need to change the flavour of our most popular drink?”. Would IBM’s fortunes be better today if back in the late 1980’s, someone had asked “on what basis do we think it’s a good idea to give all the rights to our PC operating software to Microsoft?”.
So why not try this out – ask yourself this question when you are planning to do something and also ask your colleagues. It may be a little tricky at first, but I am confident that the benefits will outweigh any short term discomfort.
And by the way, I still have my iMac.
Managing Director – Franklin-Hackett Ltd.