Not How, but Yes: Ask these questions early to improve your priorities
Being SaaS startup founders ourselves, we at airfocus are huge fans of the The Startup Chat podcast by Hiten Shah and Steli Efti. It is a great resource for software entrepreneurs with lots of strategic and practical advise on how to successfully run companies. In one of their last episodes (#167) Hiten and Steli perfectly outline our own narration for why we build airfocus and the importance of priorities. The podcast is about the book "The Answer to How Is Yes: Acting on What Matters" by Peter Block, which inspired Steli so much that he felt to share and discuss his learnings on decision making with Hiten.
People keep asking "How?" as a defense against living their life
The book's core idea is that people tend to instinctively jump too quickly from the idea stage to "how" (to implement the idea) without questioning if it is even the right thing to do. This can be explained by pragmatism and people trying to be useful ("I need to plan / manage / look busy"). As the author of the book points out, asking "how" is often used as a defense mechanism, because it feels like an easier task than asking the more challenging strategic question of whether you should follow up on the idea in the first place. "How" will usually bring many other, smaller questions that are easier to answer. It is comparable to procrastination where cleaning up your office desk becomes a more attractive (useful, but still hated) task compared to the more valuable job of tax declaration, which is even more hated.
Tips by Hiten and Steli on how to improve your priorities
Hiten and Steli have a very inspiring discussion about how they personally deal with the situation. Hiten claims that he never asks "how" (or at least tries to not do so), because he knows that if a) something is the right thing to do and b) he wants to do it, he will find a way to do it. The "how" comes as you do it. Steli has been self-reflecting while reading the book and recognizes that he often has "how" discussions, simply because of his hands-on mentality and out of curiosity. He also admits that sometimes, asking the question "how" can make you unproductive and distract you from your priorities.
If something has to be done, get it done – no questions asked.
The two entrepreneurs conclude that people take too much time to discuss the "how", instead of talking about the "if". Instead, when you're faced with a problem or a new challenge, ask yourself, "What is the right thing to do?", make a decision and then move on from there. As longs as everyone is aligned, you will figure out a way to solve problems and react to an ever changing environment, which is especially true for startups.
Our SaaS tool airfocus is all about helping decision makers and teams to build prioritization frameworks (read about our prioritization templates here) that empower to answer the "if" (you should do it) and "what" (which ideas to implement and in what order). In my situation as a co-founder at airfocus I talk to our users about prioritization and focus on a daily base. Many of these decision makers seem to increasingly see the need to prioritize and the value in asking "what is the right thing?" early and often. It helps you to stay focused and stops your people to run into opposite directions, which usually results in the burning of resources and social capital (motivation). I will end this post with the concluding thoughts by Steli and Hiten, which they describe almost as a universal law.
As long as we get everyone aligned, we're good.
airfocus provides simple and beautiful prioritization for decision makers and team. Sign up for our free beta and benefit from more objective and smarter decisions! Get in touch with [email protected] or @airfocusApp for a demo or leave a comment below, we would love to hear from you. You can also join our newsletter to learn about prioritization, decision making and focus.