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Blog: The artistry of understanding

Most of our customers, before they are customers, are trying to break challenges down into manageable chunks. A bit like painting by numbers. The trouble is that there’s always a difference between the picture you’ve painted in your mind, for the future of your business, your team or your role, and the image that’s down on paper. That’s because you don’t know what you don’t know.

Businesses aren’t created by colouring in one area after another, they’re made up of layers and layers, all blending together. That’s not too tough to achieve when you are expert in the image you want to create. But imagine trying to paint something you’ve never seen before.

The page, your business, is something you understand very well. The different coloured paints, your people, are familiar and distinct. You even know how to pull two colours together and create a blend of their abilities in a team. But to bring them together, a clear and rich tapestry of the solution you’re searching for, you need something outside your understanding.

My experience has led me to believe that the best place to get a new understanding is from other people.

Look outside the organisation when you’re trying to achieve something you don’t specialise in. Look first to your own network, then to the networks of your colleagues and what you’re searching for is an artisan of understanding. I’m not going to debate whether to use a hire, contractor or consultant, I don’t believe the distinction is relevant here. It’s just essential to build trust and confidence.

Van Gogh, Picasso, da Vinci, Monet, Michelangelo and Rembrandt all had a style, there are whole eras defined by what they and their contemporaries created. Find as artist that’s painted before and has a vision like your own.

Now here’s the clincher, the reason that understanding is the secret ingredient. Whatever you’re setting out to accomplish, your vision is invariably not as complete a picture as it could be. Edward de Bono famously asked children in a school to draw a dog exercising machine. Almost every single child in the school drew a tread mill or something similar, most of the time with a bone dangling in front of the dog. One child drew a trailer that the dog was pulling and in that trailer, was a cattle prod!

Everyone will interpret stimuli in different ways. Imagine if Edward de Bono had instead, asked the children to encourage a dog to walk or force a dog to walk. The message here is what you say and what someone else interprets is invariably a result of how complete your understanding is. Invest time and energy in developing a mutual understanding. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and respond to them candidly.

That’s where agreement and understanding comes from. I’m not trying to convince someone to do something, it’s not about selling. I’m invariably just trying to help you make up your mind. If you make good decisions about what needs painting then regardless of the nuances of my understanding, I can be sure that I’m creating the result you’re looking for.

It’s all just about time, commitment and good conversations. I like to think I’m an honourable guy and the reason I build long term relationships is because I like to trust people. If there’s a difficult situation for a long-time customer they’re more like a colleague and it means they’ll trust me. They know they can be honest and get an honest response. Over time your understanding builds, it’s clear and instinctive. That’s when the best knowledge changes hands. Knowledge that has a positive impact.

After all, the best pictures are the ones we share.

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