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Passion, People and Principles

I Need to Stop Changing My Mind!

post # 261 — December 14, 2006 — a Careers, Managing post

Instigator Blog has come up with a neat idea: asking people what they have learned this year.

In the past year, I have been trying to get a great deal done. I have been working not only on continuous improvement for my own website (and my consulting work) but also helping with a thousand decisions needed for my wife’s new website.

New ideas and new initiatives have been launched weekly, sometimes daily — and that’s been the problem. A great deal of effort has been put in to things that were started and never finished. It’s not that they were bad ideas — it’s that the priorities always seemed to be changing. I lived with it because I thought it was evidence of innovation and creativity.

Now I’m not so sure. I (and the people who work for me) have wasted a lot of time stopping and starting.

When I heard Craig Weatherup (former CEO of The Pepsi Bottling Company ) speak he was asked what he thought his strengths were as a CEO. He said that one of his strengths was that he was always good at having a “filter” for actions, decisions and topics. He would lay out a strategy, and from that develop a strong decision screen that clearly identified which issues should be passed through the screen and brought to his attention, and which should be refused.

If, for example, his Board wanted him to look at something that was “off the screen,” he would say “I’m not going to change my priorities just for this topic. If you want me to go back to the beginning and redesign my entire screen, I will, but I’m not going to make constant readjustments.”

Another way he said it was that he felt that one of his strengths was that we was slow to say “Yes” and quick to say “No.”

Every two weeks, he would look ahead at the appointments on his calendar and eliminate non-essential, non-strategic activities.

There’s a term for all this that some other people, especially those in software design: the point comes in every project when you must “freeze the design.”

I now understand the power of that, and the wastefulness that results from constantly shifting priorities and work tasks. Weatherup’s rules are invaluable: Be ready to make changes only if it’s truly worth going back and redesigning the entire strategy of what you’re up to. Have a slow yes and a fast no. Brutally eliminate off-strategy activities.

Now, if only I had the personality and discipline to do all that!

What do you think? Is it better to go for focus and constancy of purpose, or be open and flexible to new ideas as they emerge? Is it possible to have the best of both worlds?


Pat McGee said:

Don’t change. Keep doing what you’ve been doing. Remain flexible.

1. Sunk costs are not relevant to investment models. (About the only thing I remember from getting a Master’s in Accounting.)

2. In software, “agile” projects never ever freeze the design. More agile projects succeed in meeting customers real needs than those that do freeze the design. Those that freeze the design often deliver, but they often deliver stuff that the customer no longer cares about.

posted on December 14, 2006

Carl Isenburg said:

David, this would make an excellent chapter in your next book:

“Ensure you’re working on what matters”.

I’ve observed this in myself, my colleagues, and my team. We have a tendency to spend our time on whatever urgent topic is in front of us – we need to determine whether that urgent topic is also important before we allow it to consume our valuable time.

The most obvious symptom of this may be the blackberry culture. We’re all very eager to ignore what we’re working on and start the next thing …

posted on December 14, 2006

Erik Mazzone said:

Interesting post, David.

I don’t think it is possible to retain as a top prioroty both a laser focus and open flexibility at the same time — not least of which because I believe, as you hinted, that this leadership style derives from one’s personality. If you have the personality type and style to follow Mr. Weatherup’s disciplined philosophy you may end up missing out on some big opportunities. By contrast, if you are of the flexible style, it is a distinct possibility that your most important resolutions will never be achieved. If you can actually pick one (and I don’t think most people can, not effectively anyway), then I believe it would be better to pick the disciplined approach.

That said, it is perhaps possible to incorporate both aspects in a 1-2 fashion — where one is decidedly a primary decision-making style and the other secondary. An example might be for a disciplined and consistent style person to plan various junctures throughout a year where he will consider alterations to the plan.

As someone who is strong at remaining flexibility but far weaker on the discipline and consistency front, it’s a constant struggle for me to address this weakness.

posted on December 14, 2006

Shuchetana said:

Both approaches have their pros and cons.

As someone who’s more “flexible”, I can easily see the merits of that approach: take advantage of new opportunities and customize your product to better meet the (often changing) needs of your consumers. I think maybe this approach is more applicable to small/new businesses which have to take advantage of their small size and greater adaptability in order to survive with the Big Organizations.

Of course, the risks with this approach remain, but can be improved if there remain a few priorities that are constantly reffered to.

I know the disciplined approach will help with focus and minimize distractions (as opposed to opportunities) but I think that many small companies simply can’t afford to do this, especially when many of them are struggling, not even with profitability, but with survival.

posted on December 15, 2006

eoecho | Greg Magnus said:


Interesting that we both recently came across an example of “freezing” a process to increase productivity. I attended a 4-day Shipley Associates Writing Winning Proposals/Managing Winning Proposal workshop in DC last week. I was very impressed with the class and returned this week for a Capture Planning for Strategic Wins workshop. The presenter, Bob Winslow has over 30 years of experience in business development – truly a leader in the field.

Bob used the term “freeze” several times. For example, during the proposal planning stage he would say, “OK, now it’s time to freeze the outline and make sure upper management signs off on the proposal solution.” The term “freeze” really hit home. My interpretation is “end scope creep” and include a method to do so in your project management system that involves all of the team members on a project.

posted on December 15, 2006

Ben Yoskovitz said:

David – first, thanks for participating in my group writing project. I really appreciate it.

Second, I think you’re right on the money. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot. I posted about it recently on startupspark.com, but in a different way – talking about the fact that you can drown in ideas. Entrepreneurs are idea-generators, and it’s often quite easy to generate many ideas and spread yourself too thin. But that doesn’t lead to success.

posted on December 18, 2006

zorak163 said:

I think that you should plot things out the best that you can and remain focused while possible but also keep your mind open to being flexible and the possibility that change is inevitable.

My workplace spends way too much time focusing on changing – too much change too quickly can be as detrimental as not being focused. Change should be done just to do it.

posted on December 18, 2006

Robert Hruzek said:

David, you hit the nail on the head, but as you can see from the previous comments, there will always be various interpretations and applications of the same principle! As an engineer, this is pretty much how we operate: once you reach a certain point, you have to ‘freeze’ the scope and proceed.

I’ve had one project whose scope and objectives kept changing, and as a result we ended up blowing the proposed budget bigtime! Build a plan, work the plan, and voila! project success.

We always have to keep that well-known saying in mind, “There comes a time in the life of every project when you have to shoot the engineers and start production.”

posted on December 19, 2006

Emmanuel said:

The mind of an average man is capable of generating millions of ideas in a day. And that is where the problem starts from. This year alone, I have been involved in several projects and have only been able to see few through.

I have, however, decided to follow Craig Weatherup‘s model. I have to keep telling myself that I can’t be involved in several projects at the same time. As such, I have learnt to focus on the tasks I know I can be fully committed to and this has helped me a great deal in getting results.

posted on December 20, 2006

Zale Tabakman said:

Hi David,

I like this article – in fact I wrote a blog on here.

Here is a copy of the blog entry….

I was reading a post by David Maister – and he posed the question of why people change their minds.

His article is here.

As usual, I have some definite thoughts on this.

Its an interesting challenge to stop changing ones mind.

First Step – Get the facts!

Are you really changing your mind?

You may just be evaluating new information and modifing your plan as you go along. So in fact you may not be changing your mind – just adjusting the details of your plan.

So the first step is to get all the information. Keep a journal of what your decisions are, and then when you think you have changed your mind – check your journal as see if this is reality.

Second Step – You are at this step because you have decided that you are changing your mind about your priorities.

You need to get the facts.

The next question is – why is influencing you to change your mind?

Is it new information? Then maybe you were too hasty in making your first decision.

Is it because of outside influences? Then maybe you need to check with these influencers, before you make your decision.

Is it because you need to implement the decison – to learn the consequences of your actions.

Third Step – By this time, you now understand when you are changing your mind, if you have done enough work, you understand why you changed your mind.

Here is the bottom line. If you are successful in meeting your life goals, then accept that this is the way you act and live with it.

My method for dealing with different priorities.

I have a list of goals with target dates I maintain. These are not milestones – but tangible goals that I want out of life.

(Sort of a Definite Purpose in Napoleon Hill language) At all times, I decide if the action I am about to take will move me closer to one of my goals. And is it the next action or is it two steps away.

Take Care


posted on December 22, 2006

Linda Freedman(TherapyDoc) said:

In decision making therapy some of us still like an old gestalt technique. We ask the patient to sit in one chair and talk about one possiblity, then in another to talk about the other possibility.

What we usually determine, however, is that there’s a middle ground or alternative possiblity that will work best for a particular set of circumstances.

Using a research model as well, there are so many confounding variables to every hypothesis that staying fixed or rigid with expectations and a fixed strategy tends to be the least productive strategy.

Very interesting discussion, thanks.

posted on December 24, 2006