Years ago I was hired to lead a small business with a ton of potential. I had so many ideas when I accepted the position; it seemed ripe with opportunity. I couldn’t understand why my two predecessors failed to grow the business.
There was a rather lengthy transition between my previous job and my new one. I spent hours each evening learning about the business. There were so many responsibilities and regulations to navigate in my new role. Thankfully, my new boss provided reams of information to review prior to my official start date. That’s when I learned why my predecessors had failed to grow the business.
There was so much information, so many choices and so many people pulling them in different directions that they were simply overwhelmed.
On my first official day on the job I was invited to a meeting with the VP of a different department who had a vested interest in my business. He was known to be a “vampire” who would suck your resources dry if you let him. He demanded that I focus my business on ways to support his business. Thankfully I had done my homework and realized that helping the vampire’s business would be detrimental to the growth of my own. So, I ignored his threats and focused on the right ways to transformationally grow my business.
When overwhelmed, we tend to oil the squeakiest wheels instead of focusing on the big picture. My predecessors focused their energy on putting out the daily fires and placating the squeaky wheels. The vampires sucked them in and sucked them dry. As a result, they had nothing left to grow their business.
We can’t be all things to all people. Saying “no” is difficult for many of us, but it is essential to focus our resources on what really counts. Hearing no will disappoint some people, but remember this: just because something is relevant, does not make it important. Focus on the important things.
Having too much information is one of five triggers that throw us into our autopilot cognitive processing system, which is irrational and non-analytical. As I mentioned in my last blog Agents of Influence: Time Pressure, autopilot is where biases, fallacies and poor decisions lurk. In order to combat this agent of influence, we must be hyper-vigilant to focus on one or two key decision-factors when we feel overwhelmed with TMI or too many choices.
When time pressure is added to an overwhelming amount of information, our rational cognition often shuts down completely. Because there is not enough time to analyze each choice properly, we rely on autopilot decision-making. This makes us susceptible to influence practitioners who want to affect our decisions, like that corporate vampire who tried to suck the resources out of my new business.
Like my predecessors, I had both autopilot triggers with which to contend. There was too much information and I was under pressure to show positive results in a set time period. Fortunately, when I walked out of the meeting with the vampire, I made my first wise decision in that new role. I chose to let the wheels squeak and the daily fires burn in order to focus my attention on the big picture—the few strategies and tactics that would ultimately drive business results.
The antidote to TMI is focus. If you want to outrun the vampires, you have to pick a lane.
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