Step Back To See Yourself In The Problem

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 3 Early Customer Stage, Consulting Business, Customer Development, skmurphy

Normally if you are not getting traction, if you are not able to reliably set and hit goals, then it’s a good idea to narrow your focus and take smaller steps.  Zoom in for traction.  This is a good rule of but you may need to take a step back and look at yourself as an actor in the system (or contributor to the problem).

Here is a short clip by Peter Block from Designed Learning on “Are You The Problem?” that makes the same point. I have supplied an edited transcript and interspersed some observations.

It’s easy to talk about other people’s resistance; the other half is my own resistance. I have to maintain awareness for what this implies. I have to realize that if I am a participant in the world, I am helping create it.

And if things are not going well then I am a player in them not going well. So I have to ask myself, “What is my contribution to the difficulty?”
Peter Block in “Are You The Problem?

When entrepreneurs tell us, “We have given our demo to a dozen prospects and no one gets it” or “We have described our solution to a dozen people we think have the problem and none of them think it’s a problem” the answer is not to talk another three dozen using the same approach. Either the selection criteria for whom to target is not accurate or the description of the problem does not resonate, or the message/demo is not compelling. In any event the answer is not to keep doing the same exact thing.

Usually it’s my wish to please, my wish to control, it’s my own doubts being distorted into persuasiveness.

So a good question is “What doubts am I having about how I am doing. What’s my contribution?”
Peter Block in “Are You The Problem?

This is a particular challenge for early demos, you think you have something compelling but no one has really acknowledged your product meets a need. Doubt starts to creep in an instead of becoming more thoughtful you become more passionate because if you can convince the next prospect then it will quell your own doubts. This is why I am very cautious when entrepreneurs talk about “objection handling.” This often means they are telling the prospect their concerns are unfounded or mistaken instead of accepting them as a valid perspective and exploring them. The other side of the coin is taking doubts too seriously and continuing to perfect the demo without ever talking to a stranger.

If none of those questions help me I have a technique. I say, “Excuse me, I have to go to the bathroom.”

I know that once I leave the room my mind clicks back on and I will know within five steps what it was that I was doing to contribute to the difficultly. I will know what was really bothering me. Usually it’s my own doubts. Even though I am advocating something I am having doubts but I cannot name them.
Peter Block in “Are You The Problem?

I think Peter Block is very skilled at self-debugging and reflection. It can sometimes take me hours to days to figure out a mistaken assumption or to figure out how I am contributing to the problem. But the technique of taking a short breather is a good start on self-debugging.

One I leave the room and leave the portal of that experience I have a chance that my own reflection will be useful to me.
Peter Block in “Are You The Problem?

Building in debriefing step after every customer interview or demo is another way to develop a discipline of reflection and review, you can improve even when things go fairly well. But the challenge in a conversation–whether it’s a  customer discovery interview or a demo–is that you have to be fully present in the moment. To be able to respond and improvise effectively you cannot also be paying a lot of attention to your performance and how you may be causing problems.

Other Ways to Reframe a Conversation

Block’s “withdrawal and return” is a good self-recovery technique. Here are a few other things to try to get some distance on a difficult conversation:

  • Use the Buddy System: Always bring a second person to interviews and demos who can contribute but also observe. This allows you to step back as the other person takes the lead for a stretch. Because they were part in the conversation they can provide additional insight in the debrief on what went well and what needs work.
  • Draw: Use a piece of paper or a whiteboard to draw instead of speak. Ask other participants to draw a sketch of the situation of a proposed solution. This can unlock a “right brain” perspective that may be much harder to access verbally.
  • Quantify: Put some numbers on the problem if you haven’t. Ask other participants for numeric estimates. Quantifying can also unlock a different perspective. If you cannot put numbers on a problem you may have a very poor understanding.
  • Meditate I think meditation can allow you “stand beside yourself” and observe in the moment, not when you are actively improvising but when you are taking part in the conversation. This is not a short term solution but it regular practice may enable you to more easily access other perspectives and a deeper sense of self-awareness in a few months.

More By Peter Block

  • Designed Learning: short videos by Peter Block
  • The Empowered Manager Very useful for navigating the challenges of helping an organization change. Offers insights into the challenges that an internal champion faces in bringing in an outside solution for an organizational challenge.
  • Flawless Consulting A good perspective on how to diagnose problems and offer advice that gets acted on.
  • The Answer to How is Yes Good suggestions for managers in a startup or other situations requiring teamwork in the face of high uncertainty.

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