I’m a gamer. Not the World of Warcraft sort of gamer, but a real gamer. Zelda never did it for me, but I’m always up for a ride on B & O Railroad or an excursion to the distant lands of Catan.
Yahtzee is one of my favorite games. In short, gamers throw five dice in series of three rolls to make certain combinations, highlighted by the elusive Yahtzee: a five-of-a-kind. A few weeks ago, I played with a friend who was new to the game. And one overzealous comment reminded me how dangerous prescribing can be.
My buddy played a strong first few rounds. He scored high across the board and was close to achieving the elusive top bonus because of it. But as he approached the finish line, he met a familiar Yahtzee dilemma. On his first roll, he showed three fours. He didn’t have space for fours on his board, but I stopped him before he changed directions.
“You know,” I shared, “It’s rare to land a three-of-a-kind on your first roll. You should go for the Yahtzee.”
My friend knew well my Yahtzee wizardry, and so he took my advice. He went for the Yahtzee.
But it wasn’t in the dice. He fell short of the Yahtzee, missed the top bonus because of it, and finished with a mediocre score. His great start fizzled to a crash landing. And whose fault was it? The dice’s fault? The Yahtzee newbie’s fault? Of course not. I coached him. I walked him off that cliff.
A week later, I sat in a half-day Convene management training. The trainer began the session by stating his thesis:
“Everything I say today comes down to this: Good managers help their employees develop self-generated ideas.”
Self-generated ideas, he outlined, are the bedrock of success. When others develop their own solutions, they are most likely to succeed. When they simply follow our prescriptions, their ceilings lower. At best, they become carbon copies. At worst, they never own the idea at all.
When Jeff Rutt founded HOPE International, he learned this firsthand. He saw a great business opportunity for the Ukrainian churches: sunflower seed processing. So he bought the processor, shipped it over, and trained the Ukrainian church how to use it. But when he returned a year later, he saw a deflating scene.
The processor was never even turned on.
Jeff witnessed his great idea sitting dormant, cobwebbed and rusting. He drew them a blueprint, but they never owned it. It was Jeff’s great idea for them, but never their idea.
(Because Jeff is a resilient entrepreneur, he did not give up. Eventually, he pioneered a brilliant approach, unleashing thousands of Ukrainians to create self-generated ideas.)
I love telling other people what to do. When I’m the expert, it’s particularly difficult not to prescribe solutions. Whether with the Yahtzee dice or management discussions, the prescriptive road is the easy road. “Do this. Like that. With those.” But nobody grows with this approach and it’s never their fault when the idea fails. It’s hamstrung at the starting block. Unearthing solutions within others always trumps giving them ours.
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