Blindly accepting common wisdom and working hard won’t get you ahead in the business world. The key lies in the details: learning to see what others miss. Wharton School MBA holder and business consultant David Kronfeld argues that honing your insightfulness – appreciating the nuances and subtleties of situations – will bring you more career success than any other skill. His guide breaks down how to look at problems with a keener eye and to use what others overlook to your advantage. Though some may find his tone a bit patronizing, Kronfield successfully shows the merits of thinking differently.
- Look for subtle nuances in the challenges you face.
- You don’t need to be the best; you just need to do better than your competition.
- Pay attention to what people don’t say.
- You don’t have to know everything or always be right to succeed.
- To influence others, try to see things from their perspective.
- Negotiate like a lawyer.
- Know what interviewers are looking for ahead of time.
- Problem-solve through logical data analysis.
Look for subtle nuances in the challenges you face.
When you strengthen your ability to observe subtleties, you can cultivate more success in your career. Learning to pay attention to and seek out the most relevant – rather than just the most obvious – factors affecting the challenges you face, will allow you to begin to make decisions based on sound logic and facts, and, therefore, to excel.
While most understand the concept of “insightfulness” and can identify it when they see it, people often find it difficult to explain how it works. However, you can break down the path of insight into four steps:
- Understand which specific obstacles to overcome – For example, your boss asks you to increase brand awareness. The vagueness of this statement makes determining which exact steps to take unclear. To help discern the true obstacles to overcome, ask yourself if the stated goal allows you to lay out clearly defined actions that will lead to a solution; if not, dig deeper.
- Break the problem down into manageable steps – Imagine you find yourself at a desert oasis whose well has run dry. You determine that the core problem is that you must get more water. Now, consider how the process of increasing water supplies breaks down into actions such as digging the well deeper, using less water or importing water from somewhere else.
- Expand on each step – Importing more water, for instance, could expand into obtaining trucks, camels, etc. to carry the water. Each expansion should provide further direction in solving the issue.
- Step back and look at your process – Eventually, after breaking everything down, you should see a very clear path for solving the main problem.
Although these steps appear easy enough, in real-world scenarios, gaining insight is often a less-than-straightforward process. People lose their way precisely because they miss certain nuances within the situation.
“The best insight can be achieved when one correctly understands the ‘what,’ ’why’ and ‘how’ of a situation.”
For example, David Kronfeld had trouble landing a job right out of college. He found that his standard-issue résumé wasn’t getting results. So he conducted some research as to what employers actually looked for when picking someone for a job. Kronfeld learned that a résumé served to get you an interview, not a job. So, he changed his résumé to grab the attention of potential employers instead of following the usual format. This insight helped Kronfeld land his first job.
You don’t need to be the best; you just need to do better than your competition.
You don’t need genius genetics or top grades to succeed in the business world. Unlike school, where success hinges on your retaining new information, workplace success is premised on a multitude of skills such as analyzing, judging and producing viable solutions. It also revolves around your ability to compete against others.
Some might offer you the advice to “do your best” or “work hard.” But you don’t need to be the best, or even do your best; you only need to ensure those in charge notice you doing better than your competition and to avoid making catastrophic mistakes. Instead of focusing on your actions, focus on what others do and who judges the competition. Then determine what, exactly, the judge defines as “the best.” If you take the time to understand the true competitive goal, you can take the right action steps to succeed.
Many people working today do the bare minimum required to keep their jobs; but the widespread mediocrity found in business is more due to a lack of opportunity for career advancement than to an inherent lack of motivation to succeed. Another factor, according to Canadian researcher Dr. Laurence J. Peter’s “Peter Principle,” is that most managers continue to receive promotions until, eventually, they reach a point where their competency maxes out. This does not mean that these individuals aren’t smart and capable; but it does result in people occupying positions for which they aren’t really qualified.
“Although mediocrity is everywhere, it is not the end of the world!”
You could feel frustrated dealing with the mediocrity you encounter at work. But mediocrity has always been, and will always be, widespread. Instead of feeling frustrated, see this reality as a good thing: It offers you an opportunity to rise. You need others to not care as much about their work, so you can climb the corporate ladder. If everyone was brilliant or insightful, you might not go as far.
Pay attention to what people don’t say.
In business, there are a host of basic truths that the majority of people accept without question. However, if you blindly follow these truths, you will often miss the reality of problems and create flawed solutions. Instead, question what seems obvious and even aim to prove it wrong. Pay close attention to what people don’t consider and brainstorm alternatives.
“Treat everyone as you would like to be treated.”
Often, finding the real challenge or goal within a given situation involves looking for hidden meanings in what people say. Don’t take others’ words at face value; try to incorporate the full context of who they are and where they come from, then weed out biased judgments that cloud your understanding. Repeat the logic behind people’s arguments – their reasoning or opinions – back to them, and you will uncover what they really mean. No matter how frustrating or obtuse someone’s opinion may sound, keep your emotions in check. Never put someone down or disrespect them.
You don’t have to know everything or always be right to succeed.
When you’re unsure of how to handle a situation, seek outside perspectives. Don’t follow the advice you receive blindly, however; ask for background sources on the information and weigh in with your instincts.
You will make mistakes. Failure is a part of the problem-solving process. Own your mistakes as they happen. Don’t make excuses or blame others – it undercuts your credibility far more than the error itself.
Focusing on right versus wrong can make conflicts worse. Compromising is better than determining blame. Resolutions that both parties can live with allow people to move forward.
To influence others, try to see things from their perspective.
Your influence on others plays an important role in your success. For example, in a business meeting where you need to convince someone to give you something you want, you make your pitch, provide data and supply ample evidence that leads to your logical request. However, things may not go your way if the other person either doesn’t see the logic or won’t comply. In such cases, you will need to influence the other party to adopt your point of view.
Proactively seek out any holes in your logic. Anticipate where others might have questions or feel resistance. Finally, suggest your solution in a variety of ways until it sticks.
“Beware, logic oftentimes appears sound and compelling but…may not always be correct or complete.”
Refrain from any aggressive or close-minded attitudes that could negatively affect others’ decisions. You don’t want to trigger their defenses; people need to let their guard down in order to feel safe with your logic and solutions. Ask “guiding” questions so that the other party comes to your solution through their own logic – almost as if they came up with the answer themselves. Carefully doing this will highlight your negotiation skills and make you seem like a great team player.
When disagreements do occur, follow these tips:
- Acknowledge the other person’s point of view to make them feel that their ideas have merit.
- Don’t let your body language show any frustration. Stay neutral.
- Find a nicer, more amicable way of saying “you’re wrong.”
- Ask a question instead of restating facts to make others feel heard.
To successfully influence someone, you need to see things from their perspective; only then can you work to change their point of view.
Negotiate like a lawyer.
Your ability to influence others will come in handy during negotiations. Many negotiations fail because parties don’t communicate properly or understand how to frame their arguments for the people who have final veto power. At first, you may assume that top executives have that power. However, they don’t make decisions alone. They usually listen to their advisers – lawyers.
Legal advice often trumps business logic because of the risks that companies want to avoid. Mismanaged mergers or acquisitions can result in costly lawsuits if companies don’t heed legal ramifications. Lawyers have the unique ability and patience to comb through negotiations and find the nuances in problems that could influence outcomes. They also have the power to say “I would definitely not recommend moving forward.”
When a lawyer mutters that statement – or any other variation – during a negotiation, you have failed. In order to avoid this outcome, research and understand what might make a lawyer balk when reviewing your side of a negotiation.
“All it takes is a little redefinition of the front without having to compromise on anything important.”
Lawyers, unlike most business people, know how to redefine negotiation terms to allow for exceptions or changes. Most business people, on the other hand, come to meetings with a bottom line that they won’t compromise on or change. Without altering the way each party communicates their demands, the situation will end in a stalemate. Success hinges on knowing each side’s true bottom line and looking for creative ways to reshape the terms of the negotiation, as needed.
For example, one business founder turned down a venture capital deal, ostensibly because he didn’t agree with the company’s valuation of his firm. When the author dug deeper, however, he realized the founder’s actual bottom line wasn’t the valuation itself, but its ramifications for his ownership percentage. This revelation allowed Kronfeld to reframe the terms of the deal in a way that gave the founder what he wanted, without changing the valuation amount.
Know what interviewers are looking for ahead of time.
Attention to communication styles and negotiation tactics can benefit you during interviews as well.
“Can a different perspective lead to a different result, even though we approach an interview with the belief that we have no control over the outcome?”
First, understand the general attributes interviewers look for in potential candidates. Most of them seek these top priorities:
- Experience – The competency you have within your field of expertise.
- Intellect – This often involves a demonstration of your thinking skills on the spot via analysis of case studies.
- Passion – Your enthusiasm in getting the job or how excited you appear to work at the company.
- Communication – Your ability to articulate and put ideas together in a succinct flow.
- Social skills – Your ability to function as a team player and resolve conflicts.
Simply following this list won’t set you apart from others or guarantee you the job. You must align with what the interviewer deems as their personal top priority. To accomplish this goal, think less about the interview questions themselves and more about the impressions the interviewer will glean from your replies. Usually, the interviewer’s sense of your attitude (will you work well with your manager and team?) and intellect (can you handle the job’s challenges?) determine whether they will see you as a viable candidate. You don’t want to overdo it when showing off your wit, however. Appearing arrogant could severely hurt your credibility. Avoid putting down previous co-workers, sticking stubbornly to opinions or insisting that you are right in the face of pushback.
At the end of interviews, they often ask if you have any questions. Depending on what stage – early or late – ask questions only if you absolutely need the answer. Don’t ask questions to make yourself appear impressive because it could backfire.
Problem-solve through logical data analysis.
Once you land a job, often you will have to resolve problems and recommend solutions. Stick to these four steps when looking at any business issue:
- Data – Collect accurate, complete and relevant facts. Don’t cherry-pick or leave out critical points. For example, if you work for a struggling department store and your boss gives you the task of increasing overall profit, you need data about the current profit trends and must conduct research; asking customers and salespeople what they think keeps sales down.
- Analysis – Organize and categorize the data into logical groupings. In the case of the department store, looking at the data should show patterns explaining the decline in profit.
- Draw conclusions – Show how current trends interact with the company’s strengths or weaknesses. Again, look for where the numbers show potential for growth or where weak spots appear. From there, put together a series of possible solutions. List alternatives and potential trade-offs.
- Offer a solution – Having done your due diligence, you can confidently offer a solution that accurately reflects the data. If you got the numbers right, your solution should work.
Successful business analysis requires a logical step-by-step process – surprising discoveries shouldn’t appear out of nowhere.
“One just needs to constantly look for nuances and potential exceptions.”
Methodically look for subtle nuances and insights that could affect the analysis and your proposed solution. Always make sure that your data comes from sound sources, otherwise the rest of the process won’t work.
About the Author
Author David Kronfeld is a Wharton MBA graduate and consultant.
I have read the book [Remarkable: Proven Insights to Accelerate Your Career] by [David Kronfeld] and here is my summary and review of the book:
The book [Remarkable: Proven Insights to Accelerate Your Career] by [David Kronfeld] is a guide for anyone who wants to learn how to become a top performer and a valuable team player in their organization. The author, a former executive and a venture capitalist, draws on his 40 years of experience and expertise in various industries and sectors to teach the readers how to:
- Develop the skills and qualities that are essential for success in any career, such as communication, collaboration, creativity, problem-solving, and leadership
- Identify and pursue the opportunities that will help them grow and advance in their career, such as finding mentors, seeking feedback, taking risks, and learning from failures
- Build and maintain a strong personal brand that will differentiate them from their peers and competitors, such as creating a compelling resume, networking effectively, and managing their online presence
- Navigate the challenges and changes that are inevitable in any career, such as dealing with difficult bosses, colleagues, and clients, handling stress and burnout, and adapting to new technologies and trends
- Achieve their career goals and aspirations by setting SMART objectives, creating action plans, measuring progress, and celebrating achievements
The book also provides practical tips, examples, exercises, and checklists to help the readers apply the concepts and skills in their own context. The book features contributions from various experts, leaders, and celebrities who share their insights and experiences on how they became remarkable in their careers. The book also includes case studies and examples from various organizations that have successfully implemented or adapted some of the author’s proven insights to accelerate their careers.
The book [Remarkable: Proven Insights to Accelerate Your Career] by [David Kronfeld] is a comprehensive and insightful resource for anyone who wants to learn how to become a top performer and a valuable team player in their organization. The author’s credentials and expertise are evident throughout the book, as he shares his insights and anecdotes from his extensive career in various fields. The book is well-written, engaging, and easy to follow, with clear explanations and illustrations. The book covers a wide range of topics that are relevant and useful for anyone who wants to create value and impact through their career. The book also offers a balanced perspective on career development, avoiding the extremes of overconfidence and underconfidence. The book encourages the readers to adopt a strategic and pragmatic approach to career development that will help them achieve their goals.
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