The Art Of Challenging Yourself

16 February 2021

I was recently socially-distance walking with a client, shooting the breeze and taking in the winter-sprinkled splendour of the countryside on the outskirts of Basingstoke. As we trudged across the frost-covered paths were chatting about working and retiring. I commented about how I planned to carry on working into older age.

But Craig, you have to remember, there comes a point where you may no longer be relevant.

It’s a comment that’s stuck to me like velcro and I can’t shake it off.

It’s also got me challenging my whole perception of what I offer now as a consultant, and what I could offer in five or ten years time as I slide into the realms of being a veteran – the old, grey bloke in the corner, up against all newcomers.

Asking The Hard Questions

When is the last time you challenged your entire business proposition? Asked the questions that challenge the very foundation of your products and services? It’s daunting, it hurts, but it could just be the best thing you ever did to ensure the longevity of your business. But how do you peel the layers of the onion?

Putting Things Into Words

Language is a basic way of taking complex things and wrapping them up into words. But that’s hard. How can you define love, for instance? And isn’t the love you have for your partner different from the love you have for your children? How about the love you have for your dog, or your favourite football team?

Us humans tend to delete, distort and generalise information we take in so that we can fit these complex feelings and thoughts into our vocabulary.

All those things we’ve spent years neatly fitting into tellable stories, yep, we need to deconstruct them once in a while, and why should that not include your business sales proposition(s).

I Put It To You

There are a ton of language techniques we use on a daily basis, including violations that help us make sense of things. And of course, in business, they are rife:

I could go on and on. The point is, you need to get under your own skin and challenge every perception you have about your business sales propositions, it may just open your eyes a little. Here are some brief questions to help.

Question One (to four) - Cartesian Logic

I love this process and use it a lot. Also known as Cartesian Doubt, Cartesian Logic is a very simple line of questioning that emanated from the French philosopher, René Descartes. It’s a great way to pull apart your questions, or challenges, from different angles.

Personally, I find I have to start asking the last two questions over and over to get my brain to activate.

It’s a process of four “simple” questions that you can apply to any question:

Example: What would happen if I keep offering the same service I do now?

Try it on your business. Try it on your services. If nothing else, it forces your mind into a new flexibility.

Question Five - So What?

Possibly one of the most annoying questions you can ask yourself is “so what?” It’s also ONLY valuable if you remove ego, any defensiveness, and realise that the aim of the game is to discover new things about your business. Variations include:

This is doubly beneficial if you are realistic and realise you are just one in a thousand or more that do what you do and probably not even the best in the business.

Remember, none of us are as good as we think we are – the idea is to challenge yourself.

Question Six - What Is The Opposite?

A bit more challenging and not always relevant. But what is the opposite of what you are doing now? Dig deeper and keep going. It often opens doors, especially when you mix it up with So What?

What is the opposite of building a website for your marketing?
Relying on word-of-mouth and traditional means of advertising.

And that’s good because?
I
t forces me to focus on my product quality and levels of customer service.

And why should anyone really care?
Because they will know they are getting a good job.

And that’s good because?
They are getting value. They pay for better quality and peace of mind.

And what’s the opposite of that?
Cheap and nasty and a bad reputation.

So... what have you learned?

I Dare Ya

You may think you have everything wrapped up but I dare you to spend some time on this, to challenge your services, your perception of those services, and identify areas of investment for your business. It works doubly well when you bring in outsiders. People who can ask the “dumb” questions. If you need help, you know where I am. I’m good at asking dumb questions.

The Heston Way

I recently listened to a podcast with Heston Blumenthal being interviewed by Paul McKenna. McKenna tells a story about the first time they met when Heston just started cooking an egg in an odd way as they spoke. Paul asked him why he was doing it and Heston simply replied…

Because I just want to see what will happen.

When is the last time you deconstructed;
tried something, just to see what would happen?