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Conquering Overwhelming Challenges Like the Dishes on Thanksgiving – A Strategy for Tackling Competing Priorities

In the world of business, especially for those at the helm of innovation and growth, there comes a time when the plate is not just full—it's overflowing. It's akin to the aftermath of Thanksgiving dinner: dishes piled high, each demanding attention, a perfect metaphor for the competing priorities every leader faces. But just like those daunting stacks of pans and plates, there’s a strategy to tackle them effectively.

The “Dishes on Thanksgiving” Strategy for Business Priorities

Imagine the scene: Thanksgiving dinner is done. The table, once laden with an array of dishes, now hosts an assortment of empty plates and utensils smeared with the remnants of the feast. The kitchen looks like a disaster zone after a tornado, the kitchen is filled to the brim with cookware and serving dishes, even more are on the counter covered in entrails and crumbs. It's overwhelming, to say the least. Yet, the cleanup must start somewhere. This scenario, believe it or not, perfectly encapsulates the approach needed when faced with competing business priorities.

Assess, Triage, Act

When everything seems equally urgent, the first step is to take a deep breath and assess. In business, as with the Thanksgiving dishes, not all tasks are created equal—even if they appear so. Is there something that, by being addressed first, could make other tasks easier or even obsolete? Identifying such tasks can often provide a starting point.

  • Prioritization: Just as you might choose to soak the pots first to ease cleaning later, some projects or issues in business might need immediate attention to prevent them from becoming larger problems. Don’t leave that stuffing bowl to dry up like oatmeal left in the sun. Some problems can get harder with neglect. Others get easier, like the bowl of gravy that congeals as it cools and is easy to scoop out.
  • Delegation: Get help. Not all dishes require your personal touch; some can be handed off to others. Similarly, delegate tasks within your team based on expertise and capacity. Not every issue needs expert attention. Some need a light rinse and a quick scrub. If the risk of loss is low (or you just have no love for the cookware anyway), hand the tasks off.
  • Incremental Progress & Making Room to Maneuver: Every dish washed is one step closer to a clean kitchen. Every task completed is progress. At first, the effort will feel futile and inefficient, as you make room to maneuver however, your productivity will increase. Making room to maneuver and grow is often the first milestone. Celebrate these small wins with your team.

Cultivating a Playbook of Strategies

The unpredictable nature of business, much like the unpredictable outcome of a family Thanksgiving, necessitates a robust playbook of strategies and frameworks. These tools serve as your compass, guiding you through the fog of uncertainty that often surrounds decision-making processes.

  • Frameworks for Thought: Just as there are techniques to efficiently tackle a mountain of dishes, there are business frameworks designed to untangle complex problems and identify actionable solutions.
    • Example: The 1:3:1 Framework – Define the specific problem you’re trying to solve, come up with 3 viable solutions, and pick 1. The effort of determining 3 viable solutions often boxes you in or defines the characteristics of the best solution. If you’re still stumped, develop some quick scoring criteria to evaluate the 3 solutions (ease of implementation, cost, near term impact, long term impact, etc.).
  • Strategic Visioning: Sometimes, the best approach is to pause and realign with your vision. Drafting a new vision or mission statement can provide clarity and direction, much like finding a recipe that guides your cooking process.
    • Define the end point – Put the “point” in end point. Vague direction will not often help you. Where does X mark the spot? Be specific and clear. Clear directions are followed, clear tasks actually get done, and clear finish lines get crossed.
    • Assess Your Resources – You have a finite amount of time, talent, energy, attention, and money (your TEAM). Count what you have,
    • Map the constraints – Can you bribe the kids to clean the kitchen or will their parents not allow it? You need to know your constraints.
    • Consider Internal & External Factors – It’s easy to consider the conditions right in front of you, like the dishes in the kitchen, but what about the 3 course dessert that is still being served in the dining room? It’s critical to factor in outside conditions like economics, industry, competition, and consumer preferences. All too often leaders forget to factor in external factors and it can absolutely blow up your plans.

Taking the First Step

The most challenging aspect is often just beginning. Whether it's pots before pans or strategy before execution, the key is to start. Paralysis by analysis is a real threat in both kitchen cleanup and business operations. The act of starting, regardless of the task, generates momentum and can lead to unexpected clarity and insights.

  • Clarity Through Action: Action breeds clarity. By engaging with tasks directly, priorities can become clearer, and the path forward less daunting.
  • Adaptive Leadership: Just as the approach to cleaning up after Thanksgiving might change based on circumstances (unexpected guests, for example), so too must your approach to leadership be flexible and responsive to the business environment.

The journey through the business landscape, much like navigating the aftermath of your typical Thanksgiving dinner, is fraught with challenges and competing priorities. However, the principles that guide us through cleaning up—assessing, triaging, taking decisive action, and leaning on tried-and-tested strategies—also illuminate the path forward in our professional endeavors.

By adopting the "Thanksgiving Dishes Approach," we embrace the chaos as an integral part of the journey towards innovation and leadership. It reminds us that sometimes, the best course of action is to simply start—anywhere. We make room to maneuver in the process, and it frames our strategic thinking to accelerate the effort. As leaders, entrepreneurs, and innovators, our ability to navigate this complexity not only defines our path but also sets the pace for those we lead.

This is but one way, one mental model, to roll up your sleeves, dive into the fray, and transform the overwhelming into the achievable. After all, the dishes won't clean themselves, and neither will the challenges we face in business resolve without our direct intervention. Let this approach be a reminder that in the midst of chaos, there lies opportunity—not just for growth, but for transformation.

Closing Thought: Just as the last dish is placed back in the cupboard, signifying the end of the cleanup, so too will your actions, guided by strategic thought and unwavering resolve, lead to the resolution of today's challenges. And in their place, you'll find room for growth, innovation, and the next set of opportunities to explore. Welcome to the dawn of a new era in your business journey, illuminated by the integration of Knowledge Management and Artificial Intelligence, where every step forward, no matter how small, contributes to the greater journey of success and transformation.

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