There are a lot of words in business: job descriptions, memos, briefings, meetings, quick updates (that last 45 minutes), more meetings. This flood of words create the impression that adults have endless attention spans, and that you can keep talking and people will keep listening.
This impression is wrong.
Some of you know that I spend my winter weekends at Stratton Mountain, coaching incredibly talented seven-year-old skiers. Last weekend, they inspired my Theory of Seven. (True confession: I named and capitalized it to illustrate a point. Young kids love it when you come up with goofy names.)
My Theory of Seven says that adults are not much different than seven-year-olds, except that we pretend to be different. Our attention spans are ridiculously short. We love distractions. Given a choice, we'd eat cookies all the time. If you leave us in line too long, we start pushing and shoving.
So how can the Theory of Seven help you motivate others? Like this...
Be clear about what's next: The second - and I mean the very second - we finish a ski run, my kids want to know what we are doing next. They have no interest in the run after that; its too much information. Assume the same is true for your colleagues. Be simple, and focus on what's next.
Don't be intellectual: One kid is a great skier, aggressive and talented. But he has a quirk: every time he does a hard "skating" stop, he stares at his toes, which shifts his weight in the wrong direction. I tried explaining this, but it just didn't sink in. Finally I said, "You must havebeautiful toes. You must love your toes so much, you can't help but look at them."
He thought this was hysterical, and so did the other kids. But then he stopped staring at his toes.
A small percentage of adults are intellectual; most are not. Most need simple, memorable guidance. Most don't pay attention to complex explanations.
Don't assume that others are idiots: Seven-year-olds may be goofy little human beings with short attention spans, but they are much more perceptive than you might assume. They constantly surprise me with their observations.
If you're not getting through to others, the reason may not be because they "are idiots." The problem may be that you haven't figured out a simple and interesting way to communicate your messages.
Keep things moving: Even the best-coached, most responsive group of kids start acting like babbling idiots if you keep them waiting too long in a ski lift line, or at the cafeteria. Adults are no different; when they get bored, they start to gossip, complain, and even act irrationally.
If you aspire to lead or motivate others, keep things fresh.