Chris Westfall: Using the Unknown to Create Competitive Advantage
Elizabeth was perplexed. The other business leaders had answered the question simply, and easily, but she was wrestling with her response. She began to ramble, diving into rabbit holes and history lessons – she wanted to keep talking until an answer showed up. But nothing did.
Creating a Competitive Advantage
The conference room was filled with executives, patiently awaiting her response. A long pause sucked the air out of the room. Elizabeth took a deep breath, and looked up at me.
“I don’t know,” she said.
Her honesty was compelling. Reflecting on those three simple words, I realized how the unknown is actually your competitive advantage. Here’s what we discovered:
- Uncertainty is the birthplace of innovation. Every book ever written always started at the same place: a blank page. We plan and research and commit and agree and still: uncertainty remains. Leaders who wish to influence a high-performance culture will recognize that uncertainty is everywhere. Is your organization built to navigate the unknown?
- The Difference Between Research and Discovery: New results are (by definition) something that hasn’t gone on before. If you want to harness new results, from your company, your customers, or your culture, remember that you are on a journey of discovery. Don’t discount the past (it got you where you are today) but remember what makes the past so valuable. According to Carmen Simon, PhD, author of Impossible to Ignore, “the past is only useful when it serves to predict the future.” Is your team leveraging the past to create the future that Simon talks about?
- Having All the Answers: the smartest answer you can provide is often the most candid. Why? Because a high-performance culture is driven by authenticity. As Forbes writer, Brant Pinvidic, says, “Audiences today are sophisticated. Hype and hyperbole are deadly in my business. Leaders don’t realize how important it is to stay true to your message.” A surprising insight, coming from one of Hollywood’s top reality-television producers! Authentic connection is more important than being the “answer man” (or woman).
Seems to me that “I don’t know” is just a step in the journey – and where real discoveries begin. It’s only natural to want to have all the answers – but understanding that that’s not the way things work can be the first step in creating the change – and the performance – that you deserve.
Who is Chris Westfall?
Chris Westfall is one of the top-rated speakers in Vistage, and the recipient of the 2015 Vistage Member’s Choice Award. The publisher of seven books, his latest is called Leadership Language (Wiley, coming in September 2018). A coach to clients on Shark Tank, Dragons Den and Shark Tank Australia, he specializes in helping Vistage members to change the conversation and change their results. He is an award-winning instructor at a top 20 MBA program, and he has been recognized as the US National Elevator Pitch Champion. More info is available here: