You have to connect the dots

Wouldn't it be nice if life came with hints? If the dots in the big picture all came with numbers to tell you that they definitely fit and how to move from one to the next?

© Can Stock Photo / bradcalkins

I just finished reading The CEO Next Door and what jumped out at me was the phrase "connect the dots." It's a sample of language that is so clear and simple we often skip over the complex situation it describes. CEOs need to 'connect the dots.' So do you. And here's the catch, whether you're an intern or a CEO: your dots don't come with instructions.

Here's what will help when you are trying to make sense of what seems like random information:

  1. Know that your brain doesn't do random. It connects information to existing information, usually guided by priorities like intention (what you want) and safety. Most of the time, this works. It helps you understand complicated situations quickly. But you do it by seeing what you expect to see. This can also work against you if you need to adapt to something unfamiliar. You can correct for it by systematically questioning your assumptions and looking for other explanations that connect the dots.
  2. You can't connect the right dots from a focus on any one dot. You need to scan for the bigger picture and different possible links between the dot you are engaging (a single piece of information or a single situation) and other dots that might be clear in the bigger picture. The shortest line is not always the right connection.
  3. It's easier to connect the dots if someone has filtered them for you. This means that when you are the leader, you need to show people what the big picture will be when your project is complete and what dots (information or actions) they will need to complete the picture. Don't assume because you can see the connections, someone else will recognize the dots and see how to put them together. If you are the one facing seemingly random dots, try getting enough distance to see a bigger picture. When you know what you're making, the pieces make a lot more sense.
We all do better when we understand the problem we are confronting. In terms of connecting the dots, our problem is usually that we see the dots but we don't see how they need to connect to make something happen. The solution is not often to study the dots in more detail. When you need to connect the dots, you need to step back to see the space around the dots. Then take a deep breath, relax your focus, and let a pattern emerge. You'll go back to the dots with better perspective and a better chance of making the right connections.


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