November 24, 2018 JV

Trading-off Importance

Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: powerful lessons in personal change” is widely considered as one of the most influential business books of the 20th century, selling more than 20 million copies.  Covey made popular the Eisenhower Urgency – Importance matrix as one of the simplest and most powerful concepts in his book.  Considering the inundation of information via numerous news feeds and a plethora of social media outlets, it is becoming very difficult to identify the important amidst a sea of insignificance.  There is no better time to revisit this.

In a similar vein, organisations have used the Pay-Off Matrix (Value versus Ease of Implementation) to help determine which projects should be resourced.  While it may be a good thing to get “some runs on the board” by completing “easy” projects first, the more difficult, high value (important) projects often end up in the too-hard basket.

Why is it so easy to be drawn away from the important to focus on the urgent and the easy?  Imagine you are in a deep and meaningful conversation with family or friends and the phone goes “bing.”  Why are eyes so easily drawn to the screen?  Budget season is looming, project ideas require vetting, yet the Inbox is full and the phone rings off the hook.  The strong temptation is to let a few Safety projects through the gate (many as sacrificial lambs), respond to the boss’s emails, answer the spouse’s phone calls and delete the remainder.  If it’s important, they’ll try again.  Right?  Is that what we call effective decision-making?

One thing I’ve learnt over the years is that you will never be able to say “No” unless you have a more compelling “Yes.”  We all need to understand the importance of Importance; otherwise we will continue to be driven from pillar to post.  How does one do that effectively?  Here are some thoughts on this.

  1. None of us has all of the answers but together we do (thanks for that, LeRoy). We need to continue to defend and demand our ability to speak freely.  This allows us to examine alternative views and judge them in the marketplace of ideas, based on merit.  This gives us a diversity of thought (much better than quota-based Diversity) and allows us to include the ideas that make sense using rationale and logic (much better than the exclusiveness of Inclusion).
  2. We need to resist the indoctrination of the media and (dare I say it) some of our educational institutions.  The scientific method, traced back to Aristotle, must be cultivated and encouraged from a young age.  It involves formulating hypotheses based on observations; experimenting and testing deductions drawn from hypotheses (using measurement); and refining (or eliminating) hypotheses based on experimental findings.  We need to be sceptical about what we hear and be prepared to do private research, following the evidence where it leads.
  3. We need to cultivate long-term thinking. This will help us to avoid the tyranny of the urgent more naturally and be drawn toward the important.  One would hope that our political and business leaders would demonstrate the longest-term views on what’s most important and that we could be confident to support most of their decisions.  Unfortunately, it’s not that simple and many of our leaders are failing in their calling.  It would seem that many politicians are focused on re-election and board members on covering their posteriors.
  4. Steve Jobs fed our ego by building iPhones, iPods and iPads.  We need to remind ourselves that the world does not revolve around “i”.
  5. Whether in the home, in industry or in politics, leaders have a tough job, especially in today’s complex world.  Former US President Franklin D Roosevelt (FDR), ranked among the top three US Presidents of all time among historians wrote “I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer.”  FDR knew then as we know now – God knows that leaders need wisdom to make good decisions.

In a previous article (, I described how relative risk is often incorrectly judged because of unrealistic perceptions of likelihood ratings (that won’t happen while I’m in charge).  Too many cases exist where actions like maintaining the brakes on a fleet of trucks and or investigating evidence of institutional child sexual abuse were not considered sufficiently important.  No doubt, we can’t do everything at once, but we must always plan to do the important.

When time, money and effort are constrained, greater certainty in likelihood is a clear advantage to making good decisions.  Several years ago, my father passed away quite suddenly.  I regret that I didn’t spend much time with him before it occurred; I thought that we had more time.  Now eight years later, my mother recently suffered a major heart attack.  While the prognosis is not a great one, she is coping well with her remaining heart function and is not in pain.  What I’ve learnt over the past few years is that I should make better use of the greater certainty I have on timing.  I’ve already spent time with my mum, as did both my sons and we are all planning more visits over the next few weeks.  What’s important is to make sure that as much family as possible spend quality time with her while she is with us.  I think that’s better than going to the funeral.

It’s often very difficult to know how to respond to what’s happening in the external environment, be it natural, societal or business.  For many years now, resources companies have simply ignored the allegations and accusations piled against them by the radical left.  Miners concentrated on mining, stayed silent on its benefits to society and attempting to placate the media by focusing on Diversity and Inclusion instead.  Unfortunately, that hasn’t worked and now the Australian government seems poised to sign on to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report recommendations with all the dire consequences that will have on our nation.  If the UN had its way, we’d all be vegans, cooking over cat dung and driving from Mount Isa to Longreach in a Barina Spark!

Please indulge me while I end on a controversial note.  I understand that this may upset some, but I want to exercise my freedom of speech.  When it comes to climate change, we can be certain about one thing – it is changing and it has for millennia.  What we can’t be certain about is the cause, except for natural ones.  What strains credulity is the claim that poor old CO2 is to blame.  Please don’t fall for the alarmism.  The science is not settled.  In fact, it does not support the IPCC’s claims.

I recently decided to lend my support as a founding member of the Saltbush Club.  All members are concerned that climate-alarm policies promoted by many politicians and most media personalities are not based on sound science, and are already causing great damage to Australian industry, jobs and consumers.  I’d recommend that you research the and if you agree, lend your support too by becoming a member.  We must stop trading-off the Important for the Easy or Urgent and begin to make a real change – if not for us, for our children’s children.

P.S. Thank you, RB for your leadership and enthusiasm regarding the climate debate.

Comment (1)

  1. W Strudwick

    Hi John,
    It has been a while since we have received a blog from you, always a good read. Good to see you do not shy from the controversial subjects.
    Your last point on Global warming is an example, it generates heated and intense discussion around coffee tables and intense passion. You are correct that the climate is constantly changing, an undeniable fact. It is the rate at which and the cause that is in question.
    I am not 100% sure either way, what dismays me is the fact twisting and exaggerations that people use to get us behind this campaign. Just check Al Gores predictions 12 years on and none of them have come true. Every time there is a wind, storm or hot day the scare campaign is out in full force with the aid of the “free” press.
    The models are just that, predictions based on research and formulas, theories not facts.
    To raise questions or challenge the accepted wisdoms brings hellfire upon you, “denier” be gone.
    Until the exaggerations and bias is corrected, I will remain a sceptic that supports sensible renewable power generation and policies, not idealistic economy destroying “religious” beliefs.
    Take care, keep speaking out and enjoy your Christmas.

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