Would You Bet Your Paycheck On It?


Originally published in INC. Magazine on November 26, 2013

Want to create a company culture of thoughtfulness and accountability? Ask that question. Nothing cuts through the BS like asking someone to put their money where their mouth is.

“We have met the Devil of Information Overload and his impish underlings, the computer virus, the busy signal, the dead link, and the PowerPoint presentation.” – James Gleick

For years, scientists around the globe have been studying what happens when you slam protons together. Maybe it’s time we also take a look at what transpires when you smash together increasing information with decreasing time (and mix in a healthy dose of unrealistic management expectations, to boot).

While there are no silver bullets to solve this dilemma per se, there are provocative questions that business leaders can ask to try to throw a wrench into the machinery of our modern-day decision-making apparatus. You know the kind — the questions that challenge conventional wisdom, stop status quo in its tracks, and make us all really think amid the swirling of proposals, PowerPoints, protons, and the like.

Here’s one that I started asking a few years ago: Would you bet your paycheck on _______?

That’s right, would you bet your paycheck on your recommendation? Your decision? Your “must have” budget item that will deliver “exactly what we need”? Your big idea? Your little idea? How firmly do you truly believe in what you’re saying? How thoroughly have you really thought about, researched, and analyzed this topic? How good is your data? How positive is your gut? How strong are your convictions?

In a way, we’re all betting our paychecks through our individual performance each day, whether we like to think about it or not. So why not make this more explicit?

“Would you bet your paycheck?” forces us to think about intended outcomes. OK. Let’s back up. What are we really trying to do here again? What am I betting my paycheck on? What do we really need to achieve?

“Would you bet your paycheck?” encourages people to think about relevant data, probabilities, and risk versus reward. Which in turn leads to a deeper consideration of alternative options. More engagement from teams. More thoughts, questions, perspectives and, well, you get the idea.

Done right, “Would you bet your paycheck?” (and questions of its ilk) make us stop. Pause. Breathe. Connect all of the dots, in a more holistic manner. And force us to actually think about our perspective with a tad more gravity.

Thomas Edison once said, “Five percent of the people think; ten percent of the people think they think; and the other eighty-five percent would rather die than think.”

So ask yourself: Where does your organization fit into Mr. Edison’s segmentation? What is your level of thoughtfulness? Are you five-percenters? Ten? Or are you feeling queasy and would like to check on your fantasy football team right about now…?

Furthermore, the idea of “Would you bet your paycheck?” isn’t just about thoughtfulness, it’s also about accountability. Has your organization clearly defined its priorities? Its metrics? Is there an ongoing system for evaluating progress at regular intervals? Are there consequences (good and bad alike) related to intentions and outcomes?

Like it or not, the world isn’t going to slow down for us any time soon — nor are businesses going to decrease their expectations in the foreseeable future. That said, it’s up to us — as individuals and businesses — to try to combat the inertia of what Mr. Gleick refers to as “hurry sickness.”

At our agency, we use this question not just within our own four walls, but also in our recommendations to clients (where we literally “bet” our compensation on the performance of our marketing campaigns). In this day and age, nothing cuts through the BS quicker than putting your money where your mouth is.

Bottom line, great organizations have strong clarity of thought and accountability in equal measure. So ask yourself: Where does your organization stand in terms of its thoughtfulness and accountability? How are you performing as an individual? Would you bet your paycheck on your personal performance? That of your business? And if not, what are you going to do about it? See…provocative, right?