Why great ideas get left at the door of CPE conferences

There is great content on the web that deals with questions like how to build a great business, how to be a great business advisor, how to charge what your worth, and any number of other “how to’s” you care to think of. With that in mind and given that most of these are free or low cost relative to their potential payoff it amazes me why everyone doesn’t jump onto the learning bandwagon, devour the content and immediately apply it to achieve the promised success.

Having been in the training business in some for more than 40 years I have come to a few conclusions as to why this has does not happen.

First let me start with a story.

One of the most requested form of CPE presentation is where the presenter talks about some ideas that s/he would like the audience to consider and then asks them to breakout into small groups to share their thoughts and/or experience and then one of the group is asked to present a summary of  his or her group’s conversation.

I had a conversation with Paul Kennedy – a sole practitioner in Goffs Oak, UK about a conference he attended at which the speaker suggested one way to increase recoverable hours was to add some more work categories to your timesheets. The group were then asked to “round-table” how to improve their recoverable time. A table Chair was appointed and he asked the delegates to share what they do with their timesheets. One fellow said his firm had introduced 6 minute time slots which had very successfully increased recoverable time. Lively discussion ensued.

Paul was then asked for his contribution to the discussion and he explained that he couldn’t contribute because he didn’t use time sheets at all. WHAT! Was the Chairman’s immediate response. “How can you possibly run a practice or charge for your services?” Paul explained exactly what they do, how they changed their business model, why they don’t need timesheets for billing, how their team and clients react to their no-timesheet business model. Very lively discussion ensued. Paul even offered to talk to (and if requested, visit) the people at his table after the conference if they’d like to explore the idea further.

When the Chair of Paul’s table was asked to stand and present the table’s conclusions he said “we’ve decided to get rid of timesheets.” Most people at the conference, including the presenter, laughed at the joke!

Now to the three important points I want to make.

When people attend CPE events more often than not they pick up some seriously good, if not GREAT, ideas but they drop them at the door on the way out because they never give them a chance to be thought through and implemented. For example, none of the delegates on Paul’s table followed up on his offer so you can only assume the entire conversation around his no-timesheet model was a total waste of their time.

Second, when someone comes up with a genuinely contrarian idea (at the time of this conference getting rid of timesheets was) it is laughed at, ridiculed, or “proven” to be unworkable.

Thirdly, ideas come to nothing unless acted on. And although it only takes a few minutes to articulate an idea it often takes a few years to successfully implement and this calls for courage and patience.

It turns out that the challenge of change (which is what implementing an new idea is) starts the second an idea in presented to you because your brain is hardwired to reject contrarian ideas – at least for most people. Part of the reason for this is that your brain is always looking to conserve energy and one way it can do that is to dismiss anything that calls for deep thought and consideration which requires that you set aside some established beliefs which, in turn, consumes a serious amount of cognitive energy.

Your brain draws on all of the past experiences that have shaped your beliefs about the “way the world works” and if those beliefs conflict with a possible new vision of  possibility, your sub-conscious brain summarily dismisses it and guides you towards something you’re familiar and comfortable with.

A third reason, which may be associated with the second, is the protective nature of your brain. It has learnt that your survival has benefited from giving more attention to the immediate term than to the long term because of their relative degree of certainty (predictability).  If you keep doing what you’re now doing you can be reasonably sure you’ll be able to put a meal on the table in 12 months (unless there’s an unexpected catastrophic event – interestingly, these are certain to occur but impossible to predict) but if you get rid of timesheets your firm and your income may sharply dive into a negative spiral from which you can’t escape.

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