Dan Rockwell, who posts up a lot of very interesting blogs on leadership, posted another one — Jim Collins on Bullets before Cannonballs

He starts it off:

Weak leaders rely on cannonballs. Wise leaders shoot bullets first. During difficult times weak leaders look for big solutions, giant leaps, and dramatic success. Wise leaders take small steps before making giant leaps.

Shoot bullets: Bullets are miniature cannonballs. They’re inexpensive, easy to make, and easy to shoot. Setup is quick. Outcomes are obvious. Test your assumptions by shooting bullets. Difficult times motivate desperate leaders to act on untested assumptions. Wise leaders test ideas and assumptions in low risks, low cost ways. (my re-paragraphing).

My reaction to it was not really great, even though I like the key learning points and I like Jim Collins’ writings and thinking.

Guess the “bullets” thing is more a case of bad timing as much as anything else, given what is happening in the world these days like Aurora and Wisconsin. I think that there are some better ways of presenting the concept metaphorically and I will share why in just a second.

Maybe we should be talking about pebbles and rocks… Or snowflakes and avalanches or raindrops and flash floods or something… But using a metaphor of violence with the current state of things in the country and the class warfare going on all around us is perhaps not the best. Heck, I remember when, “Going Postal” was a common phrase for losing it and going in and shooting one’s fellow workers — and there was a cartoon with a car and two guys parked in front of a US Post Office and the comment was, “I’m going in. Cover me.”

I had a slide I always used when talking about how to motivate people. I used it to set the stage for a better discussion and what it showed was a fist full of money on the left and a gun in a hand on the right as shown below.

How we generally motivate people, A and B.

NOT that I believe either of those were actually correct, but they represent common thinking among most organizations. My thinking about motivation was always about engagement and involvement and ownership, even back to the late 70s.

But I delivered a session for a Savings and Loan on the West Coast and there was this stunned silence from the room when I showed that illustration while talking about ownership and employee engagement. It was a very unusual and surprising reaction, based on 100 or so previous presentations using the same image and concept.

I understood clearly after the end of the session when one of the organizers told me about the robbery and shooting they had had a month earlier. No one thought to mention it to me before the delivery but the one slide essentially froze the whole presentation in the minds of the participants. It was a totally negative behavioral anchor to what should have been a neutral or even funny metaphor.

So, I guess I have not shown that image in a long time — 15 years? I should start using it again, since it really is “timely” in many ways…

But I carefully avoid that metaphor of guns and bullets when trying to make a good learning point because I have gotten a bit gun-shy, I guess. One never knows the mind of the audience or the basis of their personal experiences…

And why are we choosing to use metaphors of violence, anyway?

Guns, bullets, cannon balls? Personally, I’m more comfortable using images of caterpillars changing into butterflies, the idea of Square Wheels turning into Round Wheels, Geese flying in a “V” and on and on.


Oh, when you see a flock of geese or pelicans flying, often one side of the “V” is longer than the other side. Do you know why that is?

There are more geese on that side…  We tend to make things so complicated when they are often just so simple!

Caterpillars can fly, if they just lighten up.

Have FUN out there!

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

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