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Best Way to Start, Well, Anything

The road to success starts with asking--and answering--one simple question.

"What would make this call wildly successful for you?" he said.

I froze.

I'm usually not at a loss for words--I may not (okay, often don't) find the right words, but I can usually find some words.

Not this time.

I'm embarrassed to admit I thought, "A wildly successful phone call? Phone calls are phone calls. Interviews are interviews. Wildly successful--who thinks that way?"

Mike Williams, the president and CEO of the David Allen Company (the Getting Things Done folks), does.

After I stopped stammering Mike said, "A great way to be significantly more productive is to start anything you're about to do with one question: What does a wildly successful outcome for this meeting, project, conversation--whatever it might be--look like? If you ask that question up front you co-create success: Everyone knows what you're shooting for and actively works towards making it happen."

It sounded cheesy, but then I thought about it: It was the perfect question to ask. Why wouldn't you want a wildly successful outcome? Why wouldn't you want a wildly successful outcome for every other person involved?

I had planned to interview Mike for an Inc. article, and normally I would have said something like, "I'm looking for five or six tips readers can use to be more productive."

That's fine... but it's also pretty bland. And it sets up the interview to be pretty bland. I don't sound enthusiastic, I don't sound into it, and I definitely don't sound like I'm excited to talk to Mike (which I was, but at first I did a terrible job of showing it).

I should have said, "I'd love to get five or six great tips that small business owners can use to really supercharge their day. Not just to get more done but to feel great about themselves: to feel more efficient, more effective, more in charge. I'd love to get five or six great action steps that readers will immediately be excited to try and I know you're the perfect person to supply them."

Voila! Now it's not just any old phone call. Now it's not just any other conversation, one to have and check off the calendar. I'm excited. He's excited--and flattered. Now we have a real purpose. Now, together, we're going to try to create something great.

And with that kind of start, we most likely will.

To be more productive and truly engage other people, always start with that one question: What does a wildly successful outcome for this meeting, this project, this sales call, etc. look like?

Don't start anything until you know the answer.

Last updated: Mar 5, 2013

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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