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How PSPs Can Promote Healthy Competition Among Their Staff

Plus, qualities your mentor should possess, as detailed in this month’s “Ask Big Picture.”




What should you look for in a mentor?

The most important thing is you and your mentor click on a personal level. Such a relationship should be undertaken with a long-term view, and you need to want to spend time together. As for more specific things to look for, Daniel Coyle’s excellent book, The Little Book Of Talent: 52 Tips For Improving Your Skills, suggests the following:

  1. Avoid someone who reminds you of a courteous waiter.
  2. Seek someone who scares you a little.
  3. Seek someone who gives short, clear directions.
  4. Seek someone who loves teaching fundamentals.

All things being equal, pick the older person.

And when it comes to asking for help, don’t be too backward. Advice-seeking is a powerful way to make a connection with someone. Most people love to help and to know they’ve made a difference in someone else’s life.

My daughter is interested in entering the print industry. What advice should I give her?

“This is a fascinating and exhilarating industry to work in and it is only getting more interesting as time passes,” Diana Herrera, president, AP Imaging and Women in Wide Format Award winner. “Off the bat, I’d caution that this industry takes courage and there is no substitute or shortcut for hard work, but nothing is as rewarding as earning your success and a good reputation. Now, more than ever, you have to be willing to stay ahead of the trend, think big – audacious, in fact – and show up to win every day.” Herrera’s daughter joined the industry eight years ago “and the spark in her eyes speaks a thousand words.”

I have two good candidates for the position of sales associate, but I can’t decide between them. Can you suggest a tiebreaker?

Toss a coin and let fate be your arbiter. If they’re both equally appealing candidates and you can’t reduce the uncertainty by doing further research or interviews or trial runs, then your decision doesn’t much matter. That likely sounds like rash advice, but this paralysis you’re experiencing has a name: Fredkin’s Paradox. The computer scientist Edward Fredkin summed it up as, “The more equally attractive two alternatives seem, the harder it can be to choose between them – no matter that, to the same degree, the choice can only matter less.” To be sure, it will probably turn out to have mattered in hindsight, but by then it’ll be too late. Given that you’re unable to know how things will turn out, overthinking this one – or any similar tough choice – is futile.


My husband is conservative by nature, but it can be hard to grow a business when your partner is so pessimistic about every new project you suggest. How can I convince him that growing a business involves risk?

Don’t be too hard on pessimism: It has its uses, especially in business. The key is to know when a situation warrants caution and when it calls for take-that-leap bravado. One good way to know is to ask yourself, “What’s the cost of being wrong here?” If the cost of failure is high, such as you’ll lose a lot of money, be sued, or someone will possibly get hurt, then optimism is the wrong strategy. If it’s simply a loss of your time, energy or even a threat to your self-view as someone who never makes mistakes, then go for it. We expect that when you put it like that, your husband will get behind most projects. And if he still can’t stop worrying, suggest he learn worry-postponement techniques (search online), which often involve setting a later time and space to ruminate on these concerns and anxious thoughts (just not now, when there’s work to be done).

How can I promote competition among staff without it turning my business into the setting for Lord of The Flies?

The key to fostering healthy competition, according to new research done by a team at Harvard Business School, lies in how you communicate the competition. When employees feel excited, they’re more likely to come up with creative solutions and new ways to better serve customers. When they feel anxious or worried they might lose their job or be publicly humiliated in some way, they’re more likely to cut corners or sabotage one another. Leaders can generate excitement by highlighting the potential positive consequences of competition (such as the recognition and rewards that await outstanding performers) rather than creating anxiety by singling out and highlighting low performers (think of the steak knives scene in “Glengarry Glen Ross”).



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