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GREAT IDEAS: Clarity First by Karen Martin {Interview}

Lessons from the author of Clarity First

“Find out what’s going on. Not what you wish was going on, not what you think is going on….what is actually going on.” Karen Martin, Clarity First

In our interview about her book Clarity First, business performance improvement expert Karen Martin shares these lessons: 

Clarity is the polar opposite of ambiguity. But it’s not certainty. And it’s not the truth. Because there are times when telling 100% truth isn’t wise for business. It’s having facts you can act upon.

It can be painful but it’s better to have clarity than not. Operating with a lack of clarity drains you of psychic energy and it drains you of time. Then, there are the long-term decisions made on wrong or foggy information, which is dangerous.

Ambiguity is the default state for business. It’s deeply psychological. Operating with ambiguity is typically laced in fear. It could be someone who had a punitive boss in their past, so they don’t ask brave questions, that sort of thing. It’s like being handcuffed.

Listen very carefully to answers in meetings. If you’re not getting a clear answer, ask why. “Wait a minute, what is the REAL priority?” The more aware you are of clarity, or lack thereof, the more you can get it into your DNA.

Karen's Five Ps of clarity:
  • Purpose – Why you provide the service. It is important to employees. It’s a human need.  
  • Priorities –  Decide what matters most now.
  • Process - It’s the lifeblood of an organisation. Many leaders are afraid of process, but "everyone else" can’t take care of it. Your company will perform to the level that its processes allow.  
  • Performance – If you’re clear on your purpose, you have to be clear on how you will perform at a high level to achieve that purpose.
  • Problem Solving – This can be sloppy. Often, people don’t understand the reasons for a problem so they jump to a solution. It’s important to be disciplined about problem solving.
Master disciplined problem solving Find out what is going on. Not what you wish was going on, or what you think is going on. But what is actually going on. Then the obstacles become very obvious and you can tweak the process design to solve it.
Surveys hardly ever ask the right questions. Very often the questions are laced with ambiguity. The only way to get clarity is talk the customer, ideally NOT on the phone but face to face, and ideally as close as possible to the experience. As they are going out the door, ask: “Tell us how you were treated? And, how did that make you feel?”
GREAT EIGHT (8 getting to know you questions we ask of all authors featured on The Growth Faculty):
  1. What’s a book you’d recommend? Out of the Crisis by W. Edwards Deming. It’s old (1982) but it’s genius.
  2. If you could co-author a book with anyone, who would that be, and what’s the book title? Peter Drucker. Also, Brené Brown is doing wonderful work. Her new book is Dare to Lead, so what about Dare to be Clear to talk about the fear aspect around clarity.
  3. What's a great piece of advice you could share? Work doesn’t have to be as hard as we make it. Most processes and work systems are overly complicated and benefit greatly by simplification. Simplification creates more fulfilling work environments, leading to a better customer experience and lower operating costs. 
  4. What’s been your lowest moment, and how did you recover? In business, it was after the 2008 financial crisis. I had all my clients in the financial and banking sector. Overnight, they pulled all spending, and I was dead in the water, with not one bit of business in seven months after the meltdown. I used (savings) and started writing my first book and developing new service lines. Man, was it hard ‘though.
  5. How do you relax? Yoga, I’m been practising for over 20 years and the benefits are so powerful. I’m never happier than when I am on my mat.
  6. What’s a fun fact that’s not widely known about you? I wanted to be a novelist. When I was in corporate, I started writing a corporate thriller, and I got an agent. But raising the bar each time means killing a lot of people (on the page), and I tried, but I just couldn’t do it.
  7. What’s the secret to success? Never stop learning, and don’t give up. 
  8. What’s a prediction for 2025? I think that the biggest business change is that we won’t have full-time employees. Dan Pink wrote Free Agent Nation a while ago but I think that was prescient of what we’re moving towards. Even in my own team, I have very few full time employees, I have contractors.


The Growth Faculty Members can view the full video interview with Karen Martin, download the transcript or listen to MP3 audio by logging into the On Demand platform:  View Karen Martin's interview. 
If you are not currently a member of The Growth Faculty, click here to become a member to access our On Demand platform and discounts on LIVE events.


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