The Guarantee
March 22

Business Survival Lessons from Palm

When Palm Computing was in its heyday, many analysts thought this company they couldn’t be beaten. They had technology coveted by the market and an internal culture – dubbed Zen of Palm – which employees described as the best they’d ever experienced.

It was a culture oozing with camaraderie, respect, collaboration and support. The biggest fear of leadership wasn’t that they’d lose their position in the market; it was that they’d lose what was special about their culture. So they protected it fiercely – so much so that they lost the desire to share disparate views with colleagues for fear of upsetting the applecart.

What’s the significance of this tampering of perspectives that was organically occurring across Palm? They lost their conversational capacity. Craig Weber, in his book Conversational Capacity, defines a healthy team – whether a sales team or the broader team – as one that can tackle the toughest issues under extreme pressure while maintaining a healthy balance of candor and curiosity.

If there are issues your team avoids because they’re too tough to discuss, you have low conversational capacity. Likewise, if members of your team are so focused on being right that they no longer have curiosity about a colleague’s opposing views, you again have a conversational capacity issue. The ideal state is a healthy balance of candor and curiosity. Without this, you’re paying talented people to simply nod and agree, as your company grows more vulnerable by the day.

The outcome to strong conversational capacity is a highly difficult to replicate competitive advantage. That journey, says Weber, can begin with these basic strategies.

To help your team speak up when they might be hesitant to do so or to transition into active listening mode when they might otherwise steamroll opposing views, teach your team to ask themselves these three questions when tackling difficult conversations.

1) What am I seeing about this issue that others are missing?

2) What are other people seeing that I’m missing?

(3) What blind spot might we all be missing?

When considering a significant pivot in direction, bring that idea to your team. State your position on the issue and what thinking and/or data led you to that position. Then invite your team to test your thinking. Ask who sees it differently or what your worst critics would say.

If they aren’t opening up, offer to leave the room. Challenge them to document their top three concerns as a group on a flip chart. Rejoin your team and encourage them to explain the three concerns. Then split your team into three groups, each working to solve one of the concerns.

Your greatest asset is the talent on your team. Leverage them to the fullest to the fullest to create an unbeatable market differentiator.

Lori Turner-Wilson, CEO and founder of RedRover Sales & Marketing Strategy, can be reached at

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