JFDI® Blog




'Fair Witness' - An Essential New Business Skill: How it Improves our Business Decisions & Professional Relationships

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the power of seeing clearly. The more we understand about how our brains work, the more we understand that for most of us, most of the time, we muddle together our observations, beliefs, impressions and assumptions — and call it ‘the truth.’

Robert Heinlein wrote a book called Stranger in a Strange Land.  In it, he invents a profession where people are trained to be absolutely impartial in their assessments, and to speak only from their direct experience, without inference or speculation.  He calls these people Fair Witnesses.  If you point to a distant house and ask one of Heinlein’s Fair Witnesses what colour it is, he or she will say, “It appears to be painted white on this side.” He or she would not assume knowledge of the colour of the other sides on the house without first being able to see them. Truth and knowledge are sourced through sense experience alone.

I have found this concept to be extremely valuable in both personal and business situations … and invariably in any new business scenario. New business as a discipline demands a clear and balanced perspective, especially as it is laden with strong emotional bias.  Every day, as often as possible, I remind myself to be a “fair witness.”  I take a mental step back from the situation, and ask myself “Are you perceiving things as you’d like them to be, or as they really are?  Are you neglecting or ignoring facts that aren’t comfortable or convenient?  Are you assuming certain things aren’t important simply because you don’t want to factor them into your thinking?”

Making the effort to be a fair witness has often kept me from making foolish and hasty decisions, acting on limiting assumptions or being misled by fear.  Being aware of your inner monologue, the conversation that takes place in your head, is a prerequisite.  It means that you need to dispassionately observe your thinking and identify those thoughts which serve to obstruct your capacity as a fair witness.  Wishful thinking (an inbuilt defence mechanism for most of us in new business roles !), for instance, leads you to acknowledge only those facts which support your hopes.  Or it may be that we make snap decisions and judgements about people based on limited evidence.  This applies equally to prospects as to those in our pitch teams.  Fear will inhibit our ability to pursue new possibilities as our focus will be squarely on those things which could go wrong.

Once you start to fathom your mental habits and how these should be reframed to align with a fair witness perspective, it’s possible to train yourself to be more objective.  It will lead to a different mental and behavioural response.  So for instance, if your view of a new prospect is “This guy’s a complete genius” after a five minute conversation, the alternative fair witness approach could be “You know what, I don’t really know this guy as I have had precious little experience of him. The best thing would be to see what happens and what I learn over the coming days and weeks”.

And so it is that we are far less rational in making decisions than we like to think, and this is particularly true when there is a high degree of emotional engagement – new business was ever thus.  We filter information through the lens of our own life and business experiences - through our fears, expectations and hopes.  When applied to new business decisions, this predetermined bias can be detrimental to all those involved in the process and directly impact upon our performance and chances of success.

That’s why when we’re working with new business people and Agency leaders, we stress the importance of becoming a fair witness.  It helps us better evaluate new business opportunities, pitch ideas and the suitability of prospects.  It frees us from the constraints of what we have experienced or have been led to believe in the past.  It also frees us from what we believe others, including prospects and those in our team, might think or expect.

Training ourselves to adopt a neutral stance when presented with new information, be it a new business opportunity, a new prospect or a radical strategic approach, leads to better new business decisions and better business relationships.  It is truly liberating.

'Fair Witness' is an essential leadership skill for developing pitch winning strategies.  If you'd like to know more about our Pitch Leadership Academy, please click here

Mark Clark