Posts filed under ‘Life’
Tricks, Traps and Tips for better Problem Solving
Although you’re more than welcome to send me a note of appreciation and/or order some books as a way to support the costs of providing this service.
Where? Head here for all the details.
If you work for a living, then you solve problems of all types.This session will explore some simple PS concepts and explain how we can use formal, and informal, PS techniques in every day Life.
Peter believes very much in the idea that we learn by doing, more precisely? That we learn by failing at doing.
So??? This presentation WILL be interactive.
1) Make sure you have a deck of playing cards handy.
2) Peter will take ‘questions’ via e-mail as he presents.
Feedback from a similar live session:
Peter … We reviewed the feedback forms this week – of the 90 collected for the Problem Solving sessions, overwhelmingly the ratings were 5s (highest) We summarized the feedback as follows, included member quotes:
‘Over the top’ successful. Very dynamic, excellent speaker.
Members wanted more from Peter; many felt his sessions were too short.
“..energizing & interesting. Very helpful.”
“..too short – was enjoyable & thought provoking!”
“Fabulous, awesome presentation. Great interaction & exercises.
Could have spent the whole afternoon in his session.”
“Excellent session, extremely dynamic presenter! Useful for any level of team member.”
“Peter was the “BEST” part of the day.”
“Please bring Peter back to talk to us.”
It requires no great skill to opine on what’s wrong with the world. All we need do is go about our lives, and pay attention to all that annoys and peeves us. Like a sharp pebble caught in a sandal, wrongness is self evident at every step. Flaws aren’t silent; they whisper their presence at every turn and plead for our attention.
Only one thing takes less skill than noticing errors and that’s whining and moaning about them, that and looking to someone else, anyone else but ourselves, to make things right. It’s a habit picked we up in childhood when we lived under the protection of loving parents. It was best forgotten as we aged.
Nor is there any great intelligence necessary to imagine we know what needs doing. Even the naïve child we once were, suspected that sandals, free of pebbles, tread softer.
There are great gaps though, between seeing what’s wrong, knowing what’s right, and stepping from certain pain to possible relief. If the worried world around us is any evidence of our ability to cross them, these are insurmountable gaps. Huge gaps only ancient heroes and leaders can bridge. That is, if we believe that heroes and leaders are a thing of the past. Or worse, that no heroes or leaders lie sleeping within us.
These gaps are kept alive through no base lack of knowledge about either the problems or possible solutions. Nor is there, if our whining is any meaningful measure, a lack of desire for a world free from stony pebbles.
Yet the pebbles persist, despite our earnest wishes. Perhaps they exist because all we do is wish and pray for better times?
Removing even a pathetic pebble from a sandal requires us to do a lot more than wishing it away… we have to care enough, even for a tiny pebble, to bend down and act.
There are no guarantees here. No parents to ensure we won’t stick our hands in too fierce a fire. No warranty on the correctness of our solutions. No protection that we won’t make things worse through our actions. Never the less, action is all we have, without it, even that teeny pebble will eventually wear us down. The pebbles exist, that we have no control over. What we decide to do once the pebble gets our attention is entirely under our control.
Admittedly the real world is more complicated than mere a pebble in a sandal, but problems are still like pebbles in that they make their presence known by annoying us. And because of this, real world problems are at a distinct disadvantage… the bigger they are, the more people they annoy. And even problems the size of mountains can be shifted, one person, one pebble at a time.
The eyes that see a wrong, can see the hands to fix it.
We call them many things, from adages and aphorisms, to maxims, proverbs, old sayings and memorable quotations, but regardless of how we’ve labeled these sage old saws, they all deliver exactly the same thing. They are all, snippets of wisdom, lessons learnt, sometimes at great expense through hard won life experience. Together they provide a large library of life lessons, all neatly encapsulated into pithy phrases. Sometimes they’re repeated so often, they lose meaning through excessive exposure.
Somewhere along the line we arrived at a point where we shun the simple in favour of the complex.
We’d rather take a long, expensive University course on Ethics, than adhere to the ancient Golden Rule, “Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.”
We’d rather invest in extensive quality programmes, than follow the advice of an old carpenter, “Measure twice, cut once.” And we need to be beaten into submission before taking regular backups, rather than remembering, “An ounce of prevention, is worth a pound of cure.”
Despite our proven reluctance to follow these inherently simple bits of advice, all of them demonstrate a remarkable ability to survive in our global consciousness. Every country, every culture has a variation on, “Look before you leap!”, “A stitch in time saves nine” and “Slow and steady wins the race.” They persist from one generation to another because, even though we don’t always pay them any heed, we offer them as our best possible advice. We practice a bizarre contradiction, we know these sayings contain deep truths, but we choose to ignore both our own knowledge and the wisdom of the past.
While there are many management (and personal) challenges, the most important of them all, and perhaps the most intractable, is the answer to the question, “Why don’t we do, what we know we should do?”
While I don’t think there’s a simple answer to the question as to why we ignore what we know, I do believe there’s a proven strategy to overcome this human flaw. Pay conscious attention to what we’re doing, and compare what we’re doing, to what we know we should be doing.
That’s so obviously true that it’s almost one of the maxims we’re discussing. In a sense it’s nothing more than a verbose variation of “Look before you leap!” or even “An ounce of prevention, is worth a pound of cure.” Is it any less true because of that similarity?
One could examine our organizations and identify problems solvable and avoidable if only we consistently followed a set of simple maxims, but that could get awfully complicated faster than we could blink. Imagine having a “Department of Aphorism Audits & Accounting”, or an “Administration of Adept Adages”? The mind boggles and things just get silly.
A simpler approach, (and that’s the goal… right?) is to adopt a personal motto and measure all our actions against its succinct guidance. No, my personal motto isn’t, “Keep it Simple Stupid” (although it could be as evidenced by this article), mine is a little more suited to the world’s laziest man, “Never do today, what you can put off until tomorrow!” (Consider this advice carefully, it doesn’t necessarily mean what most people take it to mean. As an exercise for the reader, think of it in terms of Pareto’s 80/20 Principle and a rationally prioritized to-do list.)
The obstacle to all of this sage advice (the traditional proverbs and maxims, not my ramblings) is still the point identified in the second paragraph; we shun the simple, and insist on elevating the importance of the complicated, and costly. The phrase, “This can’t work, it’s too simple” is heard frequently in most organizations, along with another thought, “If it costs more, it must be better.” (The retailers of the world salute this thought process.)
So? If all the accumulated wisdom of the world is to have any value, we have to pay attention to at least one small snippet of it. What truth will you make your own? What one bit of advice will you measure all your actions against?
If you get comfortable enough with that concept, what one truth would you select as the foundation of how your team, department or organization operates? Start with just one, and if that becomes second nature, then add another one, move slow and steady and win the race. Remember big trees fall under small strokes. Aw heck… you get the idea.
It’s a one hour conversation on the topic of Change Management, you can listen to it here:
Asimov’s classic “Foundation” is the purest form of SF. It takes a fundamental desire – our need to predict the future – then presents a “What if?” scenario and pushes it to the boundaries of belief. Whenever I’ve read “Foundation”, I’ve always spent more time wrestling with the central idea than actually enjoying the story line.
Is it possible, will it ever be possible, to predict how people will react to a specific event, to any useful degree of accuracy? Are there rules, perhaps waiting for a Seldon to discover and formalize for human behaviour? Will it be possible to use an understanding of those rules to shape the future? Could our tomorrows become manufactured products of calculated action?
I first read “Foundation” during my second last year of high school. I was, by any reasonable definition, a ‘geek’… not quite of the pocket protector crowd, but I owned a slide rule and knew how to use it. My buddies at the time were also addicted to SF and we spent many hours arguing over the possibilities presented by the science of Psychohistory.
We were then presented with an opportunity to use our high school as a grand experiment.
Like most high schools we had a Student council, elected by the students, and responsible for school activities such as parties, fund raising, proms and concerts. We also, like many other schools, had a raging case of student body apathy. Nobody attended school functions, sports events or concerts. School spirit was non-existent.
We, a cadre of invisible students, devoid of popularity, suffering from a dearth of cool, decided to fix this problem.
While the formal tools of Asimov’s Psychohistory were beyond our reach, there were some basic rules of human behaviour we could use in our social re-engineering project. The rule which best fit our situation, was the concept of the swinging pendulum. The notion that popular opinion/behaviour swings from one extreme to the other. The ‘trick’ is to identify the extreme ‘states’ and then apply just enough ‘force’ to nudge the system into one of these ‘states’.
We ran for student council on the platform that student councils were a tool of the administration to distract our attention from the real problems of poor education, over-crowding etc. etc. If WE were elected we would abdicate our responsibility, we would shut down the council, we would do nothing for the following year, and we would ban all future student councils… Anarchy would Rule!
The administration hated us… therefore the students loved us. We geeks won by a landslide. We abandoned the student council. Phase I of our project was complete. Now we waited.
Winning this election was an accomplishment of sorts. We had no prior status or influence within the student body, yet we beat much more popular and influential jocks, cheerleaders and divas. Rule #1? It’s easy to get elected if that is your ONLY goal… Just promise the people whatever they want. Some of our politicians are very good at this.
Throughout our elected year, we threw not a single party, flew no banners, we raised no funds. The first 2-3 months everything was ‘fine’. Then slowly but surely, discontent festered in the land. The value of a student council grew conspicuous by its absence. It grew in importance, because it didn’t exist. Phase II of our project was well on the way to completion.
That was our final year before we scattered to our universities, but we kept an eye on our little experiment to see if it would develop as we expected.
At the end of our last year, the students demanded a student council election. We knew someone, would step into the breach at the appropriate time. A full council was elected. The next year our school experienced a huge increase in student involvement. Parties, event attendance, fund raising all reached historical highs. The Pendulum had swung from abject apathy to total commitment. Phase III complete. Mission accomplished. Apathy defeated. Hari Seldom would have been proud.
Were there unintended consequences to our little experiment? Two of them come to mind.
Fact: The individual who became student council president… went on to become a Member of the Canadian Parliament.
Fact: I now speak for a living. My topic? Change Management.
I’m baffled… If I go to the Tim Hortons corporate site I read the following…
“The Tim Horton Children’s Foundation was established in 1974 by Ron Joyce, Co-Founder of the Tim Hortons chain, to honour Tim Horton’s love for children and his desire to help those less fortunate.”
And then I’m forced to contrast THAT worthy value statement with the article in today’s Toronto Star, where one of their employees in London, Ont is FIRED for handing a toddler a single Timbit…
Has Tim Hortons lost its mind?
Folks? From a marketing perspective alone this has to be one of the most incompetent management moves I’ve read about in a long long time. I don’t CARE if they have a corporate ‘policy’ against ‘theft’ – this isn’t THEFT, it’s called ‘Customer service’ and it’s the type of action that management should encourage in their employees. Instead she gets fired? For giving a customer a $0.16 Timbit? They put a person’s livelihood at risk for a Timbit???? Good grief.
It’s possible to try and condone, and even support the manager’s actions by pointing to the ‘policy’ and stating “The employee took a Timbit. She didn’t pay for it. It’s theft.” But when it comes to the negative PR? This is an unmitigated and totally unnecessary, disaster.
I sometimes wonder if the corporate world has forgotten what the term ‘customer service’ means anymore. It means treating customers as if you valued them. Handing a child a Timbit will likely result in the parent feeling grateful and spending a few extra dollars in the store. It’ll certainly prompt them to return to the store from time to time.
Be prepared for a backlash on this one. The best thing Tim Hortons could possibly do, is immediately re-instate the employee with a public apology and hold a ‘free Timbit’ for toddlers policy. If anyone should be fired, it should be the three managers involved in this PR fiasco.
Updated: 3:22pm May 8th 2008 same day the story broke:
Well, I tip my hat to Tim Hortons – common sense has won the day. The employee was rehired and is now working at another store. Full story here.
Here’s the annual conference I’d love to attend:-
“The World Conference on Failure”
20 Business and World Leaders honestly and openly discuss
the decisions and actions which contributed to their significant
business and political disasters/failures/catastrophes.
…but which for obvious(?) reasons it will never be held.
Why would I want to attend this type of conference?
We don’t learn one tenth as much from success as we do from failure. I don’t have anything but life experience to back up that statement, yet I know for certain that at some level it could not be a truer observation about how the world works. Success drives us in a single direction, and while the positive feedback is nice, it doesn’t motivate us to grow and change.
Failure on the other hand is an itch that demands scratching and forces us to explore alternatives.
You could argue that if we study the success of others, then we can emulate them and create our own success. That’s true up to a point, but the real secret of success is not found in learning how to follow a ‘recipe’, but in learning how to respond to a changing environment. When we look at success, it’s easy (relatively) to pick out what they did ‘right’, but much more difficult to understand how they avoided doing the ‘wrong’ things.
By studying failure, it’s possible to explore the specific actions that contributed to that failure, and delve into why those responsible were unable, (unwilling?) to avoid those actions. Learning how to avoid problems, how to avoid the common and uncommon traps, is the skill which enables us to chart our course when the success ‘recipe’ falls short.
What types of failures?
One of the failures which jumps immediately to mind is Motorola’s $6B investment in the Iridium phone which they eventually sold for a mere $25M… the mind boggles at the size of this mis-adventure. The question “How could this possibly happen?” if honestly answered, might actually justify the multi-billion dollar fiasco IF we could use the answer to avoid similar disasters in the future.
Obviously, people have looked at this fiasco and made their observations public, but what would be more informative is honest commentary from the people actually involved in the event. What exactly were they thinking? What motivated them? What honest mistakes did they make?
And… what mistakes did they make, that with 20/20 hindsight they now recognize as totally avoidable – mistakes that were generated not by the facts in front of them, but by the human flaws within them.
This personal perspective on failure is the real value the “Conference on Failure” would offer, it’s also of course, why such a conference will never become a reality.
Admitting avoidable failure isn’t something we do very well, and if/when we do muster the courage to tell the real story, we are immediately the target punishment of some sort, usually in the form of lawsuits.
And courage is necessary if we’re to honestly discuss our failures. I’ve deliberately chosen ‘loaded’ words to describe ‘failure’ when I use terms such as, “disaster”, “flaws”, “fiasco” etc. etc.
Why would I frame the topic this way? Because this is the framework of perspective that we wrap around the stink of failure. Speaking of any personal “failure” is incredibly difficult. Look at “The Room that Eats Speakers” posted a few days ago in this blog. Admitting, as a professional speaker, that I have ‘messed’ up was not done lightly… chances are it will cost me future business. Being honest, usually does involve a personal cost, but the benefits are worth it if others can learn from those mistakes and learn from them.
We can come close to the “Conference on Failure”
We can, when pushed, talk honestly about failure. During the discussion around Y2K, the IT disaster we sort of avoided, (if we can consider a $300B+ expenditure ‘avoiding’ a problem) there was much discussion about how/why we self inflicted ourselves with this problem. There was general agreement that the key component wasn’t technical. It was human short sightedness – there were other good reasons to do what we did – but the real problem was that we, the entire IT industry, didn’t take the long view.
One of the more popular category of TV shows on the Discovery and History channels are those that examine, from an external viewpoint, the reasons behind various types of accidents. From crashing Planes and trains, to crumbling tunnels and towers… each catastrophe has something to teach us.
Perhaps we can’t have the individuals involved in the big events explain what they were thinking, but we can shift some of our attention away from self congratulatory stories about ‘what made us a success’ to the more difficult and telling recollections about ‘what made us fail’ and with some careful attention, some compassion for those courageous enough to talk unveil themselves in public, and a little bit of effort, apply those insights to future endeavours.