Tuesday, July 29, 2008

i-TFTD #145: Problem Solving to Problem Dissolving

Problem Solving to Problem Dissolving
Excerpted from an article in Artistic Management newsletter

How do you perceive "Problems" and "Problem Solving"?

For some people a problem is like a "hot potato" that needs to be dropped immediately. For some others, it is little more fragile and precious. For this group of people, solving a problem is like finding the right place and right way to drop it without breaking it. For another set, a problem is like a "piece of muck" on the road that you royally ignore and hurry past towards your desired destination. There is another set of people with warrior-like approach, who treat a problem like a wild animal that needs to be hunted. And, for some who are well-versed with the ways of the "motivational industry" define "problem" as an "opportunity", which sounds great but they  have a tough time trying to figure out whether it really means anything.

Whatever be the analogy used, for most people, a problem is an undesired state of turbulence, and problem-solving is the process of taking you out of this state into a more comfortable situation.

There is a fundamental approach with the whole concept of "problem-solving": it assumes a distinct beginning and end of the existence of a problem—when you "solve" a problem, you expect to reach a state which is more comfortable and happier.

Look back and remember the last time you did a real good job of solving a complex problem in your life. What happened next? Was everything really solved? Did you manage to "happily live ever after"? A problem always brings more problems. When you find that VC to fund your start-up, it spawns off a new set of challenges that are more difficult to face. When you find the customer, it opens up a whole new set of problems (delivery, support, keeping customer happy). No matter what problem you solve, if you really do a good job of solving it, it will definitely bring a newer and bigger set of problems.

Now, consider this.

If you look at problems as a hot potato, you will keep getting bigger and hotter potatoes every time you drop one. How many hot potatoes will you drop?
If you look at problems as a muck to be avoided, you will constantly get bigger and stinkier mucks every time you avoid one. How long will you keep avoiding?
If you look at problems as a hunting experience, you will constantly meet more ferocious beasts. How many beasts can you keep slaying?
If you look at problems as an "opportunity"—well nothing much needs to be said about it.

How about looking at problems in this way:

A problem is a situation that you need to get past in order to encounter bigger, better and more desirable problems.

This approach totally changes the way you look at it. There is no end. There is no avoidance. There is no expectation to be comfortable. There is no "happily live ever after". Your whole aim is to get past the present challenge so that you can experience a bigger, better and more desirable challenge.

There is no "problem-solving" here, but "problem-dissolving". You don't try to fix the present situation, but get past one to reach another one to get through.

All our obsessions to learn "problem-solving" arise from the fact that we perceive problems as a threat, and we need something that will immediately kill the threat before it kills us.

That is the reason for all the stress in the corporate world: We have a totally screwed-up approach towards Problems and Problem-Solving.

We need to move from "Problem Solving" to "Problem Dissolving".

This is not about how to solve problems but how to live life and work. The key is a shift of perspective, the most important aspect of thinking out-of-the-box and generating creative solutions.

One situation where I see this often in my line of work is when someone aspires to a higher role and perceives hurdles in the form of a boss or a policy or nature of assignment. Discussion reveals that the person's perspective is limited to "solving" the problem by working around the hurdle and reaching the goal of getting a different role. And then? What about the preparation for handling the increased responsibilities, meeting the expectations of a new boss, or the other pressures of the new assignment?

Unfortunately, recent research shows that the human mind is almost incapable of conceiving its future state--we are not good at predicting how we would feel in a projected scenario. Many of these studies are described entertainingly in two books I recently read, "Stumbling on Happiness" by Daniel Gilbert and "The Happiness Hypothesis" by Jonathan Haidt.

Friday, July 25, 2008

i-TFTD #144: Learning from the Dictionary (reprise)

Some interesting words from wordsmith.org, all avoidable behaviour.

Buggin's turn (BUG-inz turn) noun: Assignment to a position based on seniority or rotation, instead of merit. Also Buggins's turn

misoneism (mis-uh-NEE-izm) noun: A hatred or fear of change or innovation

catachresis (kat-uh-KREE-sis) noun: The misuse of words

Many liked 
i-TFTD #18: Learning from the Dictionary hence this reprise (return to a theme).

I hope I am not indulging in catachresis when I say that we should not encourage promotions based on Buggin's turn, and misoneism should be one of the disqualifying criteria for senior leadership roles. 

Thursday, July 24, 2008

i-TFTD #143

i-TFTD #143

#143-1. Companies that squelch creativity can no longer compete with companies that champion creativity.
-Hugh Macleod

#143-2. You cannot make yourself feel something you do not feel, but you can make yourself do right in spite of your feelings.

-Pearl S. Buck

#143-3. Never compare your inside with somebody else's outside.
-Hugh Macleod

Enough literature and research studies are now available on creativity and innovation (applied creativity) based on work done in the last few decades in companies such as 3M. There is such a thing as a culture that allows and nurtures innovation. Leaders (the definition in this context is influencers, not persons in managerial positions) today need to be conscious of the first quote above.

Like many i-TFTDs the second one puts a big responsibility on ourselves. One might say, "I do not like this" or "This does not fit with my view" but does that automatically have to mean one would not do what it necessary?

The third reminds us many things that we often ignore: (i) our self-image guides our thoughts and feelings but it is usually different from how others perceive us (ii) our judgement of others is based on our perception of their external behaviour, it could be wrong or incomplete (iii) Changing our inside (a longer and harder process in my view) and changing our outside (quicker and relatively easier, not necessarily easy) could be looked at as two different things. This is related to the second quote above.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

i-TFTD #142: Don't Send Your Ducks to Eagle School

i-TFTD #142: Don't Send Your Ducks to Eagle School

Don't Send Your Ducks to Eagle School
by Jim Rohn

The first rule of management is this: Don't send your ducks to eagle school. Why? Because it won't work. Good people are found, not changed. They can change themselves, but you can't change them. If you want good people, you have to find them. If you want motivated people, you have to find them, not motivate them.

I picked up a magazine not long ago in New York that had a full-page ad in it for a hotel chain. The first line of the ad read, "We do not teach our people to be nice." Now that got my attention. The second line said, "We hire nice people." I thought, What a clever shortcut!"

Motivation is a mystery. Why are some people motivated and some are not? Why does one salesperson see his first prospect at seven in the morning while the other sees his first prospects at 11 in the morning? Why would one start at seven and the other start at 11? I don't know. Call it "mysteries of the mind."

I give lectures to a thousand people at a time. One walks out and says, "I'm going to change my life." Another walks out with a yawn and says, "I've heard all this stuff before." Why is that?

The wealthy man says to a thousand people, "I read this book, and it started me on the road to wealth." Guess how many of the thousand go out and get the book? Answer: very few. Isn't that incredible? Why wouldn't everyone go get the book? Mysteries of the mind.

To one person, you have to say, "You'd better slow down. You can't work that many hours, do that many things, go, go, go. You're going to have a heart attack and die." And to another person, you have to say, "When are you going to get off the couch?" What is the difference? Why wouldn't everyone strive to be wealthy and happy?

Chalk it up to mysteries of the mind and don't waste your time trying to turn ducks into eagles. Hire people who already have the motivation and drive to be eagles and then just let them soar.

A somewhat controversial viewpoint in these days of political correctness where one cannot even openly have the age-old Nature versus Nurture debate. It can be seen as pessimistic but another way to look at it is as an acknowledgement and celebration of individual differences.

Sometimes, in our focus on solving problems of poor performers, we tend to ignore extracting the best out of high performers.

An even better interpretation it is to look at it as personality aspects of the same individual. Instead of focusing on eliminating weaknesses it is better to build on the strengths. This is a management idea gaining force recently, endorsed strongly by Marcus Buckingham (formerly head of Gallup) in his books.

Monday, July 21, 2008

i-TFTD #141

i-TFTD #141

#141-1. We should try to be the parents of our future rather than the offspring of our past.
-Miguel de Unamuno, writer and philosopher (1864-1936)

#141-2. It is better to sleep on things beforehand than lie awake about them afterwards.
-Baltasar Gracian, philosopher and writer (1601-1658)

#141-3. You pile up enough tomorrows, and you'll find you've collected a lot of empty yesterdays.
-Professor Harold Hill (The Music Man)

The first two constitute good advice on planning for a new future without always being constrained by the past, and on pausing to consider all angles before plunging into action.

The third cautions against overdoing the above.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

i-TFTD #140

i-TFTD #140

#140-1. If you are having trouble keeping your head above water, you probably aren't on your toes.

#140-2. Half of the harm that is done in the world is due to people who want to feel important.
-T.S. Eliot

#140-3. Every exit is an entry somewhere.
-Tom Stoppard

Put another way, one has to be able either to stand on one's toes or to stay underwater.

Everyone likes to feel important but those who make that an objective by itself end up doing ineffective or even dangerous things.

Every child grows learning about the cyclical and rhythmic nature of many practical things in life but one should also detect the waves in a broader sense to handle the vicissitudes of life.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

i-TFTD #139: Are You a Good Boss or Bad Boss?

i-TFTD #139: Are You a Good Boss or Bad Boss?

Good Boss, Bad Boss. Which Are You?
Published: January 8, 2008
The New York Times

Maybe it is not them. If employee turnover and absenteeism within the company are too high, and productivity and morale too low, the person in charge may be the one at fault.

To find out how good or bad a boss you are, the National Federation of Independent Business, a small business advocacy group, suggests asking yourself these questions:

1. Have you ever publicly criticized an employee?
2. Do you take credit for your employees’ work?
3. Do your employees fear you?
4. Do you expect employees to do what you tell them without question?
5. Do you believe employees should know what to do without you telling them or providing guidelines?
6. Are you a yeller?
7. Do you demean employees as a form of punishment?
8. Do you play favorites?
9. Do you hate delegating?
10. Do you check everyone’s work?

According to the answer key, the more “yes” answers, the greater the likelihood you are a bad boss.

Given that Trevor Gay wrote a book called “Simplicity Is the Key” published in Britain by Kingsham Press in 2004 it is not surprising that he has come up with a basic list of the differences between good and bad bosses.

In his 35 years of work (in the health care industry), Mr. Gay said he discovered that his best bosses had these attributes:

-Inspired confidence
-Were humble
-Had integrity
-Knew what they were talking about
-Let me get on with things
-Were always there when I needed help
-Usually said, ‘Yes, try it.’

His worst bosses, he said, had these deficiencies:

-Never seemed to be around when I needed them
-Always asked me to justify what I wanted to do
-Always wanted to know what I was doing
-Often said ‘no, we can’t do that’
-Gave the impression of being distrustful
-Didn’t smile much
-Talked about themselves a lot.

Paul Lemberg, an executive coach, has compiled a list of ways weak bosses can hinder an employee’s performance.

His advice to those bosses is to "stop immediately," if they are doing any of the following:

-You don't give employees a clear and compelling company direction. When people align themselves with the company’s goals, they are free to invent, to improvise, to innovate, to inspire each other.

-You say important things only once. If the message is important, it is worth repeating.
-You don’t hold employees accountable.
-You concentrate on trying to improve employees’ shortcomings. “Bad bosses waste too much energy on employee makeovers. Don’t worry about weaknesses instead, figure out what employees are really good at and train them to be brilliant.”

Working America, which is affiliated with the A.F.L.-C.I.O., writes on its Web site that it works “against wrong-headed priorities favoring the rich and corporate special interests over America’s well-being.”

That apparently does not keep them from having a sense of humor.

The organization has created a 10-question quiz to help employees figure how bad their boss is.

The quiz presents a situation and then asks if it sounds “like something your boss would do.”

For example, “someone in your family has died unexpectedly,” it says. “You are devastated, but feel touched when your normally cheap boss sends flowers to the funeral. The next month you find out your boss has taken the money for flowers out of your paycheck.”

The Web site says questions like this one are based on real events.

Writing in Inc., Leigh Buchanan offers several signs to bosses that their employees probably hate them. These are our two favorites:

You never see people walk by. Employees would rather circumnavigate the entire office to get to the coffee machine or bathroom than take the shortcut past your door and risk being invited in.”

Employees do not volunteer for the boss’s pet projects. It could be because the idea is bad, and they are afraid to say that. Or the idea may be good, but they are petrified of what will happen if they let the boss down. Or since it is the boss’s pet project, he will probably work on it as well. “Which means more time spent ...gulp ...with you.”

Nothing left to add. Glad to notice that the strengths-based approach is appearing in the mainstream press.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

i-TFTD #138

i-TFTD #138

#138-1. People are not your most important asset. The RIGHT people are.
-Jim Collins, author of "Built to Last" and "Good to Great"

#138-2. When organizations say, "Our people are our greatest asset" what they actually mean is, "Our people's STRENGTHS are our greatest asset."
-Marcus Buckingham, author of "Go Put Your Strengths to Work" and other books

#138-3. The task of leadership is to create an alignment of strengths in ways that make a system's weaknesses irrelevant.
-Peter Drucker, pioneer management guru, prolific author of management books

The Strengths-based Approach, which I have been evangelizing in my organization for almost two years, is really gaining ground around the world with companies like Microsoft, Accenture and Toyota aligning their corporate people practices with this approach. Managers in these companies are trained to identify their own strengths and the strengths of their subordinates.

The first quote could sound a bit negative to some. They might ask, "So there are some WRONG people and they are unimportant, is it?" Actually there is a positive way to look at it (as usual). The people most likely to contribute to the success of any organization and thereby achieve personal career success are those whose values and attitudes are aligned with the culture of the organization. Maybe some people are more likely to achieve success by being the RIGHT people in some other culture? No recruitment process can perfectly assess this aspect of "fit".

Thursday, July 10, 2008

i-TFTD #137

i-TFTD #137

#137-1. Your talent determines what you can do. Your motivation determines how much you are willing to do. Your attitude determines how well you do it.

-Lou Holtz

#137-2. Mistakes are the portals of discovery.
-James Joyce

#137-3. Why is it $10 looks so small at the grocery store, but so big at church?

The first one could be looked at as the three components of achieving success. Perhaps deficiency in one component could be compensated with surplus of another?

The last one is a funny phenomenon. A similar one says, "The length of a minute depends on which side of the bathroom door you are." It helps to remember that perspectives are relative to one's context and our own views could change over time. $ 10 = $ 10 isn't it obviously true? Yes if we look at the currency denomination and the arithmetic. Maybe it helps to qualify the context and make explicit our assumptions when we have a strong view to communicate.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

i-TFTD #136: Why Smart People Do Dumb Things - 6 Principles of Maturity

i-TFTD #136: Why Smart People Do Dumb Things - 6 Principles of Maturity

From Guy Kawasaki's Blog:

I read a book (at the suggestion of my buddy Bill Meade) called Why Smart People Do Dumb Things by Dr. Mortimer Feinberg and John J. Tarrant, and it answered this question.

The authors list four reasons why smart, famous, powerful, and rich people who should obviously know better end up crashing and burning:

Hubris. Pride to the point that you no longer feel shame, no longer believe that you are subject to public opinion, and no longer need to fear "the gods." Examples: Gary Hart's involvement with Donna Rice that ended his run for the presidency and the Dennis Kozlowski's (Tyco) $2 million toga party.

Arrogance. From the Latin word arrogare: "to claim for oneself." Arrogant people believe they have claim to anything and everything they want--they are "entitled" to it. King David, for example, felt entitled to the wife (Bathsheba) of one of his soldiers. Modern day King Davids feel entitled to corporate jets and an entourage to tell them that their keynote speech rocked.

Narcissism. Self absorption to the point that you are blind to reality. The world only exists to provide you gratification. Examples: Richard Nixon and Watergate; the Clintons and Whitewaterreally just about every politician and CEO who falls from grace.

Unconscious need to fail. If you think failing is hard, try winning. The questions that go through people’s minds when they they are on the doorstep of success are: Do I really deserve to win? Do I want the pressure of constantly having to win in the future? Can I really handle success? Perhaps this explains why professional athletes still take performance enhancement drugs even after watching their colleagues get busted.

The authors go on to discuss maturity (the "capacity to make constructive use of our inmost feelings") and what they call the "Six Basic Principles of Maturity."

Accept yourself. "You’re on the road to maturity if you can begin to appreciate yourself without trying to be what you cannot possibly be." The CEOs who failed at Apple did so because they wanted to be another "Steve Jobs." They couldn't accept themselves and their own, different capabilities and shortcomings.

Accept others. "Your relations with other people are a basic test of your maturity. If you don't get along well with others, it's not because you're not smart enough, or because you're smart and they're dumb. It's because you still need to grow up in some vital centers of your being." For example, there are companies in Silicon Valley that maintain a "tyranny of PhDs" where only the advanced degreed are held in high esteem and marketing, operations, and others are fodder.

Keep your sense of humor. "Your humor reflects your attitudes toward people. The mature person uses humor not as a bludgeoning hammer but rather as a plane to shave off rough edges."

Accept simple pleasures. "The capacity to get excited over things even when they seem ordinary to othersthis is a sign of a healthy personality." For example, some tech entrepreneurs have yachts that can barely pass under the Golden Gate Bridge. (I'd just be happy if I could skate backwards.)

Enjoy the present. "Emotional grown-ups don't live on an expectancy basis. They plan for the future, but they know they must also live in the present. The mature person realizes that the best insurance for tomorrow is the effective use of today."

Welcome work. "Appreciation of work is a hallmark of mature people... Immature people are constantly fighting certain aspects of their work. They resent routine reports, or meetings, or correspondence. They allow these annoyances to grate on their nerves continually. Satisfaction in doing a good job is blocked out by the dust speck in the eye of resentment over trivia."

I thought I know what is maturity but this is such a clear listing of qualities, isn't it? I was happy to know about the importance of "simple pleasures" because in the recent few years where my age is inching towards the "better hide it" range, I have started enjoying many things with renewed gusto. It's a very long and growing list but here are some: a strong half-cup of dark and bitter coffee, solving a medium-to-difficult Sudoku puzzle in one sitting, singing a sad song along with Rafi, averting a major escalation by engineering the right sequence of phone and mails...

I like the way two types of humour have been identified: one that you might use as a weapon (the bad kind) and one that helps you smoothen your rough edges (the good kind). I often see a third kind: humour used as a shield (neutral).

Monday, July 7, 2008

i-TFTD #135

i-TFTD #135

#135-1. Big goals get big results. No goals get no results or somebody else's results.
-Mark Victor Hansen

#135-2. Each problem that I solved became a rule which served afterwards to solve other problems.
-Rene Descartes

#135-3. The father of every good work is discontent, and its mother is diligence.
-Lajos Kassak

One price many of us pay for growing up, becoming more mature, is to forget the ability to dream. "The Magic of Thinking Big" is the title of a useful book written by David Schwartz. Google's founders never talked of building a faster or better search engine, they wanted "to know everything there is to know". Until his almost full retirement in June 2008 after over 25 years at Microsoft, Bill Gates rarely talked of achieving 90% desktop market share, he kept driving his corporation with an ambitious vision to put a computer in every desktop and every home.

Many of us miss the opportunity to capture and codify the learning associated with solving a particular problem. Great thinkers always do it.

Some amount of creative dissatisfaction with the present is useful to push towards new methods and products but pursuing it with persistence is needed for achieving results.