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You Have Voted

When it comes to strategy, leadership, and life, you vote more often than you think you do.

 

Choices are everywhere.  You make them from the moment you wake up in the morning to the moment you fall fast asleep at night.

This is an article about choices…Votes, if you will.

When it comes to your life as a professional, you vote all day every day. No, it’s true. You vote for lunch (you know…”What do you want for lunch?” “Salad.” Easy, right?). You vote for when the next meeting will happen.  You may even be in a position to vote for what direction your company will go.

All of these are moments when you cast a vote.

But what about all the votes you make that you don’t even know about? The seemingly little votes that are actually huge?  You may know them as votes for poor sales strategy or a bad leader or a toxic company culture, but whatever the case, you are likely making them because you are staying put and shutting up.

One of the aspects I absolutely loved about the large professional services firm that I spent a good portion of my career within was a concept called the obligation to dissent.

The obligation to dissent was the notion that all people, whether the least tenured or the most, had the obligation to put their dissenting point of view on the table during any interaction.

Disagree with the path a strategy is taking?  Put a competing point of view out there. Think someone isn’t living up to the values espoused by the firm?  Say so. You had an obligation.  Voting “present” was not expected of you.

So how does this apply to you, today, as a professional?

I’ll give you one hint, and I ask that you act on it—here it is: Ask a question.

Yep, that’s all.

Ask a question.

You see a strategy that is poorly structured or conceived?  Ask “What about this better structured alternative?”

You see a leader who is behaving in a way that does not reflect the values of the company?  Ask “is this how you expect me to act with my people?”

You see people complaining about the status quo?  Ask “so what are we going to do about it?”

You might be listened to, and you might just retain a little bit of your own self respect.  In fact, the way people around you react to your placing a thoughtful, constructive question on the table will tell you plenty about where you stand.  Try it out.

Legendary rock band Rush has a classic track out there called Freewill, and it contains this doozy of a lyric:

“If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

So, yes, you bear the blame for choices (or “votes”) you didn’t make. You work for an unethical leader?  Well, you voted for him, so stop complaining. You are executing a strategy that might be termed “crappy?”  Well, you voted for it. You live within a corporate culture that is toxic?  You got it:  All on you, my friend.

Some might say I’m blaming the victim here. They will say that I’m ignoring the personal situations of people who stay with bad leaders, companies, spouses, what have you.  To them I’ll say this:  You have a choice to be constructive or destructive. Endorsing a bad leader, environment, family situation, or whatever is destructive to you and to the people who are the victims of your tacit consent.

The sincerest form of constructive behavior, whether it be in forming global corporate strategies or simply deciding how to live your life, is to name the issues and work on them diligently.  If you are one who is content to run out the clock on your career by passively voting for a world you wouldn’t intentionally subject others to, just remember…

You have voted.

How Improv Can Reinforce Your Strategy

For business strategists to be flexible and responsive, they must work like the best of improv performers.

A few months ago, my wife and I had the opportunity to take our children to an improvisational comedy workshop. In the midst of getting to watch my better half pantomime milking a cow in front of 50 people, I was reminded of one of the more interesting leadership realities.

The best leaders, like the best improv performers, are constant in their ability to give and take. The best improv performers can charm the hardest of audiences, and the best leaders can lead in the most challenging of circumstances.

But. Rather than go into leadership as improv—a well-trodden trail at this  point (just Google it)—I thought it interesting to explore another very current application: business strategy as improv.

The Core of Improvisational Anything

In any sort of improvisational performance, be it music, comedy, dance, or otherwise, a core tenet is called “Yes…and.” Yes…and is the shorthand for how performers improvise together. They take something someone else has said or played, interpret it, and then take off on their own with it before teeing it up for the next performer.

It goes something like this:

Performer 1:  “Today, I tried to walk the cat.”

Performer 2:  “Yes…and you probably found that the cat walked you…”

Except with a wittier writer, you might have laughed out loud.  It’s important to note that Yes…and is an idea in practice, so you don’t hear performers actually saying “yes…and” out loud during an improv performance (well, not often).

At its core, improv requires a few things.

It requires perception; the performer must be constantly focused on what others are doing, not on what they will do. Being self-focused is a surefire way to failure as an improv performer. So, you listen, and watch, and look for insights.

It requires agreement and acceptance. Improv starts with “yes” no matter what is said. Your counterpart flubs it, and you say yes; you start with yes and shape the conversation from there. Sure, you interpret action and revise approach, but you do it while moving forward.

It requires interpretation. The joy of improvisational comedy is that it often results in comedic insights through unique interpretations of a stated fact.

It requires action. The wheels of an improv performance don’t—can’t—stop. You never see an effective improv act that taps the brakes in the middle to “get things right” or “study further.”  Improvisers take the “and” part of “Yes…and” seriously. It’s where they deliver.

Applying Improv to Strategy

There is a great, growing insight in the world of management strategy that strategic planning approaches are mistimed to the real world. Some companies do 3- or 5-year strategic plans as deep studies and then go to “execute,” when meanwhile, the world is working at a much faster pace. The strategy that’s written today is out of date in a month if not a week; it’s a script in a world that requires improv.

Strategy is becoming constant motion and revision. It’s becoming improvisation within a framework vs. scripting and perfecting all actions and plans. So, we seek agility. We seek to plan and execute as a perpetual thought process versus a periodic one.

Yes…and that is where improv comes in.

As strategic leaders, we must establish the framework of our strategy. Study hard, know what you know (and don’t), and ensure alignment on core values and mission areas for the organization. And then, encourage and lead your organization through constant (or at least much more frequently periodic) perception, acceptance, interpretation, and action.

Effective strategists perceive by listening to their people, customers, markets, and macro trends and seeking insights.

They accept by ensuring that the facts they perceive, whatever they might be, are the facts. They avoid spin, confront reality, and say “YES!”

They interpret what they have perceived and accepted by formulating and reformulating their strategies in microcycles and being explicit about the microcycles.

And they act by ensuring that their initiatives, messages, and personal actions have integrity.

The strategist as improvisational artist is a new animal. For too long, we have thought of strategists as long-range thinkers devoid of any action orientation. But now, it’s time to embrace “Yes…and” in our strategies.

I welcome your comments.

A Strategist’s Secret: Find Beauty Every Day

A habit of seeking out strength and beauty every day can make you a better strategic leader.

This is going to appear to be a soft article…after all, I’m writing on finding beauty.

But, I can assure you that the concept here applies to the hardest core, barest knuckled aspects of business as much as it applies to stopping and smelling the figurative roses.

The gist is this:  Through a combination of hurry and training, we get locked into the “things we do” every day.  We become so focused (or, I might say, unfocused) on problems–the ugliness and weakness–that we forget to appreciate the things of beauty and strength right in our midst.

You and I can be better leaders if we stop and acknowledge the strengths and beauty around us.

What a thing of beauty really is…

What I’m writing on today is a positive appreciation for winning practices and attitudes that are right under our noses. We actually don’t often have the discipline to look for the things of beauty that are right in front of us; and all too often that’s because we’ve been rewarded by others for finding ugly.

Finding ugly.

You know, like finding what other people are doing wrong…Finding out what’s broken…Searching out weaknesses and soft spots–All those things that good problem solvers finders do.

Oops.  You saw that correctly.

Problem finders often focus on the ugly.

Problem solvers tend to look for the sublime.

You know why?  Because our strengths tend to be what we use to overcome our weaknesses.

Strengths are possibilities.  Weaknesses are limitations.

Building a winning strategy in business and life by focusing only on what is broken or weak is, near as I can tell, impossible. Sure, strategic plans can start with break fixes, but if they end there, they will miss the upside.

Trust me.

Beauty is in your strengths.

But, what does it mean to find beauty?

Finding beauty means having a willingness to step back and appreciate the real capabilities that you, the people around you, and your organization actually have right now.

It might be the way that your organization processes material…

or serves customers…

or designs product…

or, and this is a good one, respects one another.

Evaluating capabilities–strengths and not merely weaknesses–is a critical step for any strategist.

Add to that the fact that positive framing of capabilities and situations is likewise a real strategic leadership strength; and you will find that a focus on beautiful strengths is a healthy thing for your relationships as a leader, family member, and friend.

Why this is hard

Too often, and for too many good reasons, we get distracted from finding the beauty of strong capabilities around us.

The good reasons?  Well, more often than not, we have a problem to solve.

While you are focused on achieving that bonus or making it to the next stopping point in your career, or–maddeningly–just following orders, you might be missing the beautiful things around you.

The talent you have.

The talent people around you have vs. what is available in the market.

The glory of a job you did well today.

You know… the little things.

I’ll give a great example of how distraction can rule our lives and remove us from recognizing beauty around us.  Some of you may have seen this before; but if not, I encourage you to watch it.

In this video, famed virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell decides to play in a D.C. subway station, just to see if anyone notices… Have a look. It’s well worth a couple minutes of your time.

I’m betting that more than a handful of the people who walked through that subway station were not only aficionados of classical violin, but were probably so much so that they could tell you how excited they would be to go to the symphony hall to see such a performer as Joshua Bell.

And, they each had the opportunity not only to see Bell, but to have an almost personal performance by him.  That’s something that many people would pay a lot of money for.

But they aren’t looking for the thing of beauty that is right in front of them.

It’s a remarkable and somewhat sad commentary on the pace of our lives that a virtuoso gets nearly zero reactions from everyone powering their way through the train station toward their next goal.

The same distractions apply to you while you lead your life…

Chances are you have strengths right in front of you that aren’t being used.

Chances are you’ve let “popular” notions of what talent or capability looks like (in the worst case–prejudiced or preconceived notions) cloud your vision of what strong capabilities are right in front of you.

Chances are, you’ve gotten yourself into a hurry.

A parting shot

I’ll leave you with a little bit of humor.

If you have never seen it, I encourage you to watch the “Double Rainbow” video here.

Now, There’s a guy who found a thing of beauty in his life.

Okay, so maybe you don’t have to get that excited.  Still…

…Go find your double rainbow today.

Find a thing of beauty today.  Find a strength to build on.  It might get you somewhere that a focus on ugly won’t.

That’s a core secret of an effective strategist.

I’d love to have you share your reactions and comments…

One Habit to Create Action From Every Meeting

By focusing on three simple post-meeting reflections, anyone in a professional environment can drive for better action orientation…

I wish this post was based on a blindingly original insight about how to be action-oriented.

It isn’t.

Instead, it’s based on a blindingly effective one.

The situation

I have walked the halls at dozens of companies over the years.  I’ve observed that one of the most pernicious yet obvious problems of strategic management at organizations large and small is the inability to drive action from meetings.

Some organizations I have been around have highly structured, up front requirements for meetings…They include things like lists of “desired outcomes” or “purpose and process” or “meeting objectives” written into the meeting agenda.

Those things can help.

Still, even those companies with strong meeting discipline struggle to avoid the “meeting to meet” habit that can come up.

Over the years of working on relatively ambiguous strategy and operational issues, I’ve found one leadership habit that has allowed me and a lot of my teams to go beyond objectives and process and toward a more action oriented approach to work.

It works in concert with good meeting planning; and leads to even better meeting planning for the next day, week, and beyond.

The habit

The habit I’m talking about is a 5 minute post-meeting reflection on most every professional interaction.  It focuses on three elements of action.  They are:

1. The insights gained in the interaction.  You just met for an hour.  What did you learn?  Those insights may be about facts presented and discussed, motivations of different parties in the interaction, or interpersonal dynamic in the room (or, sometimes, not in the room when unhealthy things like backbiting come into focus).  The focus on insights is a focus on what I learned.

2.  The implications of the insights and of the meeting overall.  It’s not enough to know what you learned.  You have to know what it means in the context of your organizations or team’s macro-level agenda, the path of work that you may be following, and the objectives of the given meetings.  Often, studying the implications of a meeting brings you to drastically alter course on objectives, agenda, and problem-solving approach.  The focus on implications is a focus on meaning.

3.  The next steps implied by the insights and next steps. What actions will we take based on the things we learned and the meaning that they bring to the problem solving approach? The brief reflection on next steps in light of the insights and implications drives action orientation. It drives it–more importantly–based on the facts on the ground.  Many professionals are great at putting the next steps they think are going to come out of a meeting into the meeting agenda.  I’m saying that the next steps should be written on reflection, not strictly based on the agenda.

That’s it:  Insights…Implications…Next Steps.

Those three reflections, done personally or in team format for maximum of 5 minutes after a meeting, can drive toward more effective action in most any environment.

The more ambiguous the environment (factual, interpersonal, strategic, etc.), the more useful these reflections.

Parting thought

I received a part of this habit many years ago through good coaching from a manager early in my career.

I don’t see it as some groundbreaking insight.

I do see it as a way to increase speed and effectiveness in most any professional environment.

It is fundamentally action oriented…

But…

It requires a leadership approach that is grounded in vision and a hypothesis about direction and context.

If you have that, then Insights, Implications, and Next Steps will allow you to gain more from every interaction you have.

Try it out.

What Entrepreneurs Know that Corporate Execs Forget…

By looking at what entrepreneurs do well, the rest of us can learn something about strategic decision making and action.

It was 1997.

I was lucky enough, though I didn’t know it at the time, to score an internship as employee number 5 or 6 at E-Loan, Inc.  Such was one of the benefits of being a college student in the heart of Silicon Valley:  There were a lot of start-ups, and there was a lot of work to be done; so a guy like me with no experience beyond manual labor, retail, and a stint as a bouncer could find himself uploading the entire database of lending products to the start-up’s website every morning–performing the critical action of the company’s existence.

In the months I spent at the company, which spanned the launch of the website and the tripling of the employee base, I gained a lot of respect for what high-pace entrepreneurship actually is.

The rest of the E-Loan story is a lot like many others of the dot com era:  Growth, then a hot IPO, then challenges, then acquisition, repositioning, and ultimately in the years that have passed, a company that resembles the original only in name.

The rest of my story is a bit different. I took that experience, along with some other quality early-stage investment experience, and ended up as a larger company consultant and diversified manufacturing executive.  Those experiences have been exemplar of the sort of yin and yang learnings that my own life trajectory has offered; and that frankly inform the bulk of this blog.

Insight from all of that brings me to this:

Larger company leaders can learn from entrepreneurs how to occupy the “pinnacle” of strategy.  That pinnacle is the moment of decision.  It’s the decision seat.

Entrepreneurs do this well because, in essence, it may be all they have.

Large company executives do this poorly because they have the luxury of resources and time.

But they (perhaps, you?) can get better at it.

The Pinnacle of Strategy

What’s the pinnacle of strategy, and why the mountainous metaphor?  In short, it’s the decision seat that stands atop the mountain or molehill of data, insights, analysis, and synthesis of a point of view.

As a McKinsey alumnus, I have been well steeped in (and am a proponent of) Barbara Minto’s “Pyramid Principle” method of thinking and communicating.  The top of the “Pyramid” in action-oriented logic is a synthesis of a point of view. Only far too often, a point of view at the top of a pyramid lacks a pinnacle. That pinnacle is occupied by a decision maker, steeped in the rest of the pyramid, but willing to drive a decision.

Often–particularly in large company bureaucracies–the seat is vacant.  That reality is what gives so many consulting reports their negative dust-collecting reputation.

The difference between entrepreneurs and executives

When it comes to occupying the pinnacle, entrepreneurs have no choice.

During my time at E-Loan and around numerous other start-up businesses, one thing became clear:  Somebody was going to make a decision.  E-Loan was in the business of underwriting mortgage loans in California when it started up.  It, like many dot com businesses of that era, had no real automation when it came to processing the actual deluge of loan applications that came through its website.  We were processing loans on paper.  The popularity of the web being what it was, and the peculiarity of discount mortgages offered online being what it was, the company was quickly overwhelmed.

So, what happened?  Did the founders ponder the data?  Think about talent strategy?  Run endless spreadsheets?  Set meetings in order to plan?  Call a board meeting?

Nope.

They made decisions.

Hire 5 people. Set pricing at x. Weed out bad applications by doing y.  It was all heady, seat of your pants decision making that was grounded in a strong appreciation for what had to be done and for the business model they thought would win.  There was no “stop and study it.”  It was “study it as we go.”

The greatest entrepreneurs, therefore, occupy the pinnacle of the pyramid even as the pyramid is being constructed.  They sit on the scaffold, not on the bricks.  They are hypothesis driven.  They are (and I apologize in advance for going here) fundamentally inductive in their reasoning.

In short, they are action-oriented.

Contrast that with today’s executive management culture.  Executives across industries lock into linear thought processes.  They go from data, to facts, to insights, to risks, to options, to strategies, and ultimately to a hypothesis.  And, then, they may or may not occupy the pinnacle.   They are fundamentally deductive.  

They have that luxury.

In short, they are, on average, ponderous and cautious.

What do big companies get wrong in their leadership cultures that entrepreneurs get right? 

This is a story of incentives and how we respond to them.

Most of this difference comes down to the old adage about “messing up a good thing.”

For the entrepreneur, the “good thing” is still out there in the primordial soup of opportunity.  She has to act in order to realize opportunity.

For the executive, the “good thing” is the here and now.  It’s far too often the salary and bonus that accrue from just nudging the controls this way or that.  The upside of taking a risk is minute in comparison to the downside of losing power, position, or prestige.

And, that is what large companies ultimately get wrong.  They provide incentives for executives to protect their position, to manage risk vs. capturing opportunity, and ultimately to guard the status quo.  Big, strategic decisions come with millions of dollars of study and sign off not because it’s necessary for large companies, but rather because no one really wants to sit on the pinnacle.

Entrepreneurs know that they get paid when they act.

Executives often get paid not to act. Often, they get paid very well, in fact.

This simple fact is evidenced by the bloated cash positions on some companies’ balance sheets (coupled with latent debt capacity) these days. Corporate executives, faced with decisions whether to invest or wait, have the luxury of waiting.

In the worst of cases, corporate executives earn rents based on time.  “The longer I’m in the seat, the more money I’ll make.”

In almost every case, entrepreneurs create value based on action. “I’d better hire/build/sell or I’m out of cash.”

Would that a little bit of the latter mindset could seep into the former.

So What?  

We are all strategists.  Given that, we should all beware the “study further” cul de sac and focus on a healthy approach to action orientation.

Taking some tips from entrepreneurs, a few things come to mind that might bridge the gap between endless study and deductive processing of strategic problems and efficient, inductive decision making.  These are applicable for you as an individual professional and for the highest level executive leading the most complex multi-national.

  • Know what you (or your business lines) are about – I never met an entrepreneur who didn’t have a strong view of what his business is.  I have met, dare I say, thousands of corporate employees who couldn’t tell you the financials of their company and, worse, how their job connected to them. I’ve also, sadly, met numerous executives whose point of view on what they or their company is about amounts to meeting a budget connected to a bonus structure even when they know it is destroying value (again, rents vs. value).

 

  • Size up your pyramid – Study is a good thing.  Finely considered decisions can be fantastically successful.  The dirty little secret is that a healthy proportion of momentarily considered action is also successful in creating value.  Know when enough study and analysis is enough.  If you are building a pyramid, know whether you really need one made of bricks that will last 10,000 years or one made of Legos.  This matters.

 

  • Match pace of decision making with pace of business – If you and your competitors are slow moving, perhaps you have more time.  Or, perhaps, you have an opportunity to outrun them.  During the dot com era, the frenetic pace of decisions was matched to the land grab that was the growth of the Internet.

 

  • Occupy the pinnacle – Every strategic act worthy of study is worthy of a decision.  This is true whether you are thinking about your personal career or thinking about how to steer your business.  Be willing to occupy the pinnacle of the pyramid; and remember, in the immortal lyrics of Rush‘s “Freewill,” if you choose not to decide…You still have made a choice.

 

  • Know what incentives you are giving people– My final shot is at incentive structures.  Do your company’s or your personal incentives (and by that, I don’t mean bonuses, I mean the holistic set of incentives a given person has) drive you toward action or inaction.  Do people get rewarded for taking action, or for avoiding it? Do you?  Whether you are an HR executive or a Board member, build a healthy appreciation for opportunity costs into your incentive system.  Some incentive structures, if shareholders knew the behaviors they engender, would embarrass the board members and executives who enact them.

 

By bridging the gap between the “corporate risk manager’s” strategic approach and the entrepreneur’s approach, we can learn a lot about how to inject a little more action into our approach.

Occupy the pinnacle of strategy.

WaPo: For Innovative Talent, It’s Both Art and Science

This from yesterday’s Washington Post:

We don’t need more STEM majors. We need more STEM majors with liberal arts training.

The debate about art vs. science in hiring is an interesting one.   This is one person’s take on why the artificial boundary between the two may hold us back when it comes to innovation.

Citing some of the world’s renown innovators as interdisciplinarians, the author takes on a real issue.

Namely, we lament the number of liberal arts degrees vs. the STEM degrees, but miss the point that for STEM trained leaders to be effective, they have to be liberal arts thinkers.

An operative passage:

Many in government and business publicly question the value of such an education [liberal arts]. Yet employers in every sector continue to scoop up my students because of their ability to apply cross-disciplinary thinking to an incredibly complex world. They like my chemistry grads because not only can they find their way around a laboratory, but they’re also nimble thinkers who know to consider chemistry’s impact on society and the environment.

Enjoy!

Want a Better Team? Mix In Some of This…

This has been an interesting article making the rounds for some time now.

In January, the New York Times publicized research by several scholars that provides some new insight into what makes teams click…

YOUR LINK

The operative portion:

…the smartest teams were distinguished by three characteristics.

First, their members contributed more equally to the team’s discussions, rather than letting one or two people dominate the group.

Second, their members scored higher on a test called Reading the Mind in the Eyes, which measures how well people can read complex emotional states from images of faces with only the eyes visible.

Finally, teams with more women outperformed teams with more men. Indeed, it appeared that it was not “diversity” (having equal numbers of men and women) that mattered for a team’s intelligence, but simply having more women. This last effect, however, was partly explained by the fact that women, on average, were better at “mindreading” than men.

So, while some of you read this as being a call to have more women in the mix, some others may read this as a call for a more inclusive and reflective team dynamic regardless of gender mix.

This study would probably say you are both right.

What Problem Solving Isn’t…

Watching out for some critically bad behaviors can improve your effectiveness as a problem solver.

 

This is the first of a few posts I’ll share on the topic of problem solving.

We in the professional ranks toss the concept of “problem solving” about like it’s a common sense concept. It isn’t. Problem solving is about being effective in moving forward with a potential solution to a given problem—regardless of scoring political, influence, or style points unrelated to the solution. It is with this focus on effectiveness that I’m posting on the topic.

Let me say up front that I lay no claim to being among the problem solving elite. That is for others to judge. I offer my thoughts as more of an experienced social observer and capability builder on the topic. In practice, problem solving is messy, like most other things not written in textbooks.

Countless negative mindsets and behaviors masquerade as good problem solving, and we all need to be on the lookout for them. That’s the topic of this post.

As someone who has interviewed hundreds of aspiring problem solvers and worked alongside some of the best (and possibly some of the worst) in the world, I have gleaned a few points of view on what problem solving is NOT. So, in the interest of going negative from the start, let’s explore a few of them.

Problem solving is NOT being merely smart. Many very smart people are very bad problem solvers. Why? Really smart people suffer from a couple of common flaws that, if they aren’t known and mitigated, can derail problem solving. First, many really smart people are naturally oriented toward finding an answer vs. a direction. They have to learn to think in terms of risk and opportunity vs. correct and incorrect. Second, many very smart people suffer from the “smartest guy in the room syndrome;” meaning they struggle to listen to others’ viewpoints.

Great problem solvers are flexible and incorporate a very broad number of viewpoints.

Problem solving is NOT merely having excellent energy and drive. Action-orientation is a virtue. Practical action-oriented problem solving is as well. However, some leaders confuse the drive for action with the drive for effective action. Being driven in a business setting is an excellent virtue if it is combined with sensitivity, structure, and at least some patience.

Too much drive with too little collaboration can lead to a bullying approach to problem solving. Combined with power, mere drive can lead to problem solving via fear, and to the closing off of channels of communication. Oddly, excess drive leads to a lack of listening, just like too much “smarts.”

The urge to do something is a good one if it’s managed. Great problem solvers manage it.

Problem solving is NOT problem finding. Problem finders, or mere whiners, are out of scope here. While issue identification can be a positive skill, too often leaders and their subordinates use it as a passive aggressive pseudo problem-solving surrogate. Those who are talented at lobbing quasi-professional bombs by identifying other people’s problems may score points in some organizations’ political games, but they aren’t problem solvers.

In most professional contexts, I’d estimate that problem identification is less than 5% of the effort required. Great problem solvers don’t congratulate themselves for being great at spotting issues.

Problem solving is NOT solving the wrong problem. We all have our own skills and tools to apply to a given problem. Always keep in mind the proverb “To a person with a hammer, all problems look like a nail.” It’s powerful. A very common problem solving failure springs from misapplied expertise. How often have you observed the process expert seeing every problem in terms of process, or the patent expert seeing every problem in terms of intellectual property, or the talent expert pointing only to talent? Often, I’ll bet.

Great problem solvers reflect on the definition and potential solutions for a problem before acting.

Problem solving is NOT a heroic pursuit.With all due respect to the proverbial mad genius problem solver who comes up with truly novel solution to a very tough problem, your run of the mill problem solver is more likely to be a structured thinker, clear communicator, and fantastic networker who may not even be the person in front of the group when the problem is solved.

Many of the world’s best problem solvers are unsung heroes.

I could go on about what problem solving is NOT, but I won’t. You probably get the picture. The question to ask when presented with a behavior or a contribution to your team that doesn’t feel on point is “yeah, but will it make us more effective?”

“He’s so smart/driven/insightful/savvy!”

“Yeah, but does he make us more effective?”

It’s a simple test.

Please consider sharing thoughts on barriers to effective problem solving from your own experience.