Which do you think is worse: having bias or having limits?

 

Bias is about what you think should be. Limits are about what you think cannot be. There are people who immediately think how a problem cannot be solved, such as no budget, no manpower, no capacity, and so on.

 

Given that logic, I would rather be saddled with bias because, at least, I would still try to solve a problem, although imperfectly. If I were obsessed with limits, I would probably shut down.

 

Therefore, the third “no” is: no limits.

 

The technique is to ask, “What needs to be done to solve this problem?” Notice the possibility language presupposes no limits. For example, if I have a machine problem, I don’t say, “What’s the use? Chances are the machine needs a new part and I don’t have the budget for it.” The correct thinking is, “I will pretend money is no object. Now, what needs to be done with the machine?” It may be or may not be to buy that new part.

 

Of course, there are limits in the real world. Money is one of them. But I always tell my technical people, “Don’t be afraid of issuing purchase requisitions because you think the item is expensive and higher management won’t approve it. Get the PR out if you think that leads to the solution. Let higher management worry about where they will get the money.” Then after they issue the PR, we work together on a business case to persuade that very higher management to release the money.

 

Time is another obvious limit. I once asked a problem-solving trainer, “When can you say that a problem is unsolvable? You’re doing your very best to solve a problem. But how would you know if the problem really has no solution at all, versus there is indeed a solution but you just have to persevere until you discover it?” The trainer said something like, “When there is a deadline and you just missed it.”

 

Hmmm. Actually, it depends whether the deadline can be negotiated or not. If it’s a government mandate – “file your taxes by April 30” or “observe the curfew of 8 pm to 5 am” – then I suppose there’s not much you can do about it. But if, say, I am to finish something by October 1 and I’m behind by September 28, I may ask for an extension.

 

My take is that a problem is unsolvable when it calls for violating the laws of chemistry and physics. For example, if I have a machine already running 24/7 and I want it to produce more, I can’t feed it with 100 tons of raw material and expect 150 tons of output. That’s creating something out of nothing. I have to find some other ways, such as increase machine speed or reduce rejection rates.

 

So there you have it. To be an excellent problem-solver, remember the Three Noes: no fear, no bias, no limits. Pretty soon, you’ll say, “No problem!”

 

We’d love for you to leave a comment and share this post to encourage others. Thank you.

0 Comments

Doesn’t it frustrate you when you are talking to someone and he cuts you off, saying, “I know what you’re thinking”? It gets more vexing when he’s wrong.

 

Similarly, beware that when you are given a problem, you have an idea of what’s wrong and what needs to be done. But you can be wrong, even expensive wrong.

 

That’s why my second “no” for problem solving is: no bias.


Bias is tricky because you may not even be aware you have them. Just recently, I was discussing a pesky problem with my production head. There were certain raw materials that kept jamming up a machine, costing us recurring downtime.

 

Bias is tricky because you may not even be aware you have them. Just recently, I was discussing a pesky problem with my production head. There were certain raw materials that kept jamming up a machine, costing us recurring downtime.

 

I couldn’t understand the head’s explanation until I realized something: I was visualizing the jamming to be happening at the start of the production process, whereas it was really towards the end. Correcting that bias freed me to move forward towards an action plan.

​Bias is tricky because you may not even be aware you have them.

 

Beware of confirmation bias which can lead you cherry-pick data that supports your suspicions or opinions. Conversely, it can make you blind to data that challenges your beliefs and may very well lead to the true solution.

 

A simple example is to think of a politician and a newspaper that contains both positive and negative reports about him. If you believe he is a good leader, you will devour the positive reports and disdain the negative ones, perhaps even branding them as fake news. If you believe he is a bad leader, you will relish the negative reports and view the positive ones with incredulity.

 

In counselling, there is a useful concept called “not knowing.” It’s a mental discipline, almost Zen-like, when a counselor pretends he knows absolutely nothing about a patient whom he is meeting for the first time. That way, he suspends judgment and advice until he draws enough information from the patient himself. Approach the problem with an attitude of “not knowing.”

 

Another tip is to write down every assumption you can think of, which may surface those that you had in your subconscious. Call me a college nerd, but my favorite part of engineering exams was writing down “data and assumptions” before I went on with my calculations. If my professor saw that I made even one wrong assumption from the very start, he didn’t need to read the rest of my paper before giving me an “F”.

 

When you expose your biases, you are free to park them, examine the problem from fresh perspectives, and come up with innovative solutions. Another safeguard is to explain your problem-solving analysis with a neutral party and ask for his critique. He may spot an assumption you had left unspoken.

 

If you practice no bias, you will be able to identify the right problems and arrive at the best solutions possible. I don’t have to spell out how it will advance your career, because I know what you’re thinking… oops!

 

Note: This article is excerpted from my signature module Creating a Problem-Solving Culture, which seeks to empower both leaders and followers tap their reservoir of creativity and wisdom. For queries, please feel free to message me.

 

Photo by Markus Winkler. from Unsplash

0 Comments

What makes a great problem-solver? Actually, it is not knowing everything about a subject.

 

One executive coach told me, “Let’s say I have a technical director as my client. I don’t need to know every detail of his production process. But I need to know how to ask the right questions so that he can have clarity. From there, he can arrive at the best possible decisions.”

 

Being a great problem-solver does not mean you have the answers, but knowing where to find the answers. For that, you would need the three noes. Here’s the first.

 

No fear. From my experience, the number one obstacle is emotional, not intellectual. For example, the problem-solver is afraid that his ideas will be shot down or that people will not cooperate.

No fear. From my experience, the number one obstacle is emotional, not intellectual

 

Another is the insidious psychology called group think. If you value the approval of your peers to the point of saying what they want to hear – there is no problem, the problem is not that serious, there is a problem but no solution – then the battle is lost before it even began. You will drag your heels, refuse to step on toes, or offer a “political” solution.

 

That’s why I wrote earlier that an organization must first have a safe environment. People should be able to talk about problems, openly, without fear of shame or blame. However, if this is not your workplace culture, you will need to marshal the courage to ask the tough questions, no matter where they lead to or whom they will offend. If you are still met with stiff resistance, then you may want to reconsider if you’d want to stay in that organization.

 

It helps to pretend that you are a spy. Deep in the bowels of your organization is a solution that is so secret that not even the CEO knows about it. Your job is to snoop around, rifle through documents, earn the confidence of your sources, and digest the “intel”. This role-play encourages you to set your fears aside. After all, is there such a thing as a risk-free spy mission? Then transmit your report to S.H.I.E.L.D…. um, I mean to your superiors.

 

Rise above your fears about problem-solving. Follow the data, even if they will lead to unpopular conclusions. Propose the solutions, even if they are bitter pills to swallow. Remember to focus on issues, not personalities. Your loyalty is to your employer, not to nay-sayers. Make the tough call. Bite the bullet.

 

Who knows? Your courage may be the very change the organization needs.

 

Note: This article is excerpted from my signature module Creating a Problem-Solving Culture, which seeks to empower both leaders and followers tap their reservoir of creativity and wisdom. For queries, please feel free to message me.

We’d love for you to leave a comment and share this post to encourage others. Thank you.

Photo by Sammie Vasquez, Unsplash

0 Comments

One thing I observed when you start “adulting” is that you have to figure out how life works. In school, you were pretty much told what to do: study these subjects, show up on these class schedules, observe these norms of acceptable behavior and so on. If you follow the rules, you will get your diploma.

 

The problem begins when you enter the “real world” and rules don’t exactly come in a silver platter. I suspect this is the major reason why many young people feel kind of lost, depressed or anxious. They need principles to guide them through this VUCA world.

 

Doreen Cooper’s book, #Adulting: 5 Secrets to Embracing Change in Life & Career, provides those principles. Each of those “5 Secrets” correspond to a major area of life: career, network, money, self-development and productivity.

 

Doreen defines her life purpose as empowering professionals by helping them build knowledge and skill, thereby producing greater success in life and work. Among her specialties are learning facilitation, personal branding and communications strategy. Through this book, she adds another component: practical wisdom.

 

The value of #Adulting is that it is written from the crucible of struggle and frustration. This is no rah-rah, shallow self-help book. Doreen made the gutsy move of leaving a secure job in McKinsey to become a “solo-preneur” in the training business.

 

Through sheer dint, Doreen was able to establish a name for herself and conducted workshops for well-known corporations and organizations. She has garnered impressive credentials such as:

  • Being recognized by Salt & Light Ventures as the highest rated speaker for in-house training sessions in 2018.
  • Being voted as one of the Top 100 Filipinos to follow in Linkedin in 2019.
  • Attaining Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM) status in 2020. Toastmasters is a global organization dedicated to help people become better public speakers and leaders. DTM is the highest rank conferred on a Toastmaster member.

 

Along the way, she wished for people who would tell her what she needed to know, but didn’t. That poignant quality lingers in her writing, whereby you sense “I am sharing what I know so you don’t have to struggle as I did.”

​The value of #Adulting is that it is written from the crucible of struggle and frustration. This is no rah-rah, shallow self-help book. Doreen made the gutsy move of leaving a secure job in McKinsey to become a “solo-preneur” in the training business.

 

Through her honest vulnerability and charming feistiness, she has earned the right to be heard or, in this case, read to the last page of her book. All right, here are the 5 Secrets…. not!

 

I won’t give the crown jewels away, but I can tell you that each principle, if properly pursued, will increase your chances of success. This is where Doreen delivers the goods. #Adulting comes with “Book Bonus” sections where you plan out how to practice what you’ve just read. They include a personal SWOT analysis, a savings plan, a book reading plan, even a decluttering plan! It is the next best thing to hire her as your life coach.

 

Is #Adulting well worth the book price and reading time? You bet. If this baby boomer picked up some new stuff, how much more the young people who, as I described at the start of this review, are starving for guidance? Doreen’s book is packed with it.

 

Note: The book is self-published. To get a copy of #Adulting: Secrets to Embracing Change in Life & Career, email her at superwithcooper@gmail.com

For more about Doreen, check out her profile https://www.linkedin.com/in/doreencooper/ and her website https://www.doreencooper.net/

We’d love for you to leave a comment and share this post to encourage others. Thank you.

0 Comments

Looking for a specific
topic? Search below,

Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Search in posts
Search in pages