In search of creative problem solving... a case study.

The following is the original and the rewrite can be found by clicking here.

The topic of meetings came up the other day, as well as the love-hate relationship we have with them. When managed well they are a great forum for transferring information, leveraging the power of a group and driving the implementation of initiatives; when they are not, they are a desert of great despair and frustration. One of the greater challenges is time management, particularly if you are dealing with a number of meetings back, to back, to back, to back... for me, meetings start on time and are managed to an agenda. With that said, let me set the stage.

There was a time when I was the lead for a training program that involved the hiring, training and strategic deployment of entry level sales professionals into the field; high potential people with little or no experience in the business world. Most, if not all, were Millennials*: well educated, technologically savvy, strong sense of self worth, work-life balance expectations and full of an infectious energy. On day two of a particular training program, it was time for lunch and I make it clear that we start the meeting back up at 1:00 "sharp"... stressing the importance that everyone be back on time. After the room empties, I mention to a colleague that I will not be surprised if some of them are late. He smiles and I do not.

I want to pause for a moment to offer some thoughts on "problems". Problems and challenges come with all situations and we regularly identify what problems may lie ahead; we then tend to stack rank these problems so we can deal with the most important ones first. The thing about problems though, is they tend to be connected to other potential problems that can actually have more impact. Now circling back to my little drama, the "face value" issue with being late for lunch was a small problem as the agenda gets pushed back by 15 minutes. However, there was a much bigger problem lurking if it is not dealt with - A slippery slope would be created that would lead to compromising the authority structure, erode credibility, and ultimately devalue the core foundations being taught to ensure success. It would end up being a long four months for sure.

  • Identify actual and potential problems that you are going to have to deal with.
  • Remember perceived smaller problems can lead to larger problems if not dealt with appropriately
  • Stack rank these problems so you can deal with them in the most efficient manner
  • Remember problems have a mind of their own, so sometimes they never appear and sometimes they leave you little time to deal with them.

My watch says 12:50 and some people are back in the room; by 1:00, only half of the class is back. I had been mentally working on a number of solutions to my small, but potentially, big fat problem, and landed on this one. I simply said to the people in the room, "Well it looks like we have to wait for the others and I'm wondering, do you think their time is more valuable than your time?" Loaded questions are so much fun, as the answer I got back was "no" - And rightfully so!

As we waited, and as people filtered in, I deliberately asked them to stay standing. It was here that I was struck with a little bit of creativity to ensured my problem went away. I waited for all but one of the stragglers to arrive and I started discussing quietly the value and importance of people's time and waited. As the last last person entered the back of the room I very dramatically put up my hand and said " STOP RIGHT THERE! IS YOUR TIME MORE VALUABLE THAN THEIR TIME!" (accompanied by the appropriate hand gestures). To that he answered quietly, "No sir". I then emphatically reviewed the value of respecting people, time, and what we are doing. I let them all sit down and at 1:15 started up again. It was 15 minutes well spent in my mind.

  • More often of not, there are a number of solutions to a problem; work with the one you believe will be the most effective.
  • In my experience creativity does come with a "flash like" entrance. Go with it when it does.
  • Deal with a problem. Don't avoid it. It will not go away and will just become bigger and more complicated.

If you are wondering, no one was ever late again and I had solved my little problem. But you know, there will always be another, and so there should... this is how we learn, grow and thrive. Now let me tell you about the time someone thought it was a good idea to bounce a basketball outside my office door...


* Millennials, also known as the Millennial Generation or Generation Y are the demographic cohort following Generation X. There are no precise dates when the generation starts and ends. Researchers and commentators use birth years ranging from the early 1980s to the early 2000s (Wikapedia). I have spend many years hiring, training, coaching and working with Millennials. They are great fun and have taught me so much !