In search of creative problem solving... part two.

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

About a month ago I started my search for creative problem solving with the brilliantly entitled blog post - "part one". To this post, my most favorite geophysicist commented, and I quote in part, " P.P.S.: Just to make sure you don't forget: You still owe us a definition for creative problem solving". ;-)". With that, I bring you the equally brilliant, "part two". "The devil is in the detail" they say and it is in this, that I believe light can be shed on creative problem solving; it is here want to spend some time on the word problem. I am sure this will help with my search and my obligation of a definition.

There are a wide range of emotions available to you (option

There are a wide range of emotions available to you (option

For the sake of getting us started, let's define a problem as, "a matter or situation regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with and overcome". It is here I should add that problems tend to come with emotion attached; it tends to happen with something that is 
"unwelcome or harmful". I think I may be on to something here... let's go with it! 

Problems, by their very definition, bring feelings with them that fall into a wide spectrum of emotions such as fear, sadness, anger and frustration. If I use the following example, how many emotions come to mind? "You have a job interview at 10:30 am and you have left yourself ample time to get there... all of a sudden there is a multi-car pileup in front of you and traffic has come to a dead stop; no sign of movement for a while."* Let me offer a few that have come to mind:

  • Angry because this happened to you on such an important day.
  • Frustrated that the traffic is not moving and you will be late.
  • Worried that this may impact the chances of getting the job.

Now, depending on the individual, these emotions may range from fleeting expressions to pounding violently on the steering wheel and openly sobbing - We tend to "humanize" problems  and offer them a very human and social response. Let's just suppose for a moment that problems are  in fact "human" - they would be totally indifferent, slightly twisted, sociopathic individuals, with a very creative sense of humor tossed in. At the very most, the response you would get to your pounding and sobbing would be a slight head tilt and small wry smile of recognition. Lucky for us, problems are not human and we don't have to socialize with them at parties. This is an important recognition in two respects: it helps us understand how to deal with problems more effectively and it helps me with my search for a definition.

Emotions are reserved for people, pets and maybe a couple of other things, but definitely not for "problems" - Dealing with problems is an intellectual exercise and should be treated as such. With this said, here are a couple of things for consideration:

  • Emotions are extremely fatiguing, so much so, you may be too exhausted to work on the problem.
  • Emotions distract and impact the thinking process.
  • Emotions will not solve your problem.

I want to point out here that I am not saying don't be emotional**, but learning how to compartmentalize emotions when you are dealing with problems. I will be the first to say compartmentalization can be difficult but it can be done...

  • Develop the mantra that problem solving is an intellectual endeavor.
  • Put your problem down on paper; it becomes a "tangible inanimate object".
  • As you verbalize the problem do not legitimize it with human characteristics or words of emotion.
  • Involve other people. They will not hold any emotion with the problem and help with the intellectualization.

Well there you have it... by no means a definition for creative problem solving but knowing that dealing with problems is an intellectual exercise helps me get there.. Stay tuned for my brilliantly titled blog "part three". I wonder what my geophysicist thinks?


* We have all been there, and up front I will tell you I'm rather good at "screaming at the wind"

** Having emotions is one of the greatest gifts we were given as humans, so get the most out of them. Just focus them where it matters, that's all.

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 ! 


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

Since I began to blog, I have been able to post twice a week each Wednesday and Sunday without fail. That was until this week came along... this week is the first time I said to myself, "I'm gonna miss my Wednesday deadline!"

Why you may ask? Well... some of my reasons include the influence of Mercury in retrograde, a couple of new projects that have come my way, a school course, a long weekend that confused my routine, and various other general excuses. It was during my mental prioritization I actually said to myself, "Just miss a posting, no big deal".

 I then responded to myself, " A deadline is a deadline... so get it done". I'd like to offer some thoughts on this, if I may.

But first we should look into where the word "deadline" came from. It seems there was an infamous prisoner of war camp called Andersonville during the US Civil War, and by all accounts it was a hellish place to find yourself. The camp was surrounded by a stockade and twenty feet from the in face of the wall there was a line that was sometimes marked and sometimes not. If a prisoner crossed that line, they were summarily shot on the spot. They called it the deadline. By the 1920's, the term had evolved into a less violent form and became synonymous with a time limit or due date, particularly in the newspaper business. It has now found its way into every day life as the time something is due.

Deadlines can be man-made or created by mother-nature and influenced by many factors including those of our own making. In writing this blog, I want to focus on the deadlines we create, not necessarily deadlines that require getting off the volcano before it explores (although there is a certain motivation that comes with it). 

Let's look at the spirit of what the deadline is for a moment. In a very practical sense, deadlines are needed to get things done and are particularly important if there are a sequential number of activities that are dependent on the previous one - Deadlines are the natural check and balance to ensure that we in fact get things done. The deadline also serves another very important purpose - It develops urgency and inspires. Nolan Bushnell* happened to say, "The ultimate inspiration is the deadline" and this has become a motivational quote making its way around the Internet.

The trick with deadlines however, is to ensure that they are realistic but also set in such a way that they stretch a person or a team to complete the project as quickly as possible. Poor deadline setting, result in constantly pushing the deadline back from its original date or doesn't create an environment of urgency and inspiration to make the impossible, you know, possible. This is where the need for good leadership to strike the balance comes into play.

So if we look back to my blog situation that started these prose, I think it's fair to say that the goal of twice a week is realistic, as I have been able to do it to date. Ultimately I had to get creative by altering my process and resetting some priorities to ensure that I was able to meet the expectations of a Wednesday post. So me saying, " a deadline is a deadline... so get it done", is completely appropriate and achievable. In its simplest form, I had to get inspired to figure it out - Having a deadline achieved that.

About now, I should emphatically point something out that is very important. None of your core principles should be compromised to meet a deadline; be it quality, integrity, or anything you hold sacred. For me, at the core, I want to ensure that what I write is an improvement over what I previous wrote, be it grammar, content, or what people think.

With my deadline on the horizon, I want to mention one last thing; when you get a deadline that is End of Day (EOD) or End of Business (EOB), please remember that the business day officially ends when you fall asleep.


*Nolan Bushnell is an American engineer and entrepreneur who founded both Atari, Inc. and the Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza-Time Theaters chain.