Posts Tagged ‘Problem solving’

Mistakes are GOOD! Well, sometimes . . . . . .

Friday,25 July, 2008

These days we’re always being encouraged to innovate – to do things differently and improve.

Sometimes when we try to do things differently, we make mistakes. It seems that making mistakes is an essential part of innovation.

Sometimes the mistakes can be better than our first intentions! In 1928 Alexander Fleming was working with a bacterial culture which became contaminated and died. This ‘mistake’ led to the discovery of penicillin, which has saved countless lives ever since.

But unfortunately, sometimes the mistakes just make things worse, and then we have to learn from our mistakes and try again – what used to be called ‘learning by trial and error’.

In these days of extended accountabilities and media spotlights, risk is invariably seen as bad.

But if we can’t make mistakes, won’t we expose ourselves to the biggest risk of all – the risk of reducing our capacity to innovate and improve?

If we can’t learn from making mistakes, are we making a rod for our own backs?

So why don’t companies come right out and say “It’s ok to make mistakes”?

Of course there would have to be safeguards, but how would you feel if your employer said it’s ok to make mistakes:

  • Provided they are honest mistakes, made with the best of intentions and not because you were just being sloppy or negligent;
  • Provided you take responsibility for your mistakes;
  • Provided you learn from your mistakes, taking steps to make sure you don’t make the same mistake again; and
  • Provided you help your colleagues learn from your mistakes, sharing your experience with them in order to reduce the risk of them ever making the same mistake that you made.

If your company had a ‘Mistakes Policy’ like that, would you feel supported, more able to innovate and improve?

If this wouldn’t work for you, what would you need?

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The Gift of Irritation

Friday,16 May, 2008

How on earth can irritation be a gift?

Frequently, when dog walking, I get irritated by a stone in the bottom of my shoe. I know that, left unattended, the stone will create a painful blister, and ultimately stop me walking. So I take time to remove the stone from my shoe.

But we don’t always take action to remove irritations in other parts of our lives – usually because the irritation is experienced by our minds, rather than by our bodies.

Perhaps the irritation might be our subconscious telling us something important? Why wait until the irritating problem grows, and has an even greater impact on our health or our lives with colleagues, family or friends?

GoreTex water proof liners in walking boots and Post-It Notes help reduce different sorts of irritation. So we could say that some people have made a very good living from the gift of irritation.

I recently received an automatic reply to an e-mail I’d sent. The reply explained that the recipient only looked at his e-mails once a day, at 1pm, so as to make best use of his time. I was told the number I should ring if the matter was urgent. That’s a great way to reduce the irritation of being distracted by incoming e-mails. What should we do though, if we find ourselves bombarded with more and more automatic replies from those to whom we send e-mails? Perhaps someone might design some clever software to manage that for us, and make even more use of the gift of irritation?

Problem Solving, Creativity, Brains, & Co-coaching

Thursday,8 May, 2008

For some time it has been recognised that problem solving tends to work through four stages:

  • Play – when a problem and all its parts are analysed, stirred up, and understood, whether systematically or by a process akin to a child playing with food on a plate;
  • Incubation – when the problem solver’s attention is turned away from the problem in hand, whether by getting up from the desk in search of a drink, or by having a good night’s sleep;
  • Illumination – when the solution suddenly presents itself, often with a sense of certainty as to its rightness; and
  • Verification – when the solution is tested against the problem and, more often than not, found to be the right answer.

What is going on here?

How can it be that ‘doing nothing’ (during “incubation”) can be so effective?

Our brains are made of two halves:

  • The left side, which controls the right side of our bodies and is generally responsible for rational thought; and
  • The right side, which controls the left side of our bodies and is generally responsible for creative and artistic activity.

So when we are ‘incubating’ a problem, it’s not that we are doing nothing, but rather we are giving the right side of our brains a chance to chip in and help out. Thus it can be very helpful to create distance between us and a problem, and this is well articulated in Prof’ Richard Wiseman’s book “Did You Spot the Gorilla?” The book makes clear that this can have major business benefits, as well as personal ones: consequently it’s not about Rational VERSUS Creativity but, by using both sides of our brains, its about harnessing Rationality AND Creativity.

Of course creating this distance can be difficult for those not used to it – but help could be at hand through co-coaching. Co-coaching is the process where people, working in pairs, support each other to improve their performance. From my experience as a participant in trials, co-coaching does help create distance between self and a problem. It also helps build urgency to get on and just do it!

For more information on co-coaching, see “cococo” in ‘Interesting Links”.

Accessing the benefits of both sides of our brains, can be a bit like using a campervan. The left (rational) side of our brains looks after maintenance, and keeps us within the law and the Highway Code. But that’s all a bit boring, and not why we buy a van.

The right (creative/artistic) side of our brains can help us decide where to go with the van, so we can wake up somewhere spectacular, and then fully appreciate the beauty of the moment.

As the advert’ puts it: “priceless”.