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Sally Hawksmore

Don't get stuck:
Find a solution

Today, change managers are using some techniques for solving problems that are surprisingly simple. These methods are turning out to be more important as companies find that quick problem solving is the key to successful change.

Unfortunately many managers approach problem solving at work like a mathematical puzzle. They think that they just have to work out the one right answer and everything will be fine. Even worse, they think that every idea must be examined and rejected if it has any weakness.

A typical conversation would run as follows:

‘Our two computer systems are not compatible,’ says the manager of one department that is about to merge with another. ‘Why not insist that both departments use one of the existing systems?’ asks one of his colleagues.

‘Yes, but think of the cost of replacing all that equipment’ says a second.

‘It'll never work,’ says a third. ‘We can't possibly ask people to do it,’ says the manager. And the idea dies.

Yes, and...

‘Yes, but...’, ‘It'll never work’ and ‘We can't do that,’ are the three most common idea killers. One way of encouraging more creative thought is to only allow ‘Yes and’. Then the example above may go like this:

‘Why not insist that both companies use one of the existing systems?’ asks colleague number one. ‘Yes, and we could use our spares instead of buying all new equipment,’ says number two. ‘Yes, and to save costs our people could train their people,’ says number three. ‘OK, we may have something here,’ says the manager. And an idea has survived.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if...

A surprisingly powerful method is to pose an ideal solution. Try saying, ‘Wouldn't it be wonderful if...’ In our example:  

‘Wouldn't it be wonderful if the two computer systems could talk to each other just like that?’ says the manager. ‘With some sort of interface between them?’ says number one. ‘Hey, I think I've heard of this really smart company who specialize in that sort of thing,’ says number two. And another idea is born.

What's stopping us?

Another useful technique is just to ask yourself: What's stopping us from doing this? Sometimes the answer is surprising.  

A production line manager was told that the night staff could not work the new system he had suggested. He wanted them to sign their names on a quality control sheet. The day staff had all agreed without a problem. Instead of forgetting the idea he asked what was stopping them. ‘The stationery store is locked at night, so we can't get pens for all of us,’ he was told. A new key was cut, given to the supervisor, and the new system worked perfectly.

What does that do for you?

Sometimes we think we know the solution, but it may not work. One way to find another possibility is to ask ‘what does that do for us?’

‘All I want is my old job back said the worker again. The factory had closed, so this was not possible. ‘What would that do for you?’ asked the counselor. ‘It would give me back my dignity,’ he answered. ‘If you could train for a new skill, what else would give you dignity?’ asked the counselor. ‘Well, I suppose I've always liked the idea of driving big lorries,’ the worker said. And a new possibility had opened for him.

Source: New English Digest


don't get stuck: don't bog down, don't be unable to move further (no te atasques, no quedes inmovilizado/a)
are turning out to be
: are proving to be (están resultando)
find: realize (reconocen, se dan cuenta)
a mathematical puzzle: a mathematical problem that is said to have a correct solution (un acertijo matemático)
to work out: to come up with, to solve (que acertar o resolver)
rejected: disapproved, bounced (rechazada, reprobada)
weakness: flaw or weak point (debilidad, punto flojo)
as follows: like this (de este modo)
about to merge: close to mix or to combine (a punto de mezclar)
dies: disappears (desaparece, se diluye)
idea killers
: idea destroyers (destructores de ideas)
encouraging: contributing to the progress or growth of (alentar)

spares: extra components of a machine (componentes, partes)
train: teach (entrenar)
survived: continued to live (sobrevivido)
to pose: to introduce (plantear, presentar)
sort of thing: type of product (tipo de cosas)
is born: has come up (ha nacido, ha surgido)
what's stopping us from?: what is preventing us from? (qué nos impide?)
was told: was reported or informed (fue informado de)
night staff: night employees (personal nocturno)
agreed: accepted (aceptado)
locked: closed with a key (cerrada bajo llave)
a new key was cut: a key copy was made (se hizo copia de la llave)
my old job back: that they give me my old job back (que me devuelvan mi antiguo puesto)
conselor: someome who gives advice about problems (asesor, consejero)
skill: an ability that has been acquired by training (habilidad, destreza)
big lorries: large trucks (camiones grandes)