One simple tool to help you solve any problem

Have you ever had the experience where the same challenges keep coming up again and again? Whether that be in one to ones or in team meetings after a while these things get you down and you lose perspective or energy to solve them.

In my last job I managed a large remote team, we met together about 6 times a year. I used to sit in the day long meetings and note down everyone’s problems and take on the burden of solving them. I left the team meetings drained, stressed and quite honestly depressed. While my team left feeling upbeat and positive because they had unloaded everything. However, their initial relief soon faded when they realised that I wasn’t actually going to solve their problems. Just a quick aside – if this is a challenge you have – read: The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey by Ken Blanchard.

So, how do you solve this problem and indeed all the problems of your team? During my last three months in the job I took on a new team, a team that had lots of challenges. I knew that I had a short period of time to support them and that taking on their problems wasn’t going to help. I needed to empower them and give them the tools to problem solve.

The team was a small team in a charity responsible for looking after supporters – they were saying they were overworked and couldn’t take on a bigger caseload.  By looking at the problem in a more abstract way you start to unlock the root cause of the problem and frame it differently.

This is where the Ladder of Abstraction comes in. As you go up the ladder the thinking becomes more abstract and down the ladder thinking becomes more concrete. To move up the ladder you ask WHY and down the ladder you ask HOW. It is a useful tool to help describe our language and thoughts and re-label a problem. It can be used in many different ways but I have found it useful for problem solving and evaluating activity.

So how does it work?

You take your problem and start at the bottom of the ladder. For each statement you keep asking WHY. Eventually you get to a root cause of the problem and then you can work your way back down the ladder asking HOW. If you start with how you miss the opportunity to re-label the problem and you take it at face value. So, in the example below the problem is “We do not have enough capacity”, you might jump to – we need to recruit more staff or maybe we need to change a process or reduce workload. But you might be unsure which process to change or simply providing more capacity might not actually solve the problem – exploring the why helps you get to grips with this.

One simple tool to help you solve any problem

By using this simple tool we thought the problem was that the team didn’t have enough capacity but then we realised that we didn’t need to discuss every supporter together but that we could set aside a set time to creatively discuss specific challenges. This also helped the team focus on the solution and not the problem.

I have also used this tool personally to reflect on how a project or piece of work went – this is particularly useful if you feel that the project failed in some way. You could use the ‘What Went Well’ and ‘Even Better If’ method Better If’ method, which is useful. But the Ladder of Abstraction helps you to explore more deeply WHY things went wrong and then HOW you would do things differently in the future. It also makes it less personal because you can look at it objectively from a more abstract viewpoint.

I hope that this simple tool can help you unlock your thinking, solve problems and learn from failure. Used enough, asking WHY becomes second nature.

Emily Petty

 

Emily Petty, a member of the Lucidity Network, is a fundraising and change consultant. She is passionate about helping charities build a relationship led approach to fundraising and supporting them to unlock potential and manage change. You can find her on Twitter @EmilyPetty1 and on LinkedIn

 

If you’d like to develop your thinking and get better results check out the Lucidity Network. We’re open a few times a year. There is more information about joining the Network here

In the meantime get involved at the Lucidity Facebook Community – a free resource for clearer thinking and better results.

Who you know is how you get stuff done

Business people connecting puzzle pieces - who you know is how you get stuff done

Think about how you usually get stuff done. I mean the important stuff, how you will get your next job, find your next exciting holiday destination or make your ideas happen?

I believe that important stuff gets done because of the people you know as well as the people who know the people you know. It’s all about networks.

Consider this. Someone asks you for a favour. How do you decide whether you do it? From my experience there are three key factors;

  • What’s in it for you? – for example, will you enjoy it, will it be a good experience, will you learn something new, will it raise your profile, fill empty time, make you feel good?
  • How they ask – have they thought about what’s in it for you, have they asked you, well ‘nicely’, have they overcome and obstacles that might prevent you from doing the favour?
  • Do you know, like them and trust them? – how well do you know them, are they credible, do you like them, would you feel good to help them out?

When these three factors are in all place stuff gets done. If one or more factor isn’t quite right stuff stalls.

Think about it, someone you know like and trust asks if you would meet a colleague to give them some advice. They know your time is limited so they offer that the meeting is near your office at a time that suits you. They know you like coffee in the morning, so they suggest your favourite local coffee shop for breakfast as the meeting place. They are appreciative that you would consider helping them out. They also suggest that the colleague might have skills and experience that could help you with a project you are working on.

You are busy.  You are more likely to do the favour because you know, like and trust the person, they asked you well and they spelled out what could be in it for you.

All the factors compound, if someone you didn’t know or like, or didn’t ask well or didn’t make it clear what was in it for you you’d be much less inclined to say yes.

So, it makes good business sense to get to know your colleagues, because more stuff will get done.

And when it comes to innovation having a diverse network is important. Research shows that humans tend to gravitate to other people like them, people from similar backgrounds, with similar viewpoints. When we all have a similar experience, we start to think the same. We start to operate in an echo chamber of our own similar ideas. If innovation is about thinking differently and developing new ideas then we need people in our network that are different from us, that will challenge and build on our ideas. And because we naturally gravitate to people like us we need to be deliberate about seeking out a diverse network made up of different experiences, perspectives and thinking. That’s where, I believe, successful innovation lies.

One of the reasons I’ve set up the Lucidity Network – a pick and mix of online and offline practical tools and advice as well as access to a dynamic network of expertise. Already we have members from a mix of sectors from around the world. We’re open for new members a few times a year. Sign up to the waiting list to be the first to know when the Network is open for new members. In the meantime you can join the Lucidity Community free Facebook group  for clearer thinking and better results.  

Six tips for being more productive

Do you ever have weeks when you are learning so much you feel like you are flying by the seat of your pants? It’s not a bad thing but it can feel a bit overwhelming when all the new learning activities collide at the same time.

So the irony of learning how to host my first webinar, on the new Lucidity Network by interviewing Grace Marshall, Productivity Ninja on how to be more productive and manage overwhelm is not lost on me.

The truth is that I really enjoyed the webinar (and if you were watching I hope you did too) and I learned practical tips to keep being productive and better manage that ‘seat of pant’ feeling. Here are my key take-outs.

Taking time to think is fuel for your productivity

Reframe ‘thinking time’ which often in a busy working week can feel like a luxury, as ‘fuel for your productivity’. If we don’t take time to think it’s hard to know where to focus, what to prioritise and what to say no to. Making time to think, whether that’s 10 minutes each day to readjust your to-do list, or an afternoon every month to plan the next month’s activity is critical to your productivity. Sadly, not everyone values thinking time as productivity fuel. If this is true of the environment that you work you may have to operate in stealth mode. Call ‘thinking time’ something different in your diary. Try ‘strategy planning’ or ‘business development’.

Go frog hunting

With reference to the infamous business book ‘Eat that Frog’ do the difficult and important stuff first and go frog hunting. You know that difficult client call that you put off making, the budget spreadsheet that you need to send to finance or the health and safety briefing notes that had to be submitted yesterday. Stop spending time putting it off and just to it.

Carving time out

Carve your day up into different modes of thinking, depending on your own productivity peaks and troughs. For example, if you are a morning person this might be the best time to do your deep dive thinking – the stuff that you really need to concentrate on and think deeply about. If, as Grace puts it, you go into ‘zombie mode’ after lunch do the tasks that you don’t have to think very much about then. There is a time after zombie mode – when you are starting to get your energy back that according to research featured in Dan Pinks book ‘When’ is the best time for creative thinking and idea generation.

Overwhelm

If you feel like you have way too much to do and overwhelm is creeping in, Grace recommends you write everything down. Get everything buzzing around in your head out onto paper. Here you can make sense of it and put it in order. Often we find that once we can see everything in front of us it becomes more manageable and less overwhelming.

Want and should

Many of us want to please other people and because of this end up saying ‘yes’ to more than we can take on. We have a choice. We can differentiate between what we ‘want’ to do and what we feel we ‘should’ or ‘ought’ to do. We can say ‘no’ and when we do, its important to give clear reasons why it’s a no, for example working on another deadline or don’t have the skills and perhaps offering alternatives (longer deadline or a colleague who might be better placed to complete the task). Too often people say ‘yes’ (because they don’t want to say no) and then don’t deliver and let people down which is, in my opinion, far worse than simply saying no.

It’s up to you

We all have the same amount of time yet some people are more productive than others. It takes discipline and focus and saying no to the things that are not important to concentrate on the good stuff that has potential to make a bigger impact. It’s up to each of us to prioritise our time as the fuel of our own productivity. Whatever you choose to spend your time doing – make it count.

The recording of the webinar is available for members of the Lucidity Network. If you’d like access to exclusive content, be connected to a diverse network that can help you to be more productive then sign up for the Lucidity Network. We are recruiting new members now but hurry because the doors close  at midnight on 15 November. Sign up here. 

PS For more productivity tips and advice I also recommend you check out Grace’s book ‘How to be really productive’