There’s plenty of ALS Ice Bucket challenge videos out there. people are being challenged to pour a bucket of ice water over their heads and donate to the ALS Association in the US to help fund research into Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, which is often known as Lou Gehrig’s disease or, in the UK, Motor Neurone Disease. As with the #nomakeupselfie challenge which raised £8,000,000 for Breast Cancer research in the UK, some people take the cause to heart, some join the challenge without donating, and some remain cynical.
Bill Gates has taken the challenge to heart and his self-mocking challenge video is a hit with the engineers we’re working with at the moment. If you’re going to do something, do it properly, with a plan. Test your plan, run a simulation, make sure it will work before committing resources. Here’s Bill’s guide to throwing ice water on your head.
Decision making and problem solving calls for a blend of skills, but above all it needs to be carried out in a systematic and logical series of steps:
1. Determine and Define the Situation or Problem
Identify: What has happened? What may happen?
Who ‘owns’ the problem? Will it be your decision alone?
If the problem relates to a group, all team members need to understand the full nature of the problem before they can decide how to organise themselves to work effectively together towards the solution.
2. Specify the Objectives
What exactly are you or the team hoping to achieve? General or broad objectives must be made specific and measurable at this stage.
The objectives – once clearly understood – may need to be redefined or adapted in the light of experience as the solution progresses.
3. Establish the Criteria for Success
How will you know whether and when you have achieved the objectives? How will you judge whether the team has worked together effectively?
Find ways to assess performance objectively, so that you and the group clearly see the required end performance. Then everyone will know when the problem is resolved, and can make the best use of time and energy in achieving this.
4. Diagnose Problem Causes
The problem must be understood in depth before any solution can be found.
The people involved will have facts, opinions, ideas or prejudices about it. Gather all the relevant facts from the group and through extensive research both within and if necessary outside the organisation.
Note that removing the cause of a problem does not always solve the problem. Thus, if your budget is overspent for the year to date, the cause was presumably spending too much. Deciding to spend less in the future will remove the cause – but you will still have the problem of being overspent to the present date. There are effectively two problems here – with two inter-linked solutions.
5. Determine the Options
Identify who will be affected by the decision, and consult them before deciding. Remember also those people on the fringe of the decision. Consider the facts before you and the opinions of your team, giving equal consideration to the views which agree and disagree with your own perception. Gather your options, and clearly identify possible alternative courses of action. Determine the strengths and weaknesses of each alternative. Assess the risk factors involved in the possible success of each.
Consider the limiting factors, eg:
- is the whole decision within your personal authority?
- will it conform with company policy?
- what will it cost? are there budgetary limits?
- will more (or fewer) people be needed?
- are other company departments involved? … and so on.
6. Decide on the Action
First decide when you need to decide. Then decide. Timing is vital.
You’re on your own kiddo!
Before this stage – and following it – your team should be fully involved. Participative management means getting the team involved at all stages of the preparation and implementation – except this stage.
Give the decision your full and detailed attention, but never ‘dither’. Dithering impresses nobody – neither your manager nor your own staff. Don’t delay in the hope of finding a ‘perfect’ solution. There rarely is one.
Even the ‘best’ solution is hard to quantify. How will you know unless you try all the options first, and compare them? Often you will have to compromise by taking the ‘least worst’ option.
On some occasions the best decision may be to take no action at all. This is not abdication of your responsibility if you have first carefully considered all the options and their consequences.
7. Planning the Action
Your team needs to know the decision and its place within your overall strategy. You must define specific action steps to be taken by individuals and groups. Your method of communication is vital to the success of your solution.
Where the tasks of individuals interface with others’ it is always advisable to brief them together so that they can comprehend the overall plan. Remember also to consult/inform any other departments affected.
Be prepared to ‘sell’ your decision. Communicate it with conviction. Although consulted earlier, not everyone may agree with your decision. Tell them how and why you decided as you did – and sell them the benefits. Send out a written confirmation of key points, particularly if the decision is complex, involves a number of people, or has complicated timing.
8. Implement the Decision
At this point, the task is to be carried out. If the objectives and criteria for success have been made clear to all concerned, then you may afford to allow team members an amount of discretion to amend the plans intelligently as circumstances demand.
9. Monitor and review progress
You will have given dates for each key stage in the implementation. You must monitor progress to these dates, and be available to give advice throughout and to smooth out any problem areas. Afterwards, it is useful to provide a review of guidelines for future activity. This takes advantage of the learning gained for both successes and failures.
All decisions made are important – some more important than others.
- How will this affect the organisation in terms of Profit?
- How will this affect the organisation in terms of People?
Level 1 – Routine
These decisions concern matters of procedure and control with no policy changes. Here the manager’s function is to identify and evaluate situations, and to be responsible for initiating action in a predictable manner within clear guidelines. ‘Supervising’ rather than managing, this calls for humane leadership and motivation. Creativity is not appreciated at this level, as all procedures are clearly defined. The successful manager of routine decisions needs a sensitivity to situations, needs to behave logically, and to be decisive in acting effectively in due time.
Level 2 – Selective
These decisions involve an element of initiative but within prescribed limits. Here the manager analyses information, and has authority to decide the best fit between the situation and a number of well-tried alternative actions or solutions. He or she then sets objectives, formulates plans and reviews progress. Success will depend on the manager’s skill in selecting an action that will prove to be effective, economic, and acceptable to those concerned.
Level 3 – Adaptive
These decisions concern situations or problems that may have occurred before but not in the current form. The manager must identify the problem and systematically find a new solution with a blend of tested answers and some new ideas. Success will depend on the manager’s initiative and ability to analyse and judge risk, plus (usually) the ability to involve and motivate the team.
Level 4 – Innovative
These are the most complex decisions, demand strategic planning, major innovation, totally new concepts and possibly the development of new systems and techniques. Often the situation is only partly understood and the consequences not appreciated. The creativity of both manager and the team are fully stretched to find solutions.
If you can learn to read, you can learn to code. If you can learn to write, you can learn to code. If you can learn basic arithmetic, you can learn to code.
If you can learn to code, you can be a creative part of the future, you can increase your ability to think more clearly.
It’s not too late to learn to code – so start now.
Oh, iit it’s not too early to learn to code, if you have young people in your life who you want to succeed in life, get them coding.
Activists involve themselves fully and without bias in new experiences. They enjoy the here and now and are happy to be dominated by immediate experiences. They are open-minded, not sceptical and this tends to make them enthusiastic about anything new. Their philosophy is “I’ll try anything once”. They tend to act first and consider the consequences afterwards. Their days are filled with activity. They tackle problems by brainstorming. As soon as the excitement from one activity has died down they are busy looking for the next. They tend to thrive on the challenge of new experiences, but are bored with implementation and longer term consolidation. They are gregarious people constantly involving themselves with others, but in doing so they seek to centre all activities around themselves.
Key questions for activists:
- Shall I learn something new ie that I didn’t know/couldn’t do before?
- Will there be a wide variety of different activities? (I don’t want to sit and listen for more than an hour at a stretch!).
- How much old ground will be covered again?
- Will it be okay to have a go/let my hair down/make mistakes/have fun?
- Shall I encounter some tough problems and challenges?
- Will there be other like-minded people to mix with?
- Will I be allowed to contribute and get involved?
- What are the deliverables?
- Are there clear learning objectives?
Activists learn best from activities where:
- There are new experiences/problems/opportunities from which to learn.
- They can engross themselves in short ‘here and now’ activities such as business games, competitive teamwork tasks, role-playing exercises.
- There is excitement, drama and crisis, things chop and change with a range of diverse activities to tackle.
- Plenty of challenges with little time to prepare.
- They have a lot of the limelight/high visibility, eg they can ‘chair’ meetings, lead discussions, give presentations.
- They are allowed to generate ideas without constraints of policy or structure or feasibility
- They are thrown in at the deep end with a task they think is difficult, eg when set a challenge with inadequate resources and adverse conditions.
- They are involved with other people, ie bouncing ideas off them, solving problems as part of a team.
- It is appropriate to ‘have a go’ using their creative skills.
Activists learn least from and may react against activities where:
- Learning involves a passive role, ie listening to lectures, monologues, explanations, statements of how things should be done, reading, watching.
- They are asked to stand back and not be involved.
- They are required to assimilate, analyse and interpret lots of ‘messy’ data.
- They are required to engage in solitary work, ie reading, writing, thinking on their own
- They are asked to assess beforehand what they will learn and to appraise afterwards what they have learned.
- They are offered statements they see as ‘theoretical’, ie explanation of cause or background.
- They are asked to repeat essentially the same activity over and over again, ie when practising.
- They have precise instructions to follow with little room for manoeuvre.
- They are asked to do a thorough job, attend to detail, tie up loose ends, dot the i’s and cross t’s.
Reflectors like to stand back to ponder experiences and observe them from many different perspectives. They collect data, both first-hand and from others and prefer to think about it thoroughly before coming to any conclusion. The thorough collection and analysis of data about experiences and events is what counts, so they tend to postpone reaching definitive conclusions for as long as possible. Their philosophy is to be cautious.
They are thoughtful people who like to consider all possible angles and implications before making a move. They prefer to take a back seat in meetings and discussions. They enjoy observing other people in action. They listen to others and get the drift of the discussion before making their own points. They tend to adopt a low profile and have a slightly distant, tolerant unruffled air about them. Whey they act it is part of a wide picture which includes the past as well as the present and others observations as well as their own.
Key questions for Reflectors
- Shall I be given adequate time to consider, assimilate and prepare?
- Will there be opportunities/facilities to assemble relevant information?
- Will there be opportunities to listen to other people’s points of view – preferably a wide cross-section of people with a variety of views?
- Will I be under pressure, work against the clock or an unrealistic deadline?
- Will I have the opportunity to see any data in advance of the event and time to prepare?
- Will the theory be explained before I would be expected to develop it thoroughly?
Reflectors learn best from activities where:
- They are allowed or encouraged to watch/think/chew over activities.
- They are able to stand back from events and listen/observe, ie observing a group at work, taking a back seat in a meeting, watching a film or video.
- They are allowed to think before acting, to assimilate before commenting, ie time to prepare, a chance to read in advance a brief giving background data.
- They can carry out some painstaking research, ie investigate, assemble information, probe to get to the bottom of things and therefore give a balanced view.
- They have the opportunity to review what has happened, what they have learned.
- They are asked to produce carefully considered analyses and reports.
- They are helped to exchange views with other people without danger, ie by prior agreement, within a structured learning experience.
- They can reach a decision in their own time without pressure and tight deadlines
Reflectors learn least from and may react against activities where:
- They are ‘forced’ into the limelight, ie to act as leader/chairman to role-play in front of on-lookers
- They are involved in situations which require action without planning.
- They are pitched into doing something without warning, ie to produce an instant reaction, to produce an off-the-top-of-the-head idea.
- They are given insufficient data on which to base a conclusion.
- They are given cut and dried instructions of how things should be done.
- They are worried by time pressures or rushed from one activity to another.
- In the interests of expediency they have to make short cuts or do a superficial job.
Theorists adapt and integrate observations into complex, but logically sound theories. They think problems through in a vertical, step-by-step logical way. They assimilate disparate facts into coherent theories. They tend to be perfectionists who won’t rest easy until things are tidy and fit into a rational scheme. They like to analyse and synthesise. They are keen on basic assumptions, principles, theories models and systems thinking. Their philosophy prizes rationality and logic. “If it is logical it is good”. Questions they frequently ask are: “Does it make sense?” “How does this fit with that?” “What are the basic assumptions?” They tend to be detached, analytical and dedicated to rational objectivity rather than anything subjective or ambiguous. Their approach to problems is consistently logical. This is their ‘mental’ set and they rigidly reject anything that doesn’t fit with it. They prefer to maximise certainty and feel uncomfortable with subjective judgements, lateral thinking and anything flippant.
Key questions for Theorists:
- Will there be lots of opportunities to question to investigate the facts?
- Doe the objectives and programme of events indicate a clear structure and purpose.
- Shall I encounter complex ideas and concepts that are likely to stretch me?
- Are the approaches to be used and concepts to be explored ‘respectable’, ie sound and valid?
- Shall I be with people of similar calibre to myself?
- Will the event be run by professional, qualified people?
Theorists learn best from activities where:
- What is being offered is part of a system, model, concept, theory.
- They have the chance to question and probe the basic methodology, assumptions or logic behind something, ie by taking part in a question and answer session, by checking a paper or inconsistencies, providing an environment for producing good results.
- They are intellectually stretched, ie by analysing a complex situation, being tested in a tutorial session, by teaching high calibre people who ask searching questions.
- They are in structured situations with a clear purpose, clear objectives and outcome.
- They can listen to or read about ideas and concepts that emphasise rationality or logic and are well argued/elegant/watertight.
- They can analyse and then generalise the reasons for success or failure.
- They are offered interesting ideas and concepts even though they are not immediately relevant.
- They are required to understand and participate in complex situations.
Theorists learn least from, and may react against, activities where:
- They are pitch-forked into doing something without a context or apparent purpose.
- They have to participate in situations emphasising emotions and feelings.
- They are involved in unstructured activities where ambiguity and uncertainty are high, ie with open-ended problems, on sensitivity training.
- They are asked to act or decide without a basis in policy, principle or concept.
- They are faced with a hotchpotch of alternative/contradictory techniques/methods without exploring in any depth, ie as a ‘‘once over lightly’’course.
- They doubt whether the subject matter is methodologically sound, ie where questionnaires have not been validated, where there are no statistics to support an argument.
- They find the subject matter platitudinous, shallow, gimmicky or lightweight.
- They feel themselves out of tune with other participants, ie when with lots of Activists or people of low intellectual calibre.
Pragmatists are keen on trying out ideas, theories and techniques to see if they work in practice. They positively search out new ideas and take the first opportunity to experiment with applications. They are the sort of people who return from management courses brimming with new ideas that they want to try out in practice. They like to get on with things and act quickly and confidently on ideas that attract them.
They tend to be impatient with ruminating and open-ended discussions. They are essentially practical, down to earth people who like making practical decisions and solving problems. They respond to problems and opportunities ‘as a challenge’. Their philosophy is ‘There is always a better way’ and ‘If it works it is good’.
Key questions for Pragmatists
- Will there be ample opportunities to practise and experiment?
- Will there be lots of practical tips and techniques?
- Shall we be addressing real problems and will it result in action plans to tackle some of my current problems?
- Shall we be exposed to experts who know how to/can do themselves?
- Will there be opportunity to collaborate with an experienced practitioner whose competence we can trust and respect?
- Will the pace be brisk in a positive environment?
- Will the majority of the content be innovative and new and the minority be established ‘old’ thought and thinking?
- Will there be sufficient opportunity to do – rather than spectate?
- Will the majority of the content be applicable to my current personal position/job?
Pragmatists learn best from activities where:
- There is an obvious link between the subject matter and a problem or opportunity on the job.
- They are shown techniques for doing things with obvious practical advantages, ie how to save time, how to make a good first impression, how to deal with awkward people.
- They have the chance to try out and practice techniques with coaching/feedback from a credible expert, ie someone who is successful and can do the techniques themselves.
- They are exposed to a model they can emulate, ie a respected boss, a demonstration from someone with a proven tract record, lots of examples/anecdotes, a film showing how it is done.
- They are given techniques currently applicable in their own job.
- They are given immediate opportunities to implement what they have learned.
- There is a high face validity in the learning activity, ie a good simulation, ‘real’ problems.
- They can concentrate on practical issues, ie drawing up action plans with an obvious end product, suggesting short cuts, giving tips, time saving strategies.
Pragmatists learn best from and may react against activities where:
- The learning is not related to an immediate need they recognise.
- They cannot see an immediate relevance or practical benefit.
- Organisers of the learning, or the event itself, seem distant from reality, eg ‘ivory towered’, all theory and general principles, pure ‘chalk and talk’.
- There is no practice or clear guidelines on how to do it.
- They feel that people are going round in circles and not getting anywhere fast enough.
- There are political, managerial or personal obstacles to implementation.
- There is no apparent reward for the learning activity, eg more sales, shorter meetings, higher bonus, promotion.
Sometimes people forget this at work and promote the person who is really good at their job into a management post that they have shown no aptitude for and undertaken no training to prepare for. Other times people have shown themselves capable of selling really effectively so are moved into a relationship management role to look after existing accounts, bombing horribly when their new business skills just don’t seem to work. Being a great manager of people in a service industry doesn’t always equip a person to manage a project such as setting up a new retail location when some harder planning skills are needed.
We often see problems like this too late, when we’re asked to help train or coach people who are under performing in roles they never had much hope of performing in.
Just because you’re a sought after actor with great hair, doesn’t mean you’re cut out to be a barber, as Jimmy Kimmel demonstrates:
Would you let a stranger with no hairdressing skills cut your hair? If so, why?
The Detroit Symphony Orchestra usually spend their summers getting out into the community and playing music to people who either can’t afford to visit great Symphony Halls, or would feel uncomfortable entering them for the first time. This year they’re taking their music into Ford factories, and it’s beautiful.
Meanwhile the vultures in suits continue to circle the Detroit Institute of Arts with less noble intentions.