Aug 14 11

Solution-oriented problem solving

by Mechaferret

I like to think of myself as a solution-oriented problem solver, that is, when confronted with a problem, my primary goal is to fix it (find a solution), using whatever tools I can bring to my disposal, to the extent that those tools will help with a solution. And it is definitely the case that, in my professional career, the people I have most admired, respected, learned from, and enjoyed working with can all be described as solution-oriented problem solvers. These words also show up fairly often as desirable management buzz phrases that improve both results and morale.

However, in my experience, solution-oriented problem solving is not all that common. Since it is desirable and rare, one might conclude that it must be very difficult. However, I tried to formulate some recommended best practices for it and realized that it’s not really difficult at all. The core of solution-oriented problem solving consists of one set of questions TO ask and another set of questions NOT to ask.

The four questions of solution-oriented problem solving

Ask these in order whenever any problem comes up.

  1. What happened/is happening?
  2. Why did it happen?
  3. How do we fix it?
  4. How do we prevent similar problems from happening in the future?

Questions that should NOT be asked

Just as importantly, solution-oriented problem-solving requires that certain types of questions NOT be asked. The following questions make people defensive, are not helpful, and get in the way of actually solving the problem. Patterns in individual performance deficiencies, if recurring, may come up as answers to #3 and #4, but all such deficiencies should be looked at in context: were they due to impossible assignments, situational failings such as poor communication, or truly due to deficiencies of the person in the role?

  • • Whose fault is this?
  • • Why did that person screw up?
  • • Why is that person so incompetent?
Dec 28 10

People will subscribe? Really?

by Mechaferret

Towards the beginning of the year, I was rather upset to discover that the Bodhi Tree, a New Age bookstore/shop that is a Los Angeles institution, was closing. Not because I have any affinity for New Age anything, or bought any of their books, but because the atmosphere of the place was so amazing. I liked to go there sometimes just to wander around, inhale the incense, drink a cup of free herbal tea from 70’s-vintage Solo cups with liners, and just relax. It was like being in a church that didn’t place any harsh, morally questionable demands on you. It was what I wanted my living room to be like if I ever got the hang of Feng Shui. It was a spiritual space.

So, I said to myself, how could we save it? It certainly is silly, in this day and ago of Amazon, to expect to make money as a bookstore. But could we save the spiritual space? Needless to say, I never came up with a solution, but the idea I was most fervent about involved making the store a non-profit space, welcome to all, making some money off of assorted sales but mainly supported by tax-deductible subscriptions. “Because plenty of people would be willing to spend $20 or so a month to ensure the continued existence of such a valuable space!” — I asserted passionately any number of times.

Fast-forward much of a year, and it’s Wikipedia’s fund-drive time. Now, Wikipedia is also a valuable space. It’s the science fiction dream of accurate information available instantly online, only better, because it’s not related to any government, it strives to be unbiased, and it is truly available to anyone. If I have any sort of question, scientific, cultural, historical, you name it, I know that they are the most likely place to have the answer — or at least a good place to start — from the actual supernova that inspired Flashforward to a list of TV superheroes (go Buffy!) to a list of open-source configuration management tools. So, yeah, it’s valuable. And I’ve donated before because I believe in their value. And then Jimmy Wales sent me an email asking if, this year, I’d be willing to subscribe to support Wikipedia….

And I asked myself, was my belief that people will subscribe to support something valuable just bullshit?

To save you all any worry, it didn’t take long for me to decide that NO, it WASN’T, and I am now a proud subscription supporter of Wikipedia. And yeah, you all should donate something too. Just imagine if you had to wade through and the sites of religious nutcases to find out details about the first cloned dog.

And maybe then you can help me come up with ideas to promote, and support, an equivalent of the Bodhi Tree…