The Art of the Solution

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Moaning about the nature of things is easy.  Groaning about processes and procedures can be achieved with minimal effort.  Every day, teams will work through problems, and will often have bull sessions where they gripe about the nature of things at the office.  Work processes and procedures that may not make sense, customers may be difficult to work with.  Virtually everyone can agree on the inefficiencies of the government bureaucratic machine.  We may not all agree upon politics, but rest assured, most people can agree on this point.

As you enter the workforce, be focused on not just the problems, but what can be done about them.  Everyone can complain about an inefficient procurement process.  Everyone can also complain about workflows that add time to customer checkouts and returns.  Management will not place much value on those who can identify the problems.  Most of the time, they’ve heard it all before.  Given them a solution as well.

As a manager of an Information Technology service desk, I heard many of the problems of our staff.  We were too small.  We were responsible for too many physical locations.  The computer purchasing process made little sense.  These points were not new to me, and in my own limited way, I tried to improve and streamline where I could.  What I did not hear much of was solutions to these problems.  I appreciated the efforts of the team to identify what needed improvement, as any manager would.

While I studied for my MBA, our capstone class called for the students to form into groups and start a company.  We discussed ideas for our project, and began our work to research and develop a business model and plan.  However, the key takeaway from this class for me was the professor telling us to find out what sucks, and then improve it.  Such a simple idea.  Maybe a little blunt, but so simple.  Businesses come and go, but if you identify a problem and come up with a solution, your chances for success and profit will increase.

As you enter the workforce, and as you begin your journey into a hopeful fruitful and prosperous career, adopt the mindset of a problem solver, not just a problem identifier.  An individual who solves problems will add much value.  Maybe a solution is not attainable, or laws prohibit changing of a process, but in many instances, take a problem, and a solution, to management.  You will be adding value to the organization, and in many instances, you may be the one who spearheads the project.

Complaining is easy.  Take a further step to research and come up with a solution.  Your manager will thank you, and you will take steps to further your career in the process.  People who provide solutions will always be in demand for any organization.

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Take the Leap, but Know How to Fly

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“Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off.  Build your wings on the way down.” – Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury and the golden age of science fiction are synonymous, and is one of the titans of the genre.  “Fahrenheit 451”, “The Martian Chronicles”, and “Something Wicked This Way Comes” are all considered among the classics of the genre.  Bradbury’s idea of jumping off the cliff, and building your wings on the way down is quite imaginative and daring, but can also be useful for motivating and challenging yourself in a professional manner.

Not a literal interpretation, obviously, but his idea is appealing.  Sometimes we all can get into a good comfort zone.  We know the job, and are proficient with the skills required.  We know the environment and the people.  In these situations, a week turns into a month, months turn into a year, and soon, years have gone by.  We may be happy with our position, and hopefully have worked up the hierarchy of the organization.  But in the end, the years may become routine and time has a funny way of blurring together, rushing into the future in a blink of an eye.  Is this a recipe for greatness?  I do not believe so.

Exactly what does Bradbury mean?  Should be jump into the unknown, and figure it out along the way?  Should you walk out of the office today, and start something new without any preparation or planning?  Realistically, most of us are not in a position to do this.  Family and financial obligations often dictate what we need to do, but Bradbury makes a great point.  That is, to challenge yourself.  To shock your system out of a comfort zone.  In times of strife, turmoil, and sometimes failure, we can grow to great extents.  Comfort zones are not known for creating dynamic careers.

Should you leap down the cliff, before giving any thought on how to build your wings?  I would argue this would be a resounding ‘no’.  Should you learn about what makes wings fly?  Should you study the flight of birds, or how airplanes fly?  Yes!  Perhaps you should have some knowledge of atmospheric pressures and the physics of lift.  If you spend time learning and growing, only then when you leap off the cliff, you will have some degrees of knowledge to build your wings.

Anyone can make a leap into the unknown.  The rocks at the base of the cliff are littered with the corpses of those who leapt before they were prepared for the change.  They wanted change too much, but were not prepared for it.  Spend enough time to have a good foundation that can adapt to change, and you will greatly increase your odds of success.  Do not spend too much time preparing that you never take the chance.  Leap off the cliff with confidence and determination, and know that through preparation, you will build your wings and soar into the skies above.  The sky is the limit.

Align Your Reality and Appearance

A reputation is priceless.  Your reputation is free, and requires no investment of money, nor does it require specific levels of education.  Reputations are difficult to manage and can be your foundation for professional excellence, being a good manager, or perhaps an inspirational leader.  It is the bedrock, your foundation, and works in tandem with work ethic, knowledge, and perseverance.  Reputations can be as hard as diamonds, but they can be fragile.  A moment’s indiscretion can shatter what took years to build, and in some cases, may never quite recover.  Ask former Tour-de-France champion, Lance Armstrong.

Ancient philosophers in the pre-Socrates age often argued and theorized on the nature of reality.  What is reality?  What are things made of?  Is everything just an illusion?  Over time, the nature of the argument of reality versus appearance can take on a different meaning.

Your reputation can be based more on appearance than reality, for right or wrong.  You may be a good worker, knowledgeable and dedicated, but if others see you differently, your appearance will be more real than reality.  Young workers, and those just starting out in a new career need to fully appreciate this, and should focus on aligning these two into a single component.

Always reflect on your words and actions.  You may be a hard worker, but if you are gossiping or do not communicate well with others, the reality of your reputation may be different than you realize.  Do you “tell it like it is” and feel you are honest and provide valuable insight?  Place yourself in others’ shoes and see things from a different perspective.  Perhaps you are correct and you feel as if you made a positive difference.  What if others may see you as arrogant and self-righteous instead?  What is the reality of your reputation at this point?  Will you be the direct, but helpful manager, leader, or co-worker, or will you be viewed as something else?  Will you be effective in a team environment when your appearance is less than ideal?

Reality and appearance can be one in and same, or they can be quite different.  The more different these two are, the stronger likelihood your reputation is diminished.  Always focus on your actions, mannerisms, and your words in all your interactions.  Take the time to reflect on yourself every day, and identify what you can do to manage yourself better.

As a young worker, your actions and reputation are all you will have at the beginning.    However, your actions and reputation, when properly managed and maintained can be strong enough to build your foundation.  As you learn and grow, this foundation will ensure your success, and will always be there.  But you need to take care of it and maintain it.  Even a mansion, if not properly maintained, will crumble and degrade.

Understand that appearance can be more real than reality.  For right or wrong, people are not able to glimpse into your mind, but can only see your appearance and your actions.  In the age of miscommunication, intolerance, and increasing isolation, take the time to ensure your reality and appearance are in sync.  Then your foundation will be solid and firm, and your successes will grow.