Albert Einstein

What to do with an unsolvable problem.

Too many times people face problems that they deem unsolvable. They stop trying to solve the problem by saying, “It is what it is.”

But is it?

An unsolvable problem is really just a problem where the solution has not yet been identified.

Why do some people solve enormous problems while others give up? According to Bill Hybels, “Visionary people face the same problems everyone else faces; but rather than get paralyzed by their problems, visionaries immediately commit themselves to finding a solution.”

Here are the steps that will help you solve those unsolvable problems:

Re-Group. Just because you can’t see the answer to a problem doesn’t mean the answer isn’t already there. The odds are that someone, somewhere, has faced the same problem and at least stumbled upon the answer. Trust that you will find it, somewhere else, if you look.

“If you’re a leader and you’re the smartest guy in the world, or in the room, you’ve got real problems.” – Jack Welch

Re-Grip. Prepare yourself to hang on long enough to find that solution. Look around you. Where are other successes happening? Who is having those successes? How are they having those successes? Select from the many choices you will find and take hold of what will work for your problem.

“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”- Albert Einstein

Re-Commit. Now that you have decided to solve the unsolvable problem, and you chose the right solution, commit to give it all you’ve got.

“It’s the determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal that will enable you to attain the success you seek.” – Mario Andretti

The best answers are often questions

the-right-questionSometimes easy answers are just too easy, and aren’t the best answers. Often the best answers are questions that force us to dig deeper into the issue. Good questions can challenge our assumptions and lead us down another path than the easy answer would. Paul Samuelson, the first American to win the Nobel Prize in Economics, said “Good questions outrank easy answers.”

Take the time to ask questions and you will see that you and other people will learn more even if you think you know the answer.

Questions help get to the right answer. We have heard about the five whys of consulting – asking why until you uncover the root cause. Peter Drucker says the best consultants work by simply asking a few questions. People are better connected to the outcome if they are part of developing the plan.

Here are a few ways to ask questions that helps others discover the right answer for them:

“How would you go about accomplishing this….” then listen to their ideas.

“What would happen if…” then challenge different assumptions in the answers being presented.

“Have you thought about…” then offer alternative options to be discussed.

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”  – Benjamin Franklin

The right questions help solve the right problem. The human mind is a wonderful machine that is a problem solver. When you pose a question, it works tirelessly to seek the answer. The key to solving the right problem is to ask the right question.

If something is not working, we might ask ourselves and our team, “Why can’t we accomplish this?” That is the wrong question because all of your energy will focus on understanding the ways you have been deficient and uncovering reasons why you can’t succeed.

Instead, in the same situation the right question is, “What does it take to accomplish this?” With this question you and your team will begin to identify all that needs to happen to succeed. Once you have solved that, your next question should be, “How can we deliver what it takes to succeed?” and so on until you narrow down the right answer to the right question.

“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask… for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.” – Albert Einstein

Understand the real question before you answer.

answering the right questionSuccessful people don’t always have the answer to every question, but they know how to find it. The key to finding the answers is to understand the real question before you answer.

Author, Shannon L. Adler believes that, “Most misunderstandings could be avoided if people would simply take the time to ask what else could this mean.” I agree. In this busy world we often want to quickly answer what we think we hear so we can get onto the next question. As the witty Charles Schultz says, “In the book of life’s questions, the answers are not in the back.”

The reality is that we should invest the time needed to get the right answer the first time. Albert Einstein, arguably one of the brightest scientific minds, said, “It’s not that I’m so smart. But I stay with questions much longer.”

If you dig a little deeper you may find that once you discover the real question, the answer is easier than you originally thought. Dr. Seuss wrote many children’s books that were filled with wisdom shared as witty stories. His advice on understanding the real question before you answer is, “Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.”

If you want to truly succeed, asking the right questions is the key. As novelist Thomas Berger once said, “The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge.”

Leaders: Does your team really know you?

getting to know youHow can your team get to know you? Is it through emails, team talks, and presentations? It’s all of those and more. Is it by observing you in action? Yes, that too. How about from the results you drive? That’s an important one. If you had to pick the most important way for your team to get to know you what would it be? The answer is all three together.

Your team needs to feel connected to you. Your team needs to see that you are consistent. And your team needs to be convinced that if they follow you they will be successful.

Connected. Are you available and approachable? Your team should hear you and see you on a regular basis; and not just on stage – although that’s a good start. How about meeting with them in person. Of course you are in meetings with people on projects, but are you talking with them about them? The best interactions are the regular, “How’s it going?” talks where you ask questions and they ask questions and you keep your connection strong.

“The business of business is relationships; the business of life is human connection.” – Robin Sharma

Consistent. Does what you say match what you do? Your team needs to know they can count on you to back up what you say. Remember even though you are the leader, you are still part of the team. Only commit to what you can deliver, and deliver what you commit to. People will judge you by your actions, not your intentions. You may have a heart of gold – but so does a hard-boiled egg.

“In any team sport, the best teams have consistency.” – Roger Staubach

Convincing. Does what you say and do lead to success? What you say and what you do will lead to some result – make sure it’s a good one. This is the ultimate expression of getting to know you. Some might say you are what you celebrate.

“Try not to become a man of success. Rather become a man of value.” – Albert Einstein

 

Dig deep enough before making decisions

decisionsDon’t make decisions based only on where you are; make decisions based on where you want to be. Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is quoted as saying, “We are not a product of our circumstances, we are a product of our decisions.”

Your circumstances do play a part in your future, but only to ground you as you decide what to do next.

Jonathan Schaeffer, the creator of computer chess programs, calculated that there are 197,742 different ways that the players in a chess match could play their first two moves. When you expand that to the first three moves the possible outcomes becomes 121 million. In chess, as in life, your decisions don’t end when you first decide, but continue through each step as you evaluate what’s next.

When faced with choices, before you decide, commit to settle for nothing less than knowledge, understanding and wisdom. Today we have the ability to receive more information than at any time in history. Take care to evaluate what you know before deciding where to go.

“It is the brain, the little gray cells on which one must rely. One must seek the truth within – not without.” – Agatha Christie’s famous detective Hercule Poirot

Invest the time it takes to be the best. How long should you think and evaluate options before you decide? It depends on the potential impact of the decision and the level of experience you have in the area. A greater chance of impact and a lesser degree of experience require more time. Stay with it until you feel that you have the ability to make the best decision possible.

“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”– Albert Einstein

Pay attention to how the facts fit together. The first step in decision making is a knowledge of the facts. Next comes an understanding of why the facts are what they are. Most important is to obtain the wisdom to apply what you now know and understand to make the best decision possible. This comes from broadening your view through other people and other similar decisions that have been made.

“To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe.” Marilyn vos Savant

Profit from your analysis. You will never have all the answers needed to make a perfect decision. Don’t let that stop you from asking as many questions as reasonable to make the best decision possible.

“I don’t pretend we have all the answers. But the questions are certainly worth thinking about.” – Arthur C. Clarke

Get on with your new job

new jobWhen you transition to a new job you have to leave the old job behind.

This doesn’t only mean if you move to a new company, this is for where you are now. It’s probably easy to think of leaving your old job behind if you change companies, but this is also for those who are promoted, transferred, or take on more responsibility within the same company. You have to leave the old job behind to succeed at the new job.

“I must be willing to give up what I am in order to become what I will be.” – Albert Einstein

The key to success in this is not to just think of this when you accept a new job, it’s too late then. Plan for it to happen and it will. Your new job will need your undivided attention. There is work to do now. You have to leave your old responsibilities ready to run without you.

If you want that promotion, transfer, or more responsibility, start taking action right now in the areas of Education, Delegation, and Succession.

Education

Provide the opportunities for your team to learn and apply what they are learning. Encourage them to take classes, and attend seminars. These are important activities for them to know what you know, and more.

There is a Japanese proverb that says, “Better than a thousand days of diligent study is one day with a great teacher.” While you will not be able to spend your days teaching your team personally, since you have your own job to do, you can invest your time sharing your knowledge and wisdom as you lead. Recognize that your team is watching what you do and listening to what you say and be purposeful in your actions and words so that they learn from you as well.

Delegation

When a manager delegates, employees learn how to make appropriate decisions within their level of authority. John Maxwell says, “If you want to do a few small things right, do them yourself. If you want to do great things and make a big impact, learn to delegate.”

This is an example of what Stephen Covey said about the importance of delegation, Organizations don’t grow much without delegation…because they are confined to the capacities of the boss.” Leaders have to delegate if they want their team to be able to do what they do so they can move on to their new job.

Succession

Succession planning is of equal importance to setting the vision and strategy for the company or team. I fact everything that leaders do should be about succession planning, including setting the vision and strategy. Leaders should use every opportunity to teach and grow leaders in the organization to be able to take on their job.

One of the things we often miss in succession planning is that it should be gradual and thoughtful, with lots of sharing of information and knowledge and perspective, so that it’s almost a non-event when it happens.” – Anne Mulcahy

If you aren’t teaching someone else how you do what you do, you are letting opportunity pass you by. Your main role as the leader is to prepare a successor while you lead the team. It shouldn’t be something that is part of your long term plan to get to when you are near the end of your season – that’s too late.

You are not in this alone

wright brothers dreamsWhat do you want to do in school, work, or your life? What is your dream? I hope it is so big that you have no idea at this moment how you can ever accomplish it. The good news is you are not in this alone.

Orville and Wilbur Wright dreamed of human flight from the time they were boys. They didn’t know exactly how it could be achieved, but they were determined that they could do it – but not alone.

In 1899, Wilbur Wright wrote a letter to the Smithsonian Institute. He explained how he had studied the work of early aeronautical scientists and asked for all papers that the Smithsonian had published on human flight, and a list of all other works in print. Wilbur and Orville studied all the scientific books that they received, as well as one book titled Empire of the Air, by Louis Pierre Moullard which discussed the possibility of achieving human flight by studying the birds in flight.

Wilbur then began communicating with and questioning the most well-known aeronautical engineers of the time including Octave Chanute, who gave the brothers the idea to perform their experiments on the coasts of the Carolinas (where their famous Kitty Hawk flight took place).

Using the knowledge they received, their ingenuity and talents, along with the help of mechanics, carpenters and land owners, the Wright Brothers decided that human flight would come only from the combination of the right machinery (as observed from the scientists) and skill in operating the machinery (as observed from bird watching). The rest is history.

What do you want to do in school, work, or your life? I hope it is so big that you have no idea at this moment how you can ever accomplish it just like the Wright Brothers dreamed of human flight. Remember, you are not in this alone.

Recruit others into your dreams.

Wilbur Wright had Orville Wright as they built the first manned airplane. Steve Wozniak had Steve Jobs as they built the first Apple computer. Ben had Jerry as they founded the ice-cream empire. Each of these partners had the same dream but different strengths and roles in the ultimate success. Surround yourself with others who can help keep the passion for the dream alive.

“It takes teamwork to make the dream work.”

Research the existing facts of success and failure.

Learn from what others have done that is the same or similar to what you are trying to do. Their success or failure will help you determine what to do or not to do. Just like Wilbur Wright read all he could about human flight and saw the limitations of current airplane designs, Steve Wozniak read all the research he could find on the growing field of personal computers as he built the first Apple Computer. Remember your goal is to deliver on your dream, one that is bigger than you know how to deliver on your own.

“If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?” – Albert Einstein

Reach out to those that have been on the same path before.

Reading all the research that has been compiled and studying all the success and failures is very important and an integral step in the process of achieving your dreams. But nothing compares with talking with and working side by side those who have been on the same path that you are now on. The Wright Brothers, especially Wilbur, spent significant time with others who had and were pursuing the dream of human flight across several countries.

Find mentors who are willing to invest time to help you accomplish your dream just as they did. You will find that those who have a passion for their dreams, usually have the same passion to help others achieve their dreams.

“A single conversation across the table with a wise man is better than ten years of mere study of books.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Time Travel Leadership

Dr who and time travel picture of TartusWe are fascinated with the idea of time travel. We read about it in the 1895 book The Time Machine by H.G. Wells; we learned about the space-time continuum in Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity in 1915; we watched the movie Back to the Future in 1985; and in 2014 an average of about 7 million people watched each episode of the BBC television classic Doctor Who.

Each of the stories, movies and television shows explores the possibilities of what could be accomplished if time travel was possible. I believe this is because ordinary people think of how to spend time, great people think of how to invest time.

“It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.” – Steve Jobs

Doctor Who is the long running series on time travel that started in 1963 and ran until 1989. It returned to television and DVD in 2005 and has had a successful revival. The show is about a “Time Lord” known only as “The Doctor” who travels across time and space, in a vintage British Police Box, to protect innocent people and prevent evil forces from changing history.

The Doctor is serious about his mission, but to him time travel is as easy as going to work every day. “I can’t tell the future I just work there.” – Doctor Who

Whether or not you watch Doctor Who, or believe in the ability to cross the space-time continuum, you will read below that leaders have the power to use time travel to drive success for their teams.

LEADERS CAN MOVE THEIR TEAM FROM THE PRESENT TO THE FUTURE.

Sometimes your team isn’t ready right now for the success they desire today; they need to work and prepare for it.

Don’t just say, “Not now.” Encourage development. It’s difficult to hear you aren’t ready for your dreams. Leaders must encourage their team to dedicate themselves to get ready for their dreams not just wait.

“We must use time as a tool, not as a couch.” – John F. Kennedy

Don’t just say, “Not now.” Describe the vision. Sometimes people mistake where they are with the finish line. Remind your teams how big their dreams really are.

“Big flashy things have my name written all over them. Well…not yet, give me time and a crayon.” – Doctor Who

Don’t just say, “Not now.” Deliver the plan. Leaders see the dream clearer than anyone. Layout the steps it will take to reach it, so your team knows where to do.

“If you want to encourage individual growth, try to never say “No” but instead answer with “Yes if…” – Denis G. McLaughlin

LEADERS CAN MOVE THEIR TEAM FROM THE FUTURE TO THE PRESENT.

Sometimes your team is ready right now for the success they desire in the future; they need to move and achieve it.

Don’t let them wait. Encourage action. There are always reasons why someone might think they can’t achieve their dreams today. If you get those reasons out in the open you can remove them as obstacles one by one.

I once heard of a conversation between two employees that went like this:

“When are you going to finish that project?”

“When I get around to it,”

“I will get you one if it will help you finish this project.”

“Get me one what?”

“A roundtoit.”

Don’t let them wait. Enable the vision. Some people think they aren’t up for the challenge of achieving their dreams; they need more time. Remind them of all they have accomplished already and enable them to accomplish even more.

“Some people live more in twenty year than others do in eighty. It’s not the time that matters, it’s the person.” – Doctor Who

Don’t let them wait. Adjust the plan. Roadblocks come in every situation, some even pop up right after you start the journey to your dreams. Help your team achieve success by showing them how to go around, over, or through their challenges to keep moving forward.

 “Don’t wait. The time will never be just right.”– Napoleon Hill

 

You can’t solve a problem you don’t understand.

don't run away from problems, solve themWhen something is not turning out like you want it to what should you do? Change what you are doing. Sounds simple enough. Sometimes it seems easier to just keep doing what you have been doing and ignore the issues than to figure out what the real problem is and solve it, but as William Rotsler said, “You won’t find a solution by saying there is no problem.”

I have also seen that you have to understand the problem before you accept a solution, or you risk accepting a solution that’s too easy to solve the actual problem. Equally bad as running away from a problem is to think you have it all figured out only to find out that the solution didn’t solve the real problem but only a symptom of the problem.

Thankfully, there are people who have figured this problem solving process out already and we can learn from them. I have taken the Six Sigma process first started by Motorola in the 1980’s and sprinkled it with ideas espoused by past leaders to form the four step process that I use:

Step One – Identify the real problem by asking the right questions. Your goal in step one is to gain alignment on the real problem by asking defining questions. What are we working on? Why are we working on this particular problem? How is the work currently being done? What are the benefits of making the improvement?

“To solve any problem, here are three questions to ask yourself: First, what could I do? Second, what could I read? And third, who could I ask?” – Jim Rohn

Step Two – Find the real cause of the problem through analysis. Your goal in step two is to obtain and sift through as much data and facts about the problem as you can within a limited time frame to bring the root cause to the surface.

“If I had 60 minutes to solve a problem, I would spend 55 minutes defining it and 5 minutes solving it.” – Albert Einstein

Step Three – Find the real solution to the problem – not just the easy one. Your goal in step three is to brainstorm on as many possible solutions you can until you find the one that is the most promising and practical.

“If you find a good solution and become attached to it, the solution may become your next problem.” – Dr. Robert Anthony

Step Four – Make sure the solution really sticks. Your goal in step four is to make sure the solution lasts. Even though you are solving problems, this is still change and it takes more work to stick with change than it does to implement change. You will have to gain alignment for the solution by selling the benefits, handing off leadership to the team that will be using the solution every day, allowing issues to be raised and ensuring they are quickly addressed.

“Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have—and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up.” – Dr. James Belasco

Leadership is the life you live.

jack welch leadershipA life of leadership is focused on helping others grow so they can achieve their maximum potential.  That sure sounds altruistic.  Well it’s more than that.  Read on to find out how living a life of leadership will bring your personal success.

Living a life of leadership brings simplicity.

“Life is complicated.”  Have you ever had someone use that as an explanation for why some things just aren’t working out in their life? Or worse, has someone used it to dodge responsibility for something they did in your life?  It’s true, life can be complicated; so un-complicate it.

Living a life of leadership lets you live a life of simplicity.  I take a very simple approach to life.  I view the world through one lens.  I don’t have family glasses, work glasses, and faith glasses.  I have one prescription which brings my entire life into focus. For me, there is no such thing as work-life balance, there is just your life and you have to balance everything. I look at every aspect of my life through a leadership lens. 

John Maxwell wrote a book titled There’s no such thing as business ethics.  He follows that up with the statement, “There’s just ethics.” It’s much simpler to know what to do when your actions don’t depend on your activity.

Albert Einstein had three rules of work.  The first of these is “… Out of clutter find simplicity…”

Living a life of leadership brings focus.

My goal every day for a life of leadership is just this simple as I said above: helping others grow so they can achieve their maximum potential.   I would like to claim responsibility for this simple statement, but many successful people discovered this long before I did.

“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” – Jackie Robinson

Only a life lived for others is a life worth living.” – Albert Einstein

Life’s most urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” – Martin Luther King Jr.

These three historic figures who maintained a single minded focus on leadership were powerful forces for change.  While scattered light brings warmth into a room, the power of light focused on a single point through a laser can bring together wounds, or separate metal.  A life of leadership will bring the power that comes from focusing all of your energy on that one goal.    

Living a life of leadership brings success.

A life of leadership has simple goals, and simple goals are easier to attain than complicated goals.  When you achieve your goals each day, you live a satisfied life.

“A well-spent day brings happy sleep.” – Leonardo da Vinci

Helping others succeed is easier than many people think, but is not something that is easy to find.  People take notice of those that notice them.

“When you can do the common things of life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.” – George Washington Carver

If you want to be known for something, there is nothing better than to be known as someone who helped others become the best they can be. 

“Build your reputation by helping others build theirs.” – Anthony J. D’Angelo

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