Taking the leap

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt uttered his most famous quote: "There is nothing to fear but fear itself." in 1933, he was addressing a nation mired deep in recession, possibly the most complex of problem to face a country. The economy, with it's many dependencies and rules, seemed unable to find a way to solve it's own problems. However, President Roosevelt was not addressing the economists or Wall Street per se, he was addressing the entire population, everyone that participated in the economy. His message was simple "Do not be afraid."
We all have a fear of the unknown. This is a natural, self-preservation response designed to keep you from poking your hand into a dark hole. Who knows what could be in it. A poisonous snake. A raccoon with sharp claws. An old, rusty bear trap. We are also conditioned to feel safe in familiar environments. This is an effect of the fear of the unknown. Only the effect on us is the opposite. Instead of feeling fear or dread, we fell safe and secure. What we feel as being out of harm's way is actually the result of us being afraid.
The same fear of the unknown also makes us believe that tomorrow will be the same as today. We fool ourselves in to thinking that the future will be the same as the present. The simple proof of that is to just look in to the past. It is different. It may be in small ways like the tree growing a little taller. It can also be in big ways like the devastation brought on by a tsunami. We discount the existence of change. Change does not exist, we convince ourselves. See how silly that sounds once you read it?

Problem with Problems 2

First a recap of the previous post: A strategy approach is a method of planning thats useful when you don't know where to start. Basically it is an approach based on rules. These rules don't necessarily give you the answer but provide stepping stones on which your solution or the journey to your solution will rest on. You have to determine how you will address the problem (or pieces of it) before solving them. One key question to answer is "Do you solve it all together or do you pick away at each problem one by one?"
To answer this question, you need to take a good hard look at the problem or problems. If you can, break a problem into smaller pieces. Do this regardless of whether you want to solve it as a whole or piecemeal. Identify dependencies between each piece or problems. A dependency is when one problem can only be solved if another problem is also solved. Another way to look at this is that one problem's solution helps to solve another. A dependency usually has a 'direction', from problem A, whose solution helps solve problem B. If a problem is complex enough, there will be quite a a number of them. Knowing the dependencies will help you figure out whether you want to continue a divide and conquer approach or whether you want to solve it as one problem or in one go. This determination depends on many factors, mainly the amount of resources available to you, the time available to solve the problem and the level of your skill required to solve the problem.
If you choose to solve a problem piece by piece, focus on the dependencies at the beginning or in the planning stage. Prioritize the dependencies according to a criteria you set. If you are leading a group of people solving the problem, communicate the criteria to your team. So, when the situation changes and new dependencies are introduced, your team can quickly re-prioritize and re-focus. The more complex a problem, the longer the solution will be. Even where is the 'stroke of genius' solution, a solution that solves the problem much more quickly than anticipated, spend the extra time gained going over the dependencies to ensure they are addressed or solved. Overlooked dependencies could cause future problems or change the solution into another problem.

Newton's Law revisited - Part I

I was quite young when I first heard what I later found out was Netwon's Third Law: "To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction". Everybody has heard it at one time or another. It goes on to say "or the forces of two bodies on each other are always equal and are directed in opposite directions". The second part is not as famous as the first one.
What I understood however, was entirely not Physics related. For every force or effort there will be or at least possibly be, an opposing force. Try as you may, your efforts may be hampered by someone who is working against you or something that can ruin your work. This also applied for reasoning. For every reason for something, I can possibly find a reason against it.
That was a problem for me because if there is always an opposite force, everything I worked for suddenly became harder. I would always be pushing against something. A lot of times, life felt like I was pushing a boulder uphill. If I didn't keep pushing, life would roll me back down or roll over me.
Rather than this law be bad for us, it can be used as a useful resource instead. When we acknowledge the opposite or at the very least, it's possible existence, we can be more prepared in moving towards our goal. When we are trying to do something, if we know there could be problems, we can take precautions. Or the very least look out for signs of trouble.

The One Minute Manager Review : An outdated tale of leadership?

Good advice should be timeless. Look at Aesop's Fables. While he may have just gathered the stories, the advice within them are relevant today as it was the day the stories were first told. The problem today is that the wisdom is still valid but the stories can feel a bit outdated. Especially when others have taken the wisdom and spun their own tales or updated Aesop's.
In today's maze / jungle of contradicting pop/fad notions and self-help books (my site not excluded), it is easy to forget about the classics. Read them and be surprised at how today's authors can be seen as repeating the notions first brought up over a thousand years ago. While their problems may not be the same as hours, they grappled with similar notions and problems. I hope to write on Epictetus and Sun Tzu one day. They are so many lessons and ideas brought up by them that a few posts would do them no justice.
So I've set my sight lower, to a revered if not-so-classic book, The One Minute Manager. This is one of those books that I've read and forgot only to find them again later in life. If you haven't read it, be prepared for surprises. First, for a books so respected, it is quite thin. I first thought it would get the message across faster, focus on the important stuff. Then came surprise no 2, it is actually a fable. Not as eloquent as Aesop's but a fable nonetheless. The lessons are incorporated in a story of a young man in search of the 'effective manager'. We are not privy to the background of his quest, only that he is on it. He finds the manager and begins to learn from the manager and his subordinates the lessons that form the model or paradigm of the one minute manager.

Outlining Basics: Building Your First Outline

A tool I find useful in sorting out ideas and information is an outline. This is the same outline I was taught in Undergraduate English but given a slight twist. I will first cover the basics, elaborate on the components of an outline and give a simple example.
The first thing to understand about an outline is that it has a structure. It has structures on multiple levels. The first is the topmost or highest level. At this level an outline consists of 3 components.

  1. An Introduction - Normally introduces the reader to the document. Provides a basic description of the purpose and goals of the rest of the outline.
  2. A Body - Where all the main information is located, sorted and presented. In a paper or article it consists of paragraphs where each paragraph is centered around an idea or information or a collection of them.
  3. A Closing / Ending - This summarizes the document. It should re-state to a degree the purpose of the document and it's goals and how the document has achieved that. If the document is long, it should also summarize or restate key points.
The main area is of course, the body. This is the next level. The body consists of points. A point is a sentence that should state the idea in it's most simplest, straight-forward form. It can also summarize or state the topic of the information that will be elaborated on later. The elaboration can be done in the final paragraph or in sub-points. This means that points can be hierarchical or that a point can have sub-points. This is yet another level. These sub-points are points themselves and can have sub-points too. And so on and so forth.
Take a look at this simple example

  1. Introduction - Why my car won't start
  2. Body
    1. Symptom
      1. Turn the key and there is only a click-click-click sound
    2. Likley causes
      1. Battery is dead
      2. Problem with starter
  3. Closing - I need to narrow down the cause before going to the mechanic

Item '2.1 Symptom' is the topic while Item 2.1.1 is the elaboration. The sentence in item '2.2.1 Battery is dead' states the idea very simply and is a sub-point to item '2.2 Likely Causes'. Normally, there is no need to state item '2. Body' but I put it there as an guide.

When writing, these points will become a topic sentence. A paragraph is built around the topic sentence. As was pointed out earlier, the paragraphs will form the body. 

The Problem with Problems

Often standing in the way of solving problems are more problems. Whether this is the case, it will be discovered quickly in Step2.
You may find yourself talking about ways for solving the problem in terms of solving other problems. If you need to fix the door hinges, for example, you need a screwdriver. However, you can't remember where you left it the last time or who borrowed it last. Until you get the screwdriver or buy another one, the door hinge won't be fixed.
You may also find yourself talking about conditions for solving the problem in terms of solving other problems. These are things that must be there or the way certain things must be to solve the problem. But these conditions themselves are also problems. For example, in order to get a good resell price on your car, you need to fix it up. Literally, the condition of your car needs to be better to fetch a better price. But in order to fix it up, you need to find extra cash. Which was why you wanted to sell the car anyway.
You can also indicate cause of the problem to be another problem. You can find this in statements like "We cannot meet customers' demands because we can't afford the tools to finish the jobs sooner". This is very similar to the first one above except in one small but important way. The problem here is you can't meet customers demands because you don't have the tools because you can't afford them. But what is also true is that because you don't have enough money, you can't buy the tools you need to finish the job sooner. Because you can't finish the work quickly enough, customers are left unhappy. It is different than the first one in this way: the lost screwdriver didn't cause the door hinge needing to be fixed.