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Running into problems? Here's your crash mat!

Running into problems? Here's your crash mat!

Nicola Hopes

9 February 2021

Don’t judge me, but I am partial to a tv show about houses. Whether it’s stunning architecture or interior design, I’m in.

I like the combination of ‘that’s a clever idea’ with ‘blimey, why did they choose those tiles?’ A very good friend of mine calls it ‘chewing gum for the eyes’ for those days when an intense Scandy drama just feels too much.

In a recent show a couple were about to build a 60k extension on their house for more space with a growing family. Despite having a ‘dumping ground’ room apparently for dusty board games, unleafed books and long forgotten toys.

It was obvious to anyone watching they just needed to throw some stuff away, paint the walls and pocket the 59k change. But they couldn’t see it. And it got me thinking.

New perspectives solve problems.

But we’re not getting new perspectives right now. Think about the exchange of ideas you’re missing out on in the coffee queue or the quick drink after work. You may even be solving an old problem because you didn’t get the update in that 5-minute lift ride that yesterday’s crisis has evaporated.  

Sure, you can get new ideas from reading or research but there’s a better way.

Stop. Collaborate and Listen

In my coaching and consulting work, what I often bring to a conversation is objectivity. A fresh and honest perspective on what I’m hearing or seeing, in a context away from day to day working life.

In a Management Today article last month, FirmDecisions’ global CEO Federica Bowman revealed that her most creative conversations happened over a quiet pint. During lockdown that’s not been possible. So she now gets her best ideas in the pub that she and her husband created in the shed at the bottom of their garden.

"Even though it’s only in the garden, it feels like a completely different place, away from the house. Just having a different view and a different ambience makes a huge difference”.

So, a candid conversation over a nutty problem of the day (with or without a pint) might reveal new solutions.

With that in mind, do you have a go-to sounding board? And have you found a way to still shoot the breeze outside of the office / coffee shop / bar where you usually sought their wisdom?

Pair up and problem solve

You can create a problem-solving surgery for yourself this week if you want to.

Find yourself a good ear and trusted confidante. Agree to help each other. Arrange a virtual catch up. Apply my super simple tips on how to do it.

  • Hold up the mirror – often the most powerful thing you can do is play back what you’ve heard someone say in their words. Without any judgement. There’s something revelatory about hearing your own words come back at you that helps you see a new perspective. And the lack of judgement gives the challenge you’re facing valuable objectivity.
  • Summarise – we often kid ourselves that the problem we’re facing is infinitely complex. We consider the various nuances and perspectives. It feels like there are myriad options to consider. Not so. After listening to a convoluted account, the clarity that can be found in the phrase ‘so really it boils down to either a or b doesn’t it and here’s why’. Use bullet note-making to allow you pull out the key points to summarise back. It takes practice to do this well so have a play with it.
  • Think out loud – be prepared for unformed thoughts to come out and allow them to evolve as you kick them around. I’m sure this is why the pub scenario works. It allows for a loose exchange of ideas. If you’re used to sharing only your most polished perspectives, this can be hard, but it works. My old boss joked with me over glass of wine ‘the only reason I tolerate how much you talk Nic is because you come up with your best ideas halfway through a sentence’. Rude. But he’s right. I do. And you may too.

So, reach out and share a problem and solve it more quickly and creatively.  (Pint optional).

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