Problem solving

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Psychologists often talk about motivation in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
In recent times, the first half of the hierarchy has been largely replaced by the attachment theory. The top of the hierarchy, however, is still relevant for us. When we talk about motivation, we are talking about Self-Esteem, and Self-Actualization. These are the needs that when pursued involve achievement, problem solving, and creativity.

The question is how does Maslow’s hierarchy fit with the assertion in the Language of Excellence that motivation is not externally created—it comes from within. You can hire motivated people, and you can extinguish or discourage motivation (at least temporarily), but you cannot create it in people. While there could be exceptions, they are so rare as to validate the conclusion that in business you cannot change the person. You can, however, change people on your team.

As it turns out, Maslow’s research studied only the healthiest 1% of college students. He also studied what he called exemplary people—people like Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Frederick Douglass. In other words, Maslow’s pyramid reflects the motivational drivers among level -A people. Like it or not, there are other people who are fully satisfied by fulfilling needs expressed by the lower half of the pyramid.

Since I am not a psychologist I cannot explain why, but I can point to generations of dependence as a common factor among many of the people who are unmotivated to travel into the upper half of the pyramid of needs. There are exceptions, however. There are those who are driven by Self-Actualization needs no matter what their environment. Nevertheless, those living under Communist rule for generations tend to shut the door between the two halves of Maslow’s hierarchy. Likewise, generations of dependence on government welfare seems to extinguish the desire to aspire to levels above satisfying Security and Relationship needs.

The extraordinary thing about some of those who operate at the higher levels is that they appear never to be satisfied with their achievement. They never relax to enjoy their past achievements. These are the true A-level people. Why do some people do what they do? What drives adventurers to start planning their next climb during their decent from a mountain just conquered? What makes the winner at the roulette table risk his or her winnings on the next spin of the wheel? Why would the successful entrepreneur cancel retirement plans to start a new venture? Why did the programmers who created Pong, the first widely successful computer game, sign up for the next project? They are driven to achieve (to win), just to have the opportunity to do it again. They play to play again.

No Return Policy for Problems

I started my career as a CPA and transitioned to business after three years with Price Waterhouse. I envisioned myself as a problem solver. The difficulty with that was that there is always another problem right behind the previous one. I wish I had understood that success comes from pursuing opportunities, not problems. I discovered that most problems work themselves out. They are solved in the course of opportunity pursuits. After years of on-the-job training, my motto has become “Not all problems deserve to be solved; of those that do, not all of them need to be solved by me.”  When you do tackle a problem,  you should have a "No Return Policy."

Don't be an aspirin doctor--do not just treat the symptoms.  Find out why the problem exists. Get to the root cause. Your watch word should be that people do not fail, processes do.  Ask "5 Whys" Empirical observation indicates that five it typical number of iterations of questions required to resolve the problem--to get to the root cause. What guiding frame work for questions comes from the newspaper world--what, when, where, why and how. 

WHAT: What happen?
WHEN: Why did it happen when it did?
WHERE: Why did it happen where it did?
How: How did it happen?
WHY: Why did it happen?

Wikipedia gives the following different example of the "5 Whys":
The vehicle will not start. (the problem).
  1. Why? - The battery is dead. (first why)
  2. Why? - The alternator is not functioning. (second why)
  3. Why? - The alternator belt has broken. (third why
  4. Why? - The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced. (fourth why 
  5. Why? - The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (fifth why, a root cause)

(possible 5th Why solution:
Start maintaining the vehicle according to the recommended service schedule.

To illustrate that there is no magic that indicates five whys are adequate, consider a possible sixth why: Why? - Replacement parts are not available because of the extreme age of the vehicle. (sixth why) 

Possible 6th Why Solution: Purchase a different vehicle that is maintainable.

The "5 Whys" technique was developed by Sakichi Toyoda and was used within the Toyota Motor Corporation during the evolution of its manufacturing methodologies. 

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Mysteries by Tom Collins include Mark Rollins’ New CareerMark Rollins and the RainmakerMark Rollins and the Puppeteer and the newest, The Claret Murders. For signed copies go to Print and ebook editions are available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online bookstores. The ebook edition for the iPad is available through Apple iTunes' iBookstore.

90 Degrees North

North, the North Star, true north—these are symbols for the pursuit of opportunity.  The North Star has guided those in search of new horizons; north is the important point on a compass.  North conveys a sense of upward direction or momentum.  90 Degrees north defines the mindset of the excellent manager—they have an opportunity focus.  They are headed north—not south, east, or west.  They are not focused on problems or on risks—but on opportunities.
This is extraordinarily important to understand.  I have heard Presidential candidates who define themselves as problem solvers.  I have interviewed many C-level job candidates quick to say “I’m a problem solver.”  Those that did didn’t get the job.  The thing about problems is when you solve one there is always another waiting in the wings.  The team of the Excellent Company focuses on opportunities and problems get solved as a byproduct.  Their attitude about problems is that not all problems need to be solved and, of those that do, not all of them need to be solved by you.  Where are resources better spent?  Solving problems or pursuing opportunities?

That is not to say that there aren’t problems that have to be solved.  When they arise, look carefully for opportunities that often masquerade as problems or what the problems are a symptom of.  If the problems must be tackled directly, don’t treat the symptoms, define the problem, and solve it once and for all.
The distinction between opportunities and problems is related to Effectiveness vs. Efficiency.  Effectiveness is doing the right things.  Efficiency is doing things right.  Right things come down on the opportunity side of the ledger.  Problems are usually related to not doing things right.  Which is more important?  Doing the right things.  Recognizing and targeting the right opportunity, identifying the main thing success depends on, and adopting the right strategy— these are the things that give enterprises the chance to succeed.  Right things open the door; efficiency improves success but cannot create the chance for success. 
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