If You Want to Solve Your Problems, Change the Problems You Solve

What’s at stake if teams do a poor job of solving problems? From a long list of potential answers, four stand out:

  • Lost time: Poor team problem solving simply burns more time. It may be more time in a meeting itself, because there were no collaboration guidelines. Perhaps it’s lost time outside of the meeting in hallway conversations, because ideas weren’t fully explored or vetted.
  • Dissipated energy: Poor team problem solving leaves questions unanswered and half-baked solutions in the atmosphere. We don’t know exactly where we stand or what we’ve decided. The thought of revisiting an unfinished conversation itself is an unwelcome burden.
  • Mediocre ideas: Poor team problem solving fortifies our weakest thinking. Innovation is something we read about but never experience. We cut-and-paste the ideas of others, because we don’t know how to generate our own. We traffic in good ideas and miss great ones.
  • Competing visions: Poor team problem solving invites an unhealthy drift toward independence. No one has the conscious thought that they have a competing vision. But in reality, there are differences to each person’s picture of their future. It’s impossible for this divergence not to happen if there is no dialogue.

So, how do you start to create the dynamic of collaborative problem solving?  

THE QUICK SUMMARY – What’s Your Problem? To Solve Your Toughest Problems, Change the Problems You Solve by Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg

Are you solving the right problems? Have you or your colleagues ever worked hard on something, only to find out you were focusing on the wrong problem entirely? Most people have. In a survey, 85 percent of companies said they often struggle to solve the right problems. The consequences are severe: Leaders fight the wrong strategic battles. Teams spend their energy on low-impact work. Startups build products that nobody wants. Organizations implement “solutions” that somehow make things worse, not better. Everywhere you look, the waste is staggering. As Peter Drucker pointed out, there’s nothing more dangerous than the right answer to the wrong question.

There is a way to do better.

The key is reframing, a crucial, underutilized skill that you can master with the help of this book. Using real-world stories and unforgettable examples like “the slow elevator problem,” author Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg offers a simple, three-step method – Frame, Reframe, Move Forward – that anyone can use to start solving the right problems. Reframing is not difficult to learn. It can be used on everyday challenges and on the biggest, trickiest problems you face. In this visually engaging, deeply researched book, you’ll learn from leaders at large companies, from entrepreneurs, consultants, nonprofit leaders, and many other breakthrough thinkers.

It’s time for everyone to stop barking up the wrong trees. Teach yourself and your team to reframe, and growth and success will follow.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

For almost all problems that leaders face, by the time the problem reaches them, someone has probably framed if for them.

  • Complaints about elevators? They’re old and slow – they need to be replaced.
  • Team problems? Do they blame failure on others? Do they resist following you? Do they lack passion?
  • Productivity issues? Do you always run out of time on projects? Lack the resources to complete the job?

Author Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg wants you to look at problems like these differently, with two thoughts in mind.

First, the way you frame a problem determines which solutions you come up with. 

And, by shifting the way you see the problem – by reframing it – you can sometimes find radically better solutions.

Sometimes, to solve a hard problem, you have to stop looking for solutions to it. Instead, you must turn your attention to the problem itself – not just to analyze it, but to shift the way you frame it.

Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg

Step 1 – Frame

This is the trigger for the process. In practice, it starts with someone asking, “What’s the problem we’re trying to solve?” The resulting statement – ideally written down – is your first framing of the problem.

Step 2 – Reframe

Reframe is where you challenge your initial understanding of the problem. The aim is to rapidly uncover as many potential alternative framings as possible. You can think of it as a kind of brainstorming, only instead of ideas, you are looking for different ways to frame the problem. This might come in the form of questions or in the form of direct suggestions.

There are five nested strategies to help find these alternative framings of the problem. Depending on the situation, you may explore some, all, or none of these:

  • Look outside the frame. What are we missing?
  • Rethink the goal. Is there a better objective to pursue?
  • Examine bright spots. Where is the problem not?
  • Look in the mirror. What is my/our role in creating this problem?
  • Take their perspective. What is their problem?

Step 3 – Move Forward

This closes the loop and switches you back into action mode. This can be a continuation of your current course, a move to explore some of the new framings you came up with, or both.

Your key task here is to determine how you validate the faming of your problem though real-world testing, making sure your diagnosis is correct. At this point, a subsequent reframing check-in may be scheduled as well.

Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg, What’s Your Problem? To Solve Your Toughest Problems, Change the Problems You Solve

A NEXT STEP 

In addition to the wealth of resources provided by the author, he provides an excellent section of how to create multiple working hypotheses when considering how to reframe a problem.

To consider multiple working hypotheses is to simultaneously explore several different explanations for what might be going on. By doing this upfront, you inoculate yourself against the danger of a single perspective.

Choose a problem that you are facing or expect to face in the near future, and work through the following approach in reframing it:

  • Never commit to just one explanation up front.
  • Explore multiple explanations simultaneously until sufficient empirical testing has revealed the best choice.
  • Be open to the idea that the best fit may be a mix of several different explanations.
  • Be prepared to walk away if something better comes along later.

Begin addressing a problem by coming up with other viewpoints and solutions at the beginning so you can avoid falling in love with a bad idea. And remember that problems almost always have more than one solution.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 142-2, released March 2020

Saying Goodbye to Luke Skybarker – In Recognition of National Beagle Day April 22

In recognition of National Beagle Day on April 22, and in remembrance of our funny, flop-eared friend Luke Skybarker.  This post was originally written on 11/24/12.


11 years and one week ago today we brought home a flop-eared, six-week old beagle.

Today, after a week of increasingly failing health and a night I don’t soon want to repeat, we buried Luke Skybarker in his favorite outdoors place, our backyard overlooking North Mecklenburg Park.

The story in-between those two sentences is some of what life is all about.

In 2001, as our youngest son Aaron approached his 9th birthday, we heard the words many parents regret: “I’m getting older now; I think I’m ready for more responsibility – like a dog. “

Somehow I equated more responsibility to helping around the house, maybe a neighborhood job to start a college fund. But to Aaron, responsibility = a dog. And being the softy parents that Anita and I are, we agreed. After a little research, we located someone in Lincoln County that had two litters that were just about ready to wean, and we had our pick.

With parental veto power firmly in check, we let Aaron pick a small male, the runt of the litter. There was also a female that Aaron passed over, because his choice “was quiet.”

Not for long.

Shortly after arriving at our house, our new pet demonstrated his “quietness” with the first of countless howls that beagles are known for. And so began the saga of Luke Skybarker as a part of our family.

The name Luke Skybarker is homage to our family’s (well, at least the guys in our family) intense fondness for all things Star Wars. Over the years, we have seen all the movies (on opening night in theaters, then countless times on DVD, and now repeatedly on Disney+), acquired many LEGO sets of SW characters, read dozens of books about the series, and even dressed as SW characters at Halloween. So it’s no surprise that our howling new addition should be given the name Luke Skybarker.

After a short while, though, I was sure we had misnamed him. Due to his adorable cuteness but all puppy-like actions, we soon had a Bark Vader on our hands, because he definitely went over to the dark side.

Luke was actually an interior decorator, though we didn’t know it at first. Over a period of months, he: chewed up our couch legs and fabric; ate the bottom of several strips of wallpaper in the kitchen; chewed up several chair legs; ripped the carpet in several places, and ate big chunks out of the vinyl floor in the kitchen. I guess he operated on the “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” philosophy. We tolerated it, and over a period of time we replaced everything. So in a way I guess we owe some thanks to Luke for new hardwood floors, a new kitchen table and chairs, refinished walls in the kitchen, and so on.

It was one of those times when Luke began the first of many trips to a place he had a love/hate relationship with: LakeCross Veterinary Hospital. He met Dr. Donna on his first check-up, demonstrating that dogs can also have the white coat syndrome (and the staff doesn’t even wear white!). After one of his interior decorator attacks, AKA eating carpet, we decided to rip up all the carpet and put in laminate floors in most of the house. Shortly after we finished the project. Luke began acting strangely. He would act like he was in pain but we couldn’t pinpoint anything. At the vet, after a round of tests and examinations, Dr. Donna told us there was nothing physically wrong with Luke, but something was definitely causing his strange behavior. She asked us if we had made any changes in our home routine, and we mentioned the new floor. In her opinion, absent anything else, that was it: Luke was having a nervous reaction to the new floors. Personally I thought he was just missing the extra chew toys, but anyway he soon reverted back to normal.

Back to that responsibility thing – it didn’t last long (like I didn’t know it wouldn’t).  And so I ended up with a new team member in my job (I worked out of a home office by then). As co-workers go, he was great most of the time. He rarely invaded my space (except for those seasons when the early morning sun tracked across my floor; he would follow it until it was no longer possible to soak up the sun). He was content to listen to an occasional rant about work without so much as a bark.  As a sounding board, he always gave a paws up to my project ideas. I never had to worry about what to get him for parties – as long as it was bread, he was happy. I never had to worry about him taking over my job – it would have interfered with his sleep.

Somewhere along the way I had these visions of Luke being like the vet’s dog in “All Things Bright and Beautiful” – where the dog accompanied the vet on drives around town, etc. Early one Saturday morning, Luke accompanied me to the local farmer’s market to buy some veggies. After a fairly quiet time at the market, we left to go back home. Luke was sitting in the front seat of our van – until he dove out the window. Luckily, he had his chain on and we were not going too fast. I grabbed he chain just before it went out the window and hurriedly pulled over to the side of the road. With visions of the dog in National Lampoon’s “Vacation” movie in mind, I found a bloody Luke hanging by his collar. He had bounced off the front tire, tearing his right dew claw out and bleeding, but not in a lot of pain. When I came in the house cradling him with blood all over the place, everybody freaked. Off to the vet we went where he was bandaged up and given his own personal “collar of shame” to keep him from bothering the wound. So much for car trips…

Over the years, there would be many more trips to LakeCross. From Dr. Donna to Dr. Kay to Dr. Tom, all the vets and technicians and staff loved to have Luke Skybarker visit. He genuinely seemed to brighten their day, but I still haven’t figured out why. They loved him and fussed over him and gave him treats at every stop of the visit. About a year ago, Dr. Gretchen became our regular vet as much as possible. We began fighting a skin infection that soon became an indicator of Cushing’s Disease. All along the way, Dr. Gretchen tried so much to make Luke comfortable. We actually began to turn the corner with the Cushing’s but unfortunately it was something beyond our control that took Luke. Over the last week, he began having seizures that would cause him to fall over where he was. The X-rays yesterday confirmed the worst: a large mass around his heart and lungs, causing fluid buildup and other issues. Luke came home with us to see if he would last the weekend, but it was a very restless night (because of all our Thanksgiving company, Anita & I were sleeping in the great room sofa bed, and Luke was right at our feet by the fireplace). Several times I thought he slipped away, but it was evident his breathing was becoming more labored and painful. After taking Jason, Jaime and Lucy to the airport, we returned to get Aaron and Amy and headed to LakeCross one last time. As always, the staff could not have been kinder, and Dr. Kay eased Luke from a painful existence to peaceful rest.

We are now in a house that is much too quiet – no toenails clicking along those hardwood floors, no built-in vacuum to get up food spills, no dog alarm when the front doorbell rings, no cold nose on your hands or feet.

We miss Luke, but we will always have the stories…

We discovered early on that you should not come between Luke and his Oreo’s. While fixing lunches for the kids one day, Anita dropped a bag with some Oreos in it. Quicker that I had ever seen him move, Luke grabbed the bag before Anita could pick it up. When she tried to get it from him he snapped at her. From that point on, we were careful about dropping things, but when we did, we let Luke have them (unless it would hurt him, at which point it became a wrestling match with teeth and snarls).

Luke loved his food and would fight for it, but when it came to defending his territory, he was all bark (and howl) and no bite. We always said Luke was one of the pets burglars feared most because they would trip over him in the dark and wake us up. It seems that he saved his most ferocious barks for other dogs who dared walk down “his” sidewalk. He would let them know – loud and long – but never take it past the bark. While he hated other dogs, he loved cats. Most of the neighborhood cats soon realized he was no threat to them and learned to taunt and tease him on walks. Luke was never the wiser.

As other animals go, Luke was a squirrel watcher. Our large kitchen window has a ledge that was just the right height for Luke to rest his chin and watch the squirrels run and play outside. He never barked at them – even when one jumped off the tree by the window and clung to the window screen before scampering away.  They seemed to know it to, because when we would walk out in the back yard, they would run and scamper, but never seemed to fear him. It’s like they knew…

Maybe they know now, too. Luke’s final resting place is in the thick of the trees in our back yard. Overhead, the squirrels run and play.

I think he would have liked that.

8 Reasons Great Leaders Understand the Value of Questions

The most important thing business leaders must do today is to be the ‘chief question-asker’ for their organization. – Dev Patnaik

Patnaik is quick to add, “The first thing most leaders need to realize is, they’re really bad at asking questions.”

A questioning culture is critical because it can help ensure that creativity and fresh, adaptive thinking flows throughout the organization.

By asking questions, we can analyze, learn, and move forward in the face of uncertainty. However, the questions must be the right ones; the ones that cut to the heart of complexity or enable us to see an old problem in a fresh way.

Nothing has such power to cause a complete mental turnaround as that of a question. Questions spark curiosity, curiosity creates ideas, and ideas lead to making things better.

Questions are powerful means to employ – read “unleash” – creative potential – potential that would otherwise go untapped and undiscovered.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – – Good Leaders Ask Great Questions by John Maxwell

John Maxwell, America’s #1 leadership authority, has mastered the art of asking questions, using them to learn and grow, connect with people, challenge himself, improve his team, and develop better ideas. Questions have literally changed Maxwell’s life. 

In Good Leaders Ask Great Questions, he shows how they can change yours, teaching why questions are so important, what questions you should ask yourself as a leader, and what questions you should be asking your team.

Maxwell also opened the floodgates and invited people from around the world to ask him any leadership question. He answers seventy of them – the best of the best.

No matter whether you are a seasoned leader at the top of your game or a newcomer wanting to take the first steps into leadership, this book will change the way you look at questions and improve your leadership life.

A SIMPLE SOLUTIONGood Leaders Ask Great Questions by John Maxwell

Good questioners tend to be aware of, and quite comfortable with, their own ignorance.

The impulse is to keep plowing ahead, doing what we’ve done, and rarely stepping back to question whether we’re on the right path. On the big questions of finding meaning, fulfillment, and happiness, we’re deluged with answers—in the form of off-the-shelf advice, tips, strategies from experts and gurus. It shouldn’t be any wonder if those generic solutions don’t quite fit: To get to our answers, we must formulate and work through the questions ourselves. Yet who has the time or patience for it?

If you want to be successful and reach your leadership potential, you need to embrace asking questions as a lifestyle.

John Maxwell

You Only Get Answers to the Questions You Ask

There is a gigantic difference between the person who has no questions to help him/her process situations and the person who has profound questions available.

Questions Unlock and Open Doors That Otherwise Remain Closed

Successful leaders relentlessly ask questions and have an incurable desire to pick the brains of the people they meet.

Questions Are the Most Effective Means of Connecting With People

Before we communicate we must establish commonality, and the most effective way to connect with others is by asking questions.

Questions Cultivate Humility

If you are unwilling to be wrong, you will be unable to discover what is right.

Questions Help You to Engage Others in Conversation

Asking questions helps people know that you value them, and that, if possible, you want to add value to them.

Questions Allow Us to Build Better Ideas

Any idea gets better when the right people get a chance to add to it and improve it. Good ideas can become great ones when people work together to improve them.

Questions Give Us a Different Perspective

By asking questions and listening carefully to answers, we can discover valuable perspectives other than our own.

Questions Change Mindsets and Get You Out of Ruts

If you want to make discoveries, if you want to disrupt the status quo, if you want to make progress and find new ways of thinking and doing, ask questions.

Remember: good questions inform; great questions transform.

John Maxwell, Good Leaders Ask Great Questions

A NEXT STEP

On the top of four chart tablets, write the four phrases listed below:

  • Questions Help You to Engage Others in Conversation
  • Questions Allow Us to Build Better Ideas
  • Questions Give Us a Different Perspective
  • Questions Change Mindsets and Get You Out of Ruts

Review the explantation given for each in the excerpt above, and then spend 15 minutes with each question, listing as many questions under each category as you can.

At the end of the hour brainstorming session, review your lists, and circle the top three in each category.

Intentionally weave these questions in your conversations and discussions over the next two weeks, consciously noting how asking the questions changed the direction of the conversation (both positively and negatively).

At the end of this two-week period, evaluate how you can make questions a regular part of your leadership habits.

How Have You Been Celebrating National Library Week?

Happy National Library Week! This week, April 4th through 10th, has been National Library Week.

Here’s my library:

That’s the North County Regional branch of the Charlotte Mecklenburg library.

It’s also my weekly destination for dropping off and picking up books I’ve placed on hold throughout the week.

Visiting the local library is a long-standing tradition with me. As a small boy, I remember with fondness the bi-monthly visits to the branch library in the next county. We were limited to checking out 20 books at a time, and it was a rare week when I didn’t meet that quota.

As soon as the car pulled in the driveway, I would race into our house and begin reading through my treasure trove of books.

In my early years, I would often have them all read in a matter of days. As I got older and the books got longer, it might take the whole two-week period to read them.

Then there’s school libraries, from middle school to high school to college to graduate school. More treasures of a deeper and longer-lasting sort.

When our children came along, I introduced them to the joy of reading and the local library. In each city we’ve lived in, one of the very first visits we made after moving was to stop by the library and pick up a library card. Since our four children were born four years apart, that’s a long time of library visits!

I’m proud to say that as they have grown up, and with children of their own, reading and visiting the library is still important in their lives. And of course, any grandchild visiting Nina and GrandBob is going to have a selection of the latest age-appropriate books from our library waiting!

Whether you visit in person or virtually, the library can help you access the resources and services you need. Libraries have been adapting to our changing world by expanding their resources and services. Through access to technology, multimedia content, and educational programs, libraries offer opportunities for everyone to explore new worlds and become their best selves.

You may or may not be in the habit of reading, and of utilizing your local library for research, pleasure reading, or other uses.

If you are, I know you are grateful for everything you find there.

If you are not, you are missing out on a vast, free resource. Don’t let another day go by until you “check it out.”

How to Recognize – and Avoid – Problem Blindness as a Leader

What’s at stake if teams do a poor job of solving problems? From a long list of potential answers, four stand out:

  • Lost time: Poor team problem solving simply burns more time. It may be more time in a meeting itself, because there were no collaboration guidelines. Perhaps it’s lost time outside of the meeting in hallway conversations, because ideas weren’t fully explored or vetted.
  • Dissipated energy: Poor team problem solving leaves questions unanswered and half-baked solutions in the atmosphere. We don’t know exactly where we stand or what we’ve decided. The thought of revisiting an unfinished conversation itself is an unwelcome burden.
  • Mediocre ideas: Poor team problem solving fortifies our weakest thinking. Innovation is something we read about but never experience. We cut-and-paste the ideas of others, because we don’t know how to generate our own. We traffic in good ideas and miss great ones.
  • Competing visions: Poor team problem solving invites an unhealthy drift toward independence. No one has the conscious thought that they have a competing vision. But in reality, there are differences to each person’s picture of their future. It’s impossible for this divergence not to happen if there is no dialogue.

So, how do you start to create the dynamic of collaborative problem solving?

SOLUTION #1: Avoid problem blindness

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen by Dan Heath

So often in life, we get stuck in a cycle of response. We put out fires. We deal with emergencies. We stay downstream, handling one problem after another, but we never make our way upstream to fix the systems that caused the problems. Cops chase robbers, doctors treat patients with chronic illnesses, and call-center reps address customer complaints. But many crimes, chronic illnesses, and customer complaints are preventable. So why do our efforts skew so heavily toward reaction rather than prevention?

Upstream probes the psychological forces that push us downstream—including “problem blindness,” which can leave us oblivious to serious problems in our midst. And Heath introduces us to the thinkers who have overcome these obstacles and scored massive victories by switching to an upstream mindset. One online travel website prevented twenty million customer service calls every year by making some simple tweaks to its booking system. A major urban school district cut its dropout rate in half after it figured out that it could predict which students would drop out—as early as the ninth grade. A European nation almost eliminated teenage alcohol and drug abuse by deliberately changing the nation’s culture. And one EMS system accelerated the emergency-response time of its ambulances by using data to predict where 911 calls would emerge—and forward-deploying its ambulances to stand by in those areas.

Upstream delivers practical solutions for preventing problems rather than reacting to them. How many problems in our lives and in society are we tolerating simply because we’ve forgotten that we can fix them?

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

Author Dan Heath believes that with some foresight, we can prevent problems before they happen, and even when we can’t stop them entirely, we can often blunt their impact.

Of course, there are barriers to this line of thinking, and the first of those barriers is profoundly simple: you can’t solve a problem you don’t see, or one that you perceive to be a regrettable but inevitable condition of life.

Problem blindness is the first barrier to upstream thinking. When we don’t see a problem, we can’t solve it. And that blindness can create passivity even in the face of enormous harm. To move upstream, we must first overcome problem blindness.

Problem blindness, also know as inattentional blindness, is a phenomenon in which our careful attention to one task leads us to miss important information that’s unrelated to that task.

Inattentional blindness leads to a lack of peripheral vision. When it’s coupled with time pressure, it can create a lack of curiosity. I’ve got to stay focused on what I’m doing. 

The escape from problem blindness begins with the shock of awareness that you’ve come to treat the abnormal as normal.

Next comes a search for community: Do other people feel this way? And with that recognition – that this phenomenon is a problem and we see it the same way – comes strength.

Something remarkable often happens next: People voluntarily hold themselves responsible for fixing problems they did not create. The upstream advocate concludes: I was not the one who created this problem. But I will be the one to fix it.

Dan Heath, Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen

A NEXT STEP

How can you, personally, move upstream? Consider your own problem blindness, Which problems have you come to accept as inevitable that are, in fact, nothing of the kind?

A hallmark of work by both author Dan Heath as well as his brother Chip is the excellent resources they provide. One of those is a book club guide.

Here are a few questions drawn from that guide, relating to the topic of problem blindness. Set aside some time to both reflect and act on them,

  1. Problem blindness is the belief that negative outcomes are natural or inevitable. Do you think your organization suffers from problem blindness? If so, in what areas?
  2. “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets” is a quote often used in leadership circles. Does this idea resonate with you? What examples do you see in your organization?
  3. When people reflect on our society 50 years from now, what areas do you think they will be shocked by, areas that we are suffering from problem blindness?

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 142-1, released April 2020

You can purchase prior issues of SUMS Remix – learn more here!

Just in case you were wondering…

From time to time I get asked about the name of this blog. 

The quick answer? When I started this website in 2008, there were four generations of Adams boys alive, with an average of 27 years between them. 

Thus, 27gen – energized by the steady, deliberate journey in generational learning.

Our “history” spanned the first transatlantic telephone call (from NYC to London) the year my father was born to smartphones now that connect the world in an instant.

In other words, there is a lot of history in play: things that have happened, things that are happening, and things that will happen.

And it is all connected.

Here’s a better explanation:

This is my son Jonathan, at two years of age, obviously having a good time at my parent’s house.

He turned 40 this week.

This is my grandson Jack (Jonathan’s son) at two years of age, obviously having a good time playing at his house.

He turned 13 last week.

Some things never change…

Some things are always changing…

I want to make sure I understand the difference.

Successful Leaders Learn How to Ditch the Multitasking Myth

Every leader realizes that the world around them has changed – and is changing at an ever-increasing pace. The demands on a leader’s time and energy are on an upward trend, and show no signs of leveling off.

What’s worse, it may even seem that the skills and perspectives that were effective for past success may now have become a liability for future productivity. With so much going on, it’s almost  impossible to stay focused.

It’s time for new strategies and tactics to cope with the shifting ground of missed opportunities and unexpected threats in today’s ever-changing environment. 

 Somewhere along the way, we got distracted. As much as we multitask, love our devices and feel like we’re in control, deep down we know that something is off. Shortened attention spans, declines in critical thinking, lack of sleep, self-doubt and decreased creativity are just some of the effects coming to light in an age of digital distraction.

It’s time to reclaim our lives. It’s time to take control.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Life Scale: How to Live a More Creative, Productive, and Happy Life by Brian Solis

Lifescale is a journey of self-discovery and growth. It’s about getting back into balance and remastering our destinies. Author Brian Solis knows first-hand. He struggled with distraction and all of its ill effects. To get his life back, he developed a set of techniques, exercises, and thought experiments designed to tame the chaos, and positively and productively navigate our day-to-day lives. Instead of falling victim to the never-ending cycle of newsfeeds, Likes, addictive apps, and boredom scrolling (aka the endless scroll), we can learn to manage our time and inspire our own lives in a way that will bring meaning back―without sacrificing the benefits that our devices bring us.

In Lifescale, Brian has done the legwork to pull together scientific findings and practical tools into one book. Readers―especially those who are distracted―will connect with the humor, pathos, and inspiration inside. 

With the renewed perspective Lifescale offers, we can finally learn to prioritize what matters, and live our digital and physical lives with intention and true happiness.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

Have you ever come to a realization that you couldn’t focus the way you used to? It may have been exhibited when you couldn’t complete that project in the time you used to. It may have been reflected in the icy stares of spouse and family as you look over your phone at them during dinner. It may have been the thirty minutes lost as you scrolled through your social media platforms with no purpose.

The worst part may be the illusion of getting things done, checking off to-do lists, producing, meeting deadlines (albeit with much more effort required).

When did we get so busy?

Every day we struggle to balance every personal and professional responsibility, resorting to dividing our attention constantly among multiple demands.

That’s called “multitasking,” and it’s a myth.

Doing so many tasks at once leaves us with insufficient attentional energy to do any of them really well.

With all this multitasking, are we actually learning how to work more efficiently? Science says no.

The corrosive effects of multitasking include:

Wastes time, attention, and energy – While you may manage to produce some output, productivity, engagement, and value are usually compromised.

Attacks output quality – Reports show that working on two or more projects simultaneously takes longer than if you worked on each one individually.

Makes you mistake prone – From typos to unexplained lapses in logic, random errors appear in everything you produce, because you’re overwhelming the frontal cortex and not giving yourself enough depth and space for critical thinking

Hinders intellectual and affective processes – By compromising our intellectual and affective processes, we impair our internalized knowledge, our comprehension and ability to grasp complexity, and critical analysis.

Causes stress – When you are switching between tasks, you place yourself in a mode of high alert, or on the edge – and your true creativity is not kindled.

Makes you miss out on life – If you’re multitasking, the inattentional blindness that results prevents your brain from processing experiences that inspire thinking and creativity.

Affects your memory – Switching between talks disrupts short-term memory, causing you to miss or forget details in the moment.

Leads to increased distractibility – Researchers have found that multitaskers exhibit increased behavioral distractibility.

Hurts your relationships – At the most basic level, whether you’re with loved ones, friends, colleagues, and so on, if you break moments of engagement to mindlessly multitask, your actions, maybe not your words, say, “I’m only partially in this moment right now with you.”

Saps your energy – Cognitive costs are just one of the many assets you’ll spend by multitasking – there are also biological and emotional costs. You’re expending exorbitant energy, exhausting the oxygenated glucose in our brain.

Brian Solis, Life Scale: How to Live a More Creative, Productive, and Happy Life

A NEXT STEP 

Think you can multitask?  Try this exercise from Fast Company magazine:

Time yourself doing the following two actions:

1) Spell aloud, letter by letter, “Jewelry is shiny” at the same time as you write your full name.

2) Spell aloud, letter-by-letter, “Jewelry is shiny” and then, after you are done with that, write your name.

It will probably take you at least twice as long to do number one as number two. However, if you practice spelling “Jewelry is shiny” aloud for a couple minutes, it’ll become automatic. You’ll no longer have to think to do it, and you’ll be able to complete the two tasks at the same time without incurring the switching cost.

This simple exercise demonstrates the practical difficulty of attempting to multitask.

For another measurement of both the futility and costs of multitasking, review the ten corrosive effects of multitasking above.

For each, recall an example of a time when you attempted to multitask. How did you feel? As an honest assessment, did you really think you were accomplishing more by multitasking?

What do you need to change in order to avoid multitasking? Make a stop doing list and review it regularly with someone you trust.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 139-2, released February 2020.


Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>> Learn about and purchase SUMS Remix here<<

>> Learn about and purchase prior issues of SUMS Remix here <<

Recognizing the Paradoxes Facing the Second Chair Leader

Editor’s Note: While we will use “Executive Pastor,” “XP,” “second-in-command,” or “second chair” language throughout this issue of SUMS Remix, the content – and intent – is to help any leader who reports to a senior team member.

It has been said that an institution is the lengthening shadow of a visionary leader. What rarely is said is that in the shadow of that visionary leader was another leader who executed the primary leader’s ideas, monitored the budgets, built the infrastructure and systems, and along the way, cleaned up a few of the messes. Such is the life of a leader who is “second-in-command.”

Bruce Hornsby

The second-in-command leader – many times with the title of Executive Pastor or XP – is the person who picks up where the lead pastor leaves off. By nature of the role even if not reflected in the title, this person has to be a pastor as well – someone who will see ahead three moves to the pastoral needs that will be created by the unveiling of the church’s vision as led by the senior pastor. This is the role of the leader who comes alongside of a visionary senior pastor and says, “I’m with you – I’m ready to go to battle for what God has called you to do in and through this church.” (Phil Taylor)

Unlike almost any other job in the church, the definition of a second-in-command leader or Executive Pastor often inherently lacks definition. It is consistently changing.

This is the hallmark of a good XP: the ability to jump into just about any role and do it moderately well. Is there someone better for the job? Probably, and that’s why you will ultimately hand it off to someone else. But sometimes the best person for the job is the person who has both the time and the drive to call something new into existence couples with a deep understanding and commitment to the Lead Pastor’s vision. You may be the only person in your church that fits that definition. Executive Pastors are like utility players. The best right hand men or women are actually ambidextrous.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Leading from the Second Chair by Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson

Leading from the Second Chair will raise awareness of the need for strong leaders in secondary positions. It will describe the value they can bring to their organization and to primary leaders when they are serving at their full potential. It will reshape the way they view their role, with an emphasis on their own responsibility as leaders. It recognizes the unique challenges and frustrations of serving in a subordinate position and equips these leaders with the attitudes and skills that they will need to survive and thrive in this new paradigm.

Because of the scarcity of resources for second chair leaders, particularly those in the church, this book will offer a practical way to improve the performance of any organization.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

According to authors Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson, “not only is it lonely at the top, it can be even lonelier when you’re almost at the top.”

Of course, they are referring to “second chair leaders.” Church leaders who hold second chair (or third or fourth) positions are under tremendous pressure. They are expected to do their jobs and provide leadership but defer to the top leader, too.

How can you lead effectively while serving under someone else’s leadership?

The answer can be found by looking to the engineering principle of tension. Whether a small manufactured component like a spring or the huge arches of a suspension bridge, the tension of being able to handle opposite pulling forces makes a successful machine work or a bridge span great distances.

For a second chair leader, these tensions develop because the expectations may appear to be incompatible or even contradictory. 

The second chair requires a special leadership lens that brings clarity to the challenges of three paradoxes. The lens must be trifocal, allowing you to focus on how you manage your relationships (subordinate-leader paradox), your work habits (deep-wide paradox), and your emotions (contentment-dreaming paradox). 

Subordinate-Leader Paradox – Effective second chair leaders do not have a zero-sum view of organizational responsibility. They know that two heads are better than one, and that the first chair is not an adversary. They are able to lead with being at the top of the pyramid. Most importantly, they understand that their authority and effectiveness as a second chair stem from a healthy, subordinate relationship with their first chair.

Deep-Wide Paradox – Second chair leaders have specific roles that are narrower and deeper in scope than those of the first chair, yet they need to have a broad, organization-wide perspective. Some who struggle with this paradox resent the restrictions of their role as being too narrow, or they see the more detailed dirty work as being beneath them. At the other extreme, some excel at their specific tasks but fail to see the big picture. If an issue arises, they always see if from the viewpoint of how it affects their ministry. Narrow leaders may have trouble negotiating the informal relational networks that are leveraged by second chairs who seek to have a broader impact on the organization. Effective second chair leaders develop the skills to be both deep and wide.

Contentment-Dreaming Paradox – Being the second chair does not mean giving up on individual or corporate dreams. But a dream cannot be allowed to become shortsighted ambition, nor can it be positioned in competition with the plans of the first chair. Second chair leaders intentionally seek to shape the organization’s directions and mesh their individual dreams with the broader vision. They understand that an apparent detour from their dream may be short-term and even a catalyst to fulfilling their God-given potential. Successful second chair leaders are able to maintain contentment with the present without losing their sense of God-given calling for their future.

Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson, Leading from the Second Chair

A NEXT STEP

Bonem and Patterson note that the three paradoxes listed above represent daily tensions for a second chair leader; not tensions leaders would choose but the reality of the position and the temperament of the leaders involved.

To better understand these paradoxes, schedule some reflection time with the “first-chair” leader you report to. As preparation, share this issue of SUMS Remix with them, asking them to read it ahead of your time together.

Write each one of the paradoxes at the top of a chart tablet, and spend at least thirty minutes discussing it. Use the following questions as jump-starters for your discussion:

  1. What do you love to do?
  2. What kind of projects do you look forward to digging into?
  3. Do you look forward to a day of non-stop appointments or do you simply endure it?
  4. Do you tend to hand new things off to other people fairly quickly once you are done building them or do you hold on for a long time?
  5. When you think of your ideal workday or workweek, what does it look like?
  6. Do you find yourself saying on a regular basis, “Man, this church would run so more smoothly if it weren’t for all these people?”

Close your discussion time by considering this comment by Eric Geiger:

There is tension embedded in the “executive pastor” title. Sometimes what an “executive” would do in a situation and what a “pastor” must do contradict each other. In those moments, “pastor” must trump “executive.”


Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 141-1, released February 2020.


Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>> Learn about and purchase SUMS Remix here<<

>> Learn about and purchase prior issues of SUMS Remix here <<

History is a Bridge to the Future, Not an Anchor to the Past

Usually the word “history” elicits one of two responses: a glassy-eyed stare and memories of those required classes in school that were mind-numbing, or an excited look followed by the phrase “Did you know that…”

I, proudly, am guilty of the latter.

Not content to read and study “normal” history (both my undergraduate and graduate minors are in history), I default to the obscure and strange. Who else would read books on the history of salt – or the history of dust – or the history of cod. Yes, cod. The little fish, that when salted, kept it edible for long sea voyages, allowing the “discovery” of the Americas by Europeans, among other uses (that’s a two-for-one use of history, in case you didn’t notice).

Leaders need to understand history, too.

Not just the history of books, though that’s a great start. Leaders in the local church need to know the history of the people and place they are serving.

Only by understanding the past can you ever hope to lead to the future.

In a conversation this week with a church leader in preparation for an upcoming consultation, we talked about “vision equity.” It’s the stories and actions over the years that have led that church to the place it is today. It’s the solid foundation that tomorrow is built on. To be ignorant of it or to ignore it is an invitation to mediocrity at best, or disaster at worst.

History is a rock. Not an anchor to the past, but a bridge to the future.

Are you a student of the history of the people and place you serve? If not, there’s still time.

Class starts today.

Successful Leaders Create Remarkable Results from Tiny Changes

Every leader realizes that the world around them has changed – and is changing at an ever-increasing pace. The demands on a leader’s time and energy are on an upward trend, and show no signs of leveling off.

What’s worse, it may even seem that the skills and perspectives that were effective for past success may now have become a liability for future productivity. With so much going on, it’s almost  impossible to stay focused.

It’s time for new strategies and tactics to cope with the shifting ground of missed opportunities and unexpected threats in today’s ever-changing environment. 

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Atomic Habits, by James Clear

No matter your goals, Atomic Habits offers a proven framework for improving–every day. James Clear, one of the world’s leading experts on habit formation, reveals practical strategies that will teach you exactly how to form good habits, break bad ones, and master the tiny behaviors that lead to remarkable results.

If you’re having trouble changing your habits, the problem isn’t you. The problem is your system. Bad habits repeat themselves again and again not because you don’t want to change, but because you have the wrong system for change. You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems. Here, you’ll get a proven system that can take you to new heights.

Clear is known for his ability to distill complex topics into simple behaviors that can be easily applied to daily life and work. Here, he draws on the most proven ideas from biology, psychology, and neuroscience to create an easy-to-understand guide for making good habits inevitable and bad habits impossible. Along the way, readers will be inspired and entertained with true stories from Olympic gold medalists, award-winning artists, business leaders, life-saving physicians, and star comedians who have used the science of small habits to master their craft and vault to the top of their field.

Atomic Habits will reshape the way you think about progress and success, and give you the tools and strategies you need to transform your habits–whether you are a team looking to win a championship, an organization hoping to redefine an industry, or simply an individual who wishes to quit smoking, lose weight, reduce stress, or achieve any other goal.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION 

According to author James Clear, it is easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small improvements on a daily basis. Too often, we convince ourselves that massive success requires massive action.

On the other side of that thought are tiny improvements done consistently over time – habits.

Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. In the same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them. They seem to make little difference on any given day and yet the impact they deliver over the months and years can be enormous.

While Clear believes there is no one right way to create better habits, he suggests his four-step approach – based on personal experiences and research – can be effective regardless of where you are or what you’re trying to change.

The process of building a habit can be divided into four simple steps: cue, craving, response, and reward. Breaking it down into these fundamental parts can help us understand what a habit is, how it works, and how to improve it.

This four-step pattern is the backbone of every habit, and your brain runs through these steps in the same order each time.

First, there is the cue. The cue triggers your brain to initiate a behavior. It is a bit of information that produces a reward. Your mind is continuously analyzing your internal an external environment for hints of where rewards are located. Because the cue is the first indication that we’re close to a reward, it naturally leads to a craving.

Cravings are the second step, and they are the motivational force behind every habit. Without some level of motivation or desire – without craving a change – we have no reason to act. What you crave is not the habit itself but the change in state it delivers. Every craving is linked to a desire to change your internal state.

The third step is the response. The response is the actual habit you perform, which can take the form of a thought or an action. Whether a response occurs depends on how motivate you are and how much friction is associated with the behavior. If a particular action requires more physical or mental effort than you are willing to expend, then you won’t do it.

Finally, the response delivers a reward. Rewards are the end goal of every habit. The cue is about noticing the reward. The carving is about wanting the reward. The response is about obtaining the reward. We chase rewards because they serve two purposes: 1) they satisfy us and 2) they teach us.

If a behavior is insufficient in any of the for stages, it will not become a habit. Eliminate the cue and your habit will never start. Reduce the craving and you won’t experience enough motivation to act. Make the behavior difficult and you won’t be able to do it. And if the reward fails to satisfy your desire, then you’ll have no reason to do it again in the future.

James Clear, Atomic Habits

A NEXT STEP

In Atomic Habits, author James Clear introduced a four-step model for human behavior (above). Set aside some time this Sunday night for personal reflection, after the business of the day is gone and everyone else is asleep. Use the following insights and lessons as a guideline for developing a plan to work on removing an old habit or installing a new habit this week.

Awareness comes before desire. A craving can only occur after you have noticed an opportunity.

Happiness is simply the absence of desire. When you observe a cue, but do not desire to change your state, you are content with the current situation.

It is the idea of pleasure that we chase. The feeling of satisfaction only comes after we act; before, we are only seeking the image of pleasure generated in our minds.

With a big enough why you can overcome any how. If your motivation and desire are great enough (why you are acting), you’ll take action even when it is quite difficult.

Your actions reveal how badly you want something. If you keep saying something is a priority but you never act on it, then you don’t really want it.

Which insight is most relevant to you this week? Write down what you will do about it and place it in a repeatedly visible place like your computer monitor, bathroom mirror or automobile dashboard. 
Repeat this exercise every week and after 90 days celebrate all that God has done!

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 139, released February 2020.


Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>> Learn about and purchase SUMS Remix here<<

>> Learn about and purchase prior issues of SUMS Remix here <<