What do you do if you cannot think of the answer?

I was out walking my dog on our usual loop early the other day. It is now dark in the morning so rather than do our normal anti-clockwise route we went clockwise to avoid the unlit part of the path early in the walk. Coming back on the unlit part once it had got light I was struck by how different the route seemed despite the number of times we had walked it in the other direction. It really struck me that there was a metaphor here for life and work.

Two situatioms come to mind which perhaps could be improved. Firstly, getting stuck trying to solve a problem. Secondly, always making the same decision for the same reasons even if the environment in which is is made is changing.

Firstly, if you get stuck analysing a problem, try changing your perspective. What that may be will depend on the problem. The CEO of a client of mine, if his Board of directors got stuck, used to get them all to stand on the boardroom table. Crazy I know (a bit “Captain, my Captain”, for lovers of “Dead Poets Society”) but it did sometimes work. Changing their viewpoint was enough to unblock the issue.

If more is required, try examining your assumptions. Are they the correct ones? What would changing them mean? Try different ones just to see the result. If you cannot think of any is there someone new you can bring into the discussion to give a new perspective or new assumptions?

Sometimes the way we are looking at the problem is the problem. That may be a tired phrase but I have so often found this to be true. I often ask myself why I made a particular decision. I like to examine my decision process to understand what I can do better in the future. Screening out hindsight is obviously essential but we can often learn things through such examination.

In a changing world making the same decision as before could be as deadly as getting stuck. The same disciplines set out above can be used. Make sure your assumptions and decision making are still fit for purpose. You will be resistant to this approach. I hear phrases such as “Tried and Tested” time and again. Make sure that is still the case.

One of the key things I have learnt over the years is to be conscious of the decision I am making and the assumptions I am relying on. “Garbage in, garbage out” is a commonplace data management phrase. The same is true of good decision making. Big decisions deserve your time and attention. Look at your assumptions, review your decision making processes, get a different perspective. Test the outcome – you and your firm deserve that.