People Solve Problems
Have you ever wondered what you need to do to empower your people to use their creativity and unique perspective to tackle issues and implement sustainable solutions?
If you have, this is the episode you’ve been waiting for.
Jamie Flinchbaugh, Founder of JFlinch and Co-Founder of the Lean Learning Center and author of the book People Solve Problems, joins the show to explain what organizations need to have in place to make that vision a reality.
Clearly defining the problem that needs to be solved
Shaping and measuring a culture of problem-solving
The value of coaching
Check out the full episode below:
[00:00:00] Jamie Flinchbaugh: Problems that organizations are facing, are in many ways new, or they’re experiencing in the new waves, or there’s lots of them. It just means you need more problem-solvers.
[00:00:15] Josh Santo: Welcome to Conquering Chaos, the show for manufacturing leaders. In each episode, we’re connecting you to the manufacturing leaders of today who are driving the innovations needed to future-proof the operations of tomorrow. If you feel like your time is spent fighting fires and trying to control the everyday chaos, this show is the show for you. My name is Josh Santo, I’ll be your host.
Hey, y’all it’s Josh. Before we get into this episode, I wanted to put this into your ear. If you like the types of conversations we’re having, you’ll enjoy the content that we share through our mailing list. Go to parsable.com/podcast, scroll to the bottom of the page, and sign up to get more insightful content delivered directly to your inbox. Okay, onto the show.
Hello, everyone. I’m extremely excited to get into today’s episode because it marks a first for Conquering Chaos. Today we’re not only speaking with a leader from the industry, but an accomplished author whose new book People Solve Problems: The Power of Every Person, Every Day, Every Problem is the focal point of today’s episode. That’s right, we are taking a deep dive with the author on some incredibly compelling topics that he outlines in the book.
Who is this author? Well, let me give you a few hints. He’s got over 30 years of experience working for the likes of Chrysler, Corvo, and others, as well as helping build over 20 companies. This isn’t his first book, by the way, he has written the Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean: Lessons from the road, which details lessons learned from his career that will help you move beyond the tools and take lean to a self-sustaining and continuously improving level.
As the founder of JFlinch, he spends his time helping leaders across a wide spectrum of industries including healthcare, utilities, technology, consumer products, and professional services. He’s worked with the likes of Harley Davidson, Intel, Mars, Amazon, Crayola, Fidelity, Whirlpool, and more. Can I build this up anymore? Yes, but will I? No. Please welcome to the show, Jamie Flinchbaugh. Jamie, thanks so much for being here today.
[00:02:29] Jamie: Thanks, Josh. That is quite a buildup. I hope to fulfill the promise of your excitement.
[00:02:34] Josh: Well, I have no doubt you will. I had the opportunity to read through the book. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I have no doubt that we’re going to get into some great topics and lessons that our audience can take away and start to implement. Now, before we get into it, I like to start each episode with a common question. Jamie, what’s your day-to-day look like?
[00:02:55] Jamie: Well, for 20 years, it usually involved hopping a plane from Delta and checking into a Marriott and visiting clients. I traveled three to four weeks a month every month for nearly 20 years. Since the pandemic started, and really started before this, but I’ve pivoted to completely virtual work, almost completely virtual work. I spend my day on Zoom and Teams and other meetings working with leaders, one-on-one mostly. Do a few workshops and a few speeches, but most of my time is spent one-on-one with leaders.
Sometimes I’ll visit three continents and six states in a single day. All from the, I’ll say, comfort of my home office. I enjoy working with leaders in a collaborative way, helping them with the challenges they have in front of them. Helping generally very strong leaders be even more purposeful and effective
[00:04:02] Josh: It’s sound like a bit of a virtual hitchhiking nowadays, as opposed to being on the actual road.
[00:04:07] Jamie: I don’t have any of the lows, nor any of the highs that come with actual travel, but I still get to work with people, which is really what travel brought me to in the first place. I don’t know if it’s the best of both worlds, but it’s certainly working out pretty well.
[00:04:24] Josh: Now, you’re also a soccer coach or you not?
[00:04:27] Jamie: Recently retired soccer coach. I started coaching when I was 17. I’ve coached at a lot of different levels and really enjoyed it. I gain value out of helping others be better. That’s what I like to do and so soccer coaching was a great way to do that. I always saw myself as both a character-building coach, as well as a talent building coach and hopefully fulfill that promise as well along the years, but they did recently give it up and it became– it was a big job, 10 to 20 hours a week side hustle, if you will, and enjoy the many years I did with it but it was also quite cool.
[00:05:21] Josh: Well, your passion and skillset with coaching certainly comes through, in the book, there’s sections dedicated specifically to that and we’re going to talk about that later in the show, but getting into it, a lot of our discussion today is going to be centered around your latest book. People Solve Problems which is debuting October 26th. I had the pleasure of reading it, I really appreciate you sending over an advanced copy. It’s part of the fun and the excitement of being able to get insight into people’s work and start to put those things in motion.
I told you right before we started the show that I’ve already started to implementing some of these critical components that you call out, especially around the idea of defining the problem, really examining what collaboration is, and coaching. We’re going to talk about these topics as we get into it. At its core, People Solve Problems describes what must be in place within teams, departments, and organizations to empower the people who make up these groups to use their creativity and unique perspective to tackle issues and implement sustainable solutions.
One of the lessons that you make clear is the need for clearly defining the problem that needs to be solved. To do this, a clear problem statement must be written, and I’m curious to start the episode out. I’d like you to share with us the problem statement for which your book, People Solve Problems is the solution.
[00:06:45] Jamie: That’s a question I haven’t gotten yet, which is interesting in its own right. I witnessed in organizations, people throwing the same solution at the problem. The problem being that the problem-solving efforts, whether it’s formal or informal, are weak. We have redundancy, we repeat chronic problems, we have slowness, we have effectiveness, we have drama, just a general ineffectiveness of solving problems, which we do each and every day.
The reason for the book then is that the common solution that is always thrown at people is to do more problem-solving tool training, and I’ve been in organizations as an employee where there was probably five different types of problem-solving training available, all at the same time. That wasn’t inherently its own problem, but it was all meant to be different solutions for the same gap.
When you see an organization, we already have problem-solving training, we’re still struggling let’s do more of it, and fundamentally I– this flawed pattern in problem-solving itself, which is, we already try to solution, it’s not working just do more of that. We just think teaching people more tools will get us more progress on effectiveness. It’s really not, it’s really rarely is the tools that the gap that organizations are experiencing, so I tried to really look at what else could be the gaps in ineffectiveness and how do we overcome them? That’s what I made efforts to uncover, particularly, aluminate for organizations.
[00:08:37] Josh: You’re almost describing, observing the definition of insanity, right? Where you’re doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result and you’re seeing people throw the same thing. We know how to solve problems, let’s train on the way that we are solving problems and you’re calling out that like, “Well, clearly that isn’t solving a problem at this point.” You get into this idea almost, I think it’s Chapter Two, might’ve even have been Chapter One, you addressed pretty early on in the book that people solve problems, not tools. So, how does this focus on tools solving problems actually lead to failure? Can you speak more about that?
[00:09:17] Jamie: Yes I think there’s an over-reliance on the tool itself. Whatever the tool that is, right? I really tried to write this book as agnostic to whatever tools you prefer. I think I’ve grown to appreciate in writing the book, the power of the many different tools that people could use, but an over-reliance on tools suggests that if you just follow the steps the magic answer will pop out.
Of course, nobody says it that way, but in the end “A” you see people use the tools in a very sterile way. They just follow the steps, they fill out the templates they put stuff on the page and nothing really changes. Then real problem solving takes place off the page, so you also see this where there’s a lot of problems where people don’t want to use the tools, but even in those cases, where there is no tool in use the efforts, how you do the effort matters, to solve the problem but there isn’t very deliberate efforts behind it, because they’re not following the tool.
Whether you use a tool or not, there’s still a deliberate set of skills, and capabilities, and behaviors that matter, and we have both of those types of problems in every organization off the page and on the page, and so either ignore the tools or overly focus on them. Both are observable conditions which lead to essentially ineffective problem-solving.
[00:10:59] Josh: It sounds like a little bit of that is instances where you’re just going through the motions, right? This tool prescribes the way that you analyze and come to a solution in this way. Check this list off, but if you’re just going through the motions, are you missing the bigger picture of what these ideas and these milestones that you are to achieve, are you missing that point?
It sounds like that’s a little bit of what you’re introducing with that idea is, if you’re just focused on the tools and not on how the tool serves you in this process of getting to a solution, that’s where a bit of a problem comes in. I think it also begs the question a little bit, and I’d love to hear from you, if you don’t want to focus on the tools, do the tools matter?
[00:11:44] Jamie: I think they do. It doesn’t mean that every problem needs a tool to help solve it, but tools add value. They provide consistency in how teams work together, they make the ebb and flow of collaboration, a little less frictioned. People can communicate and collaborate easier. It also becomes a job, aid to help the individual know what’s next, and also could become a training, right?
You learn the rhythm, and in some ways you could say it’s like sheet music. A good musician, if you’re in an orchestra, they could close their eyes and play the music. Right, but that music, that sheet music is still there, even in a professional orchestra as an aid, make it a little easier, and of course, they are all the practices leading up to it to actually learn how to play that particular piece.
I think, in those cases, the tools matter. I certainly have my preferences about which tools I prefer, but again when we overly focus on them, I think they become a hindrance rather than an aid. That’s where the rub is for many organizations.
[00:13:04] Josh: I think that makes a lot of sense. One of the things that I’m hearing, or at least inferring, is this idea that, one, the tool should support the person, right? Not the person supporting the tool, and in the example that you provided, a musician who knows the music by heart doesn’t need to refer to the sheet music. That’s okay too because ultimately, they know what they need to do, how they need to do it, and how to respond and ultimately collaborate with the other individuals that are performing with them.
Whereas someone who may not have that same level of expertise, these tools then become a stop-gap, a way of trying to– stop-gap is the wrong word but the idea is how do you bridge that gap, so that you can get someone who’s not at that level of expertise able to perform and function as closely as possible, right? That idea of aid. I think that’s such a great powerful way of describing it. The tool is the aid, it’s not what you serve. Now, you just mentioned that you’ve got tools that you prefer. What are some of these common tools, that are actually needed, and I would love to hear from you if any of these tools aren’t often utilized?
[00:14:13] Jamie: Well, I think there’s lots of– there’s tools that help with structuring the overall problem-solving effort, whether that’s like 83 problem-solving, or 8 steps or [unintelligible 00:14:25], or some of these frameworks that people use. Those are tools that help with that broader framework and the series of steps that you have to go through, as long as you aren’t overly linear in thinking through it.
Then there’s also tools that help underneath with certain steps helping you either make a decision, or analyze and understand current reality. Whether that’s 5Ys which is nothing more than helping you get to the root cause. It’s not the front door, it’s not the back door but it’s a step in the process, or even things like using what’s called pew charts to help rank and analyze different solutions against criteria. There’s lots of tools you can use within the problem-solving process. I know we’ll probably talk about coaching since I write about it in the book and we already asked about soccer coaching, but even in coaching, one of my favorite questions is, what do you not know about this problem? What’s the best tool or method to go learn more?
Being thoughtful about how a tool can help me with this step or that step, and whether it’s analyzing the solution or understanding current reality or root cause, there’s tools that you can use along the way. Again, not being a victim to those to, “Oh, we have to use this tool,” and, “It doesn’t seem like it’s going to help, but I’m going to use it because that’s the step I’m on.” That’s where people really get into the problems and pencil with, or check the box on following, without being thoughtful about why they’re doing what they’re doing.
[00:16:11] Josh: Yes. That reminds me of an example. I just got a Blackstone grill, which I love by the way. I love making breakfast on it. I just love cooking on it, especially now that it’s fall weather. Anyway, the reason I bring this up is because in the instructions of assembling the Blackstone grill, one of the things that it called out was a wrench. I needed to use a wrench, and at no point did I actually need to use the wrench.
The reason I bring that up is because what you’re highlighting is we put a lot of focus on, you’ve got these tools available, these processes that you have to follow, this is the way that you troubleshoot that it may end up being the wrench that you don’t actually need to use in that moment. Now, I think you do a great job of calling that out pretty early on that these tools that you often consider tools may not actually be necessary or may be part of the reason people are missing the overall purpose of the existence of the tool is always important to connect to that why.
You even talk about Simon Sinek, Start With Why, which big fan as well. I love that idea. Where I’m going with this is you also call out tools that I don’t think are often recognized as tools within this process. You focus on the need for brainstorming, on bringing creativity, on using your intuition, on focusing on this idea of an ideal state. What are some of those other tools that get overlooked because they’re not this physical established manifestation and there’s something more specific to the individual?
[00:17:42] Jamie: Intuition is a really interesting one to talk about in that regard. How do you tap into your intuition? How do you tap into your full brainpower when problem-solving? You can’t go to step seven and go, “Okay, now use intuition.” I guess that’s not how it works. In a lot of team activities, when you have teams going on, trained facilitators will learn how to let the room breathe, so to speak. Let there be some open space for people to tap into something more and when to focus on, “Okay, let’s get through the next step and do the analytics,” but individually, or even just in small teams or pairings, again, it’s not a step.
You might have to tap into intuition at various different stages, especially when you’re stuck. Does that mean you go for a walk? Does that mean you, you take a breather and fake? We’re all familiar with the analogy of the idea that comes to you in the shower more on the drive to work. Well, that’s real. That is your brain, in the background, playing with a problem, letting it breathe, letting your brain tap into it, and make extra connections that the recipe won’t give you.
Developing, I’ll say, some intuition about intuition and that intuition is when to tap into it or when to allow it for myself. Like, I will take big, deep problems either for the people I coach or for my own. I’ll go for a long swim or a long hike. I’ll not listen to a podcast, like we’re recording now, instead just let that problem sit at the front of my brain and see what happens. No analytics, no steps, just let it sit there.
Intuition is a tool that we need to tap into to be effective at problem-solving, but you can’t just plug it into a step. It’s not just step three. It could be anywhere along the way. Creativity is another one where people love to love to get to a solution. It feels good. We often rush to a first solution, which is often the obvious solution. Creativity and research has proven this out is you have to go through the obvious and sometimes even through the impossible ideas to get to the creative ideas, and there’s no shortcuts. You can’t just go, “Oh, I’m a naturally creative person.”
Creativity requires practice. This is why some of the best artists of all time have thousands of sketches. They have sketchbooks and they practice stuff and they throw stuff away because they have to work through all that garbage stuff to get to the real breakthrough of a painting or a book or whatever that might be. Even actors take multiple cuts, and it’s like, “Cut. Take 15, it was a really good one. That’s the one we want to keep.” Something new happened there.
Creativity requires a process of working through it. That, again, there’s no shortcut. You can’t just get to step 15 and go be creative. You have to develop that as a core capability that you tap into at the right times, but you have to work through it. Fortunately, like any creative process, practice helps develop it. The more you utilize it, the stronger you get at it, which is a wonderful reinforcing mechanism if you ask me.
[00:21:31] Josh: Hey, we’re going to take a real quick break to hear from our sponsors. Stay tuned for more Conquering Chaos.
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[00:23:49] Josh: One of the podcasts that I love to listen to, it’s called The Jordan Harbinger Show. I don’t remember the guest off the top of my head, but they talked about an experiment. It was a pottery class experiment, and they had the control group they were assigned, “You’re going to spend the entire 30 days of this class focusing on building one piece of pottery, and that is your ultimate creation,” and the other group, the experimental group, was, “You have to build something new every single day.
What they found at the end of the experiment, the quality and not only the quality, but the amount of quality work was in that group that made a lot more bad projects because they were just getting through it and like you said, they had to get it out. There’s certainly something to that. You have to go through those things to then come to that evolution of ideas and concepts.
Part of what you’re describing, there’s a need and we’re going to get into this in a second. There’s a need to allow this type of environment to exist, to allow people to have the time to have that uninterrupted reflection where they’re able to make those connections or to throw out those bad ideas, or to try those, it’s not the best idea, it’s not the worst idea, let’s see what happens, and we’re going to get to that in a second. The other piece of it is really having a strong foundation from which you develop these solutions, and you make it pretty clear early on in the book that is the problem statement. You must have a clear crisp problem statement that breaks down the problems so that what you’re solving for. Can you share with us some of the examples of common failures of problem statements and talk about the impact of not having one or not having a good one?
[00:25:27] Jamie: Yes. Just tapping into the creativity piece a bit is that when you get into any creativity activity, people will give you boundary conditions or like now we want you to do this and, “Oh, okay. Now there’s a box I get to play in and experiment.” “Now here’s your new challenge,” and, “Okay, now I have new constraints and I can be creative within those constraints.” Constraints and boundary conditions really help with the creativity.
That’s what a problem statement’s really meant to do in addition to define what we need to accomplish. It has a very pragmatic purpose in saying, this is where we need to get. We need to close this gap and this is why. There’s a pragmatic side to it. There’s also a creative side to it, which is, it helps orient where you’re trying to go. I think one of the first failure modes that people have is they underestimate the importance of it.
They just whiz past it, kind of assume that everybody sees the problem in the way they do. Rather than go, “This is what I see it, is this how you see it?” There was a project I was working on with an organization that I was engaged– Well, I was with them this whole time. This wasn’t a project I was leading, but it took a year and a half of discussion to get the problem statement right. It was because everyone knew something was wrong, nobody really knew how to voice it and everybody when they did, they voiced it differently. It was like, “Hey, we don’t even know what the scope of this is, where we’re trying to go.”
Nobody could get aligned around what want that firmness of a gap looked like. Once we did, then progress was made in a couple of months, but really being clear, how do we see it? How do you see it? Do we see it in the same way, that matters. I think, for starters, people take for granted that they just think it’s a step. You just write down the problem statement and everyone sees it the same way you do and that’s just not true.
I think there’s also– We limit ourselves a lot by assuming too much in the problem statement itself. Whether it’s pre-planting a solution or pre-planting an assumed cause, we sort of jump some steps and we don’t really capture just really what’s happening no matter what. People might say, “Oh, meetings start late.” Well, late for who? Late is a judgment call. Maybe we let the meeting start when Josh shows up, that’s our definition when a meeting starts. What’s late? “Well, it’s later than what I wanted.” Well, that’s different.
The problem statement as the meetings start after when I want them to. Now, if you want to say meetings that should start the time up an hour, start on average seven minutes late or seven minutes after the hour, those are observable facts and to find a gap. Again, we might disagree about whether that’s a gap worth solving and that’s where I think people try to rush past the problem statement too quickly, instead of really being clear around what gap do we want to close?
People say things like, “Oh, it’s not fast enough or it’s not good enough.” I was a referee to a soccer game a few weeks ago and I heard the coach just yelling constant, not constantly, repeatedly several times throughout the match, “That’s not good enough.” I really wanted to stop the game and I’m like, “Look coach, that’s not helpful to anybody because what do you mean? What is that’s not good enough even mean is by no means helpful, but yet that’s what a lot of our problem statements look like, is that’s not good enough.
That gives me nothing to work from. Taking the time, socializing the problem state, getting alignment around it, really defining it as a gap, is time that is hardly ever wasted in ensuring that the work that follows is really working on the right thing.
[00:29:32] Josh: I think that makes a lot of sense. At first when you mentioned a year and a half to really define that, I hear that I’m like, “Ooh man, a year of just to say what the problem is, but the points that you’re making up is you got to make sure that you’re solving the right thing.” That other people who will be responsible in helping you solve that problem, know what are the tasks that they need to do, or are able to determine what those tasks are. The more they understand what they’re trying to solve, the more, to your point, you can work within those constraints so that you can solve the problem that needs to be solved, and it ensures that you’re not going in the wrong direction, which is ultimately a waste of time. Then to the point that you made way earlier, are you going to have to then come back and try to solve the problem again?
So while it may take some time upfront, it’s ultimately going to save you some time, not just some time, it’s going to save you a lot of time in the future and I think that’s a great call out. Now, part of supporting this, you talk about how People Solve Problems, enablement is critical. You state, you reiterate, you emphasize that problem-solving must be a priority that is carved out and defended. This means at there needs to be a culture within the organization that values problem-solving, and the efforts that go along with it, culture is set by leadership. One of the first questions I have for you is how can an organization measure their current culture’s relationship with problem-solving?
[00:30:58] Jamie: I’ll first use a slightly different word is that culture is shaped by leadership. Not necessarily set. Because it’s how they show up and how they reinforce and what they do starts to send messages about what’s valued, and so one of those things is, is time and problem solving valued? If you see leaders just running from meeting to meeting to meeting, making decisions, making decisions, making decisions, and they themselves never say, “Let’s understand this problem,” or, “Let’s create some time,” or, “Let’s use some of these tools to help us.”
If they never even role model that at the bare minimum, why would anybody else think that that’s what’s important? So, how we show up as leaders does a lot to do that. Fundamentally, most resources either execute work, or they help make that work better. You want to boil work down to two big chunks of stuff. We’re either doing the work or we’re supporting the work. Well, a lot of supporting work should look like problem-solving, whether it’s actually making it better or it’s getting it back to where it used to be any, either way, a lot of that is problem-solving.
So, even if we’re just running from meeting to meeting to meeting, we have to at least acknowledge that we are problem-solving on the fly. We just probably aren’t doing it very deliberately or very well. I think part of it is what are we valuing? Are we valuing problem-solving? Are we valuing effective problem-solving? Deliberate problem-solving? Those terms start to matter because a lot of people measure themselves on how many problems they try to get to in a day, rather than how well they do.
I think a couple of things that will really be clear indicators to me, one is that people can point to times where real deliberate problem-solving is going on, whether it’s pre-planned on their calendar or not I’ll say a desirable, but not necessarily the only way to measure that, but can people clearly point out here’s where problem-solving really occurs. I think a second observable condition is how much time do we spend as a percentage of our time? How much time do we spend wrestling with a problem? Whatever wrestling means, whether it’s shaping the problem statement or understanding current reality, or playing around with solutions, do we race the solutions or do we spend a good chunk of time really wrestling with the problems?
Because quite frankly, if we already knew the answer, then it’s just about execution, then we just go do the thing, but let’s say, if we’re not already there, then we have to acknowledge, we don’t have all the answers so we need to wrestle with a problem. So, are we doing that? Is that activity going on? These are not easy things to measure. Problem-solving is one of those things where measuring quantity sometimes is very easy.
If you have tools, how many times do we use the tool? If we have tracking sheets, how many line items do we have? Measuring quality is a lot harder, a lot more subjective, and a lot more difficult and time-consuming, but fundamentally that’s what’s going to matter. Is that the quality of the effort, the quality of the outcomes, and so are we paying attention to quality and not just quantity when it comes to problem-solving?
[00:34:33] Josh: By quality, when you’re describing quality, it’s not just are we given that time and that priority to solve the problem, but what is the impact of our efforts? Does the problem go away, or do we have to continuously fight the same problem? That’s what this show is about. Conquering Chaos is about, look, we know everyone is fighting fires every single day. You’re putting out the same fires. You could say, “We’ve got great problem-solving culture. Every day, we put out all these problems, only for the next day to have to put out similar problems.” If you think about how we treat production lines, if a machine is failing consistently, we’re going to schedule some downtime to really investigate and get in and fix that machine so that it stops impacting production.
Similar thing here. All of your efforts, even if it’s a minute here, 30 minutes here, that takes away from whatever else you’re going to do. That idea of really investing the time to solve the problems, so that you free up time in the future consistently and sustainably, I think that’s a pretty powerful way of connecting to a bigger idea of why this is important. Let’s say someone takes a look, they look around, they’re like, “Yes, I’m fighting fires. I’m always having to deal with the same problems.” What are then a few critical or even common steps that leaders can take to begin shaping their culture in a way that prioritizes problem-solving?
[00:36:05] Jamie: I think, for starters, we have to generate some ownership, and we need to help break problems down to the right level. In the idea of Conquering Chaos, let’s take one of the chaotic things that most of your listeners are probably struggling with now, which is staffing. Staffing shortages are everywhere. Some people are like, “We don’t have time for problem-solving because we’re struggling with staffing.”
Let’s break that problem down and create some ownership over its pieces. Why can’t we get people in the door? Every situation’s unique and I don’t pretend that there’s a set of answers and that I have them, but who owns getting people in the door? Who’s figuring that out and experimenting and analyzing it and being creative? Who’s also working on retainment? Why can’t we retain people? What are we doing there? How do we understand that better? How do we develop creative solutions?
How do we get the right hours out of the people we have in the building? That’s a completely different problem. How do we make sure that engagement is high so that we have the energy, where we are getting the most, not just in hours but we’re getting the right energy out of it? Who’s working on the automation so that we need fewer hours of people to get done the work that we need? They’re all different problems and they’re all just related to, “Oh, we’re struggling with staffing.”
If you don’t break that problem down, if you don’t generate ownership over it, and if you don’t integrate the progress of working on those problems into your day-to-day conversations, like, if you every day ask how many things you shipped, but you don’t ask, “Did you take the next steps on your problem-solving effort? In the same conversation. Well, then, clearly, shipping stuff is important, and solving the problem isn’t.
Just integrating the problem-solving energy, effort, accountability, and all those other things into the day-to-day flow of meetings, conversations, and other things that drive accountability indicates, “Hey, this isn’t something you do in addition to your day job, this is your day job.” Leaders have to build their systems to make that clear, they have to build their cultures that drive that ownership and initiative, and they also have to role model themselves where people can see leaders engaged in the problems in a deliberate and thoughtful way.
[00:38:38] Interviewer: I think that’s such a good callout because you’re highlighting also priority. What do you truly prioritize? Do you prioritize the numbers? Do you prioritize the numbers today versus the numbers tomorrow? Because, ultimately, what you’re calling out is the sacrifice is going to have to be made, is it a short-term sacrifice, or is it an ultimate loss? Do you ultimately lose?
It reminds me of the book that I read, classic book, The Goal by Dr. Eli Goldratt, where he talks about that struggle where the individual, Alex in the story just, “I got to put some things on hold, I got to let some things burn so that we can figure out what is the cause here and strait it out so that, in the future, we are mitigating our risk and we’re not running into these problems.”
Now, not only do you talk about, in the book, about leadership being important but you also talk consistently, and we’ve already talked about a couple of nuggets here of how coaching is incredibly important. Talk to us about the value of the coach and the role that they play.
[00:39:40] Jamie: We can put those together. One of the roles of a leader is to be a coach. That’s not the only way to get coaching to happen. I think in an earlier at least draft or concept of this book, I was just going to, I don’t want to say bury, but put coaching underneath the role of the leader, but I pulled it out and spent my own time on it, in part, because I had a lot to say about it. Also, coaching can happen from outside the organization, inside the organization, leaders, people who are in– individual contributors. The reason I think coaching is so important in problem-solving is twofold.
One is that we are– we grew up as problem solvers? We start problem-solving as infants? My parents are across the room, how do I get there? I’ve got to learn how to crawl. It’s not a trained skill. It’s a problem-solved skill? You figured out how to do that through some rather random trial and error which isn’t necessarily the best problem-solving method, but that’s the point, is that we learned how to problem solve without the best methods. Nobody trained us.
We just learned as we went, we pieced it together and we’ve developed some good habits and we’ve developed some bad habits. Everybody has a unique journey. A coach is much better at unraveling the uniqueness of everybody as a problem solver. What is it that is in your way of getting better? That’s a very individualized question, you can’t just train your way through that because everybody’s had a different journey. I think the second reason is that you can, I don’t– you could have a really elaborate problem-solving class and maybe get five iterations done. That’s still not enough to master problem-solving? It’s a time over time, you get–
I’ve been trying to deliberately master problem-solving for probably close to 30 years. I still learn stuff every single month through my own experiences and through coaching. I think the idea is no matter how much experience you have, no matter how much training you have, there’s still going to run into barriers. You still need help to get you unstuck or point you in a different direction or help you learn a little faster. That’s what good coaches do is really help smooth the way for even your own learning.
Those are the primary two reasons, but I’ll add one more and that’s not about why coaching’s valuable for the coachee but why I think it’s great investing in, is that when you’re coaching, you’re entirely focused on how problem-solving occurs and that’s a great way to learn of its own. I don’t think that coaches have to master problem-solving in order to turn into coaches. They have to understand it. They have to be clear about their own limitations.
They have to coach with some humility but they don’t have to master problem-solving. They start coaching. I think you can learn at least twice as much from coaching problem solving as you do from actually doing problem-solving. I think it’s a great way to learn in its own.
[00:43:08] Josh: I completely agree with you. Ultimately what you’re talking about is coaching is critical to expertise whether you are developing someone’s own expertise or developing yours. I think we can look at a lot of different examples from my own experience. I used to do Brazilian jujitsu and like all martial arts there’s a ranking system. It goes white, blue, purple, brown, black there’s other belts beyond that but that’s what most people would resonate with.
When you get to purple belt, that is when you become a teacher because coaching teaches you which is what unlocks the ability to move to the next ranks. I think that’s exactly what you’re describing is providing these coaches, not only benefits the coachee but the coach themselves. Let’s talk about the impact. Most organizations, well I shouldn’t say most, a lot of organizations have been successful in a relative term with how they’ve been and currently are operating. It does seem like there are some cracks that are emerging especially when you consider skills gaps, worker retention, staffing is the example that you brought up, and more. What is the risk of not enabling a problem-solving culture right now?
[00:44:19] Jamie: Well, I think right now we’re in this phase that’s been termed the great resignation, and lots of people are leaving jobs for all sorts of reasons. Again, I don’t want to pretend that there’s a single solution but lack of contribution, lack of engagement is one of those major reasons. There’s few better ways than deliberately engaging people in problem-solving to feel engaged.
I think that’s one reason. Another quite frankly is that the problems are occurring. The problems that organizations are facing are in many ways new or they’re experiencing them in new ways or there’s lots of them. It just means you need more problem solvers. You need people to not just grind their way through that. The organizations that grind their way through that, there’s going to be a long, long slog. If that’s how they’re going to do it. They’re going to have to make themselves better. They may not resolve everything, but they will get better in the face of any headwinds, and how well you solve the many, many, many problems that occur means we need more problem solvers. There’s no– nobody has enough time to go fix them all on themselves. Between retaining employees through engagement and performing well by solving more problems, those are two– to me that’s all you need to go, “This is worth investing in right now.”
[00:45:44] Josh: I think that’s a great idea. Tying to engagement, it’s been consistently shown, especially from the younger generation, not only do you have to engage, but they have to see the impact that they’re making. What better impact can you see than, “Because I’m here and I voiced my thought and used my creativity and applied these efforts, here’s the impact that I’ve had.”
I’ve even heard from some organizations that have, is one company that I worked with, where they provided a percentage of the money you help the company save or make. Whatever your idea is, if it saves the company money or makes the company money, you got 10% of that. There was one individual who got at least $10,000 for one of their ideas that got implemented. What a great way of rewarding and engaging and prioritizing creative solutions to problems.
Now, I know we’re getting close to wrapping here. I want to talk about a potentially controversial opinion that you share pretty early on in the book. You said, “Organizations that either build or modify their own problem-solving methods over time are inherently stronger.” How’d you come to that conclusion?
[00:46:51] Jamie: Well, I’ve watched it happen. I watch organizations that try to simply copy tools and templates and they might learn them from a consultant and say, “Okay, this is what we were told to do, and we’re going to do it.” Then every time that they struggle to use it, they don’t really know why it was put together the way that it was. They just trust it like it’s a religion. It’s not a religion, it’s just a tool and technique. They plow through without questioning, “Why am I doing it the way that I’m doing it?”
When I, in turn, watch organizations that say, “Oh, let’s try this and see what happens. Let’s try this and see what happens. Maybe this is helpful. Why are we doing it that way?” They get smarter over time. Their pathway might be long and slow. There is some speed inefficiency in copying someone else, I’m not going to deny that. There’s some speed inefficiency in picking up where someone left off and copying them and just doing what they’re doing already successfully, but at some point that you can’t reach mastery unless you really have some ownership over how you solve problems, not just the solving of problems themselves.
I think there’s few better ways to develop that mastery than to be the architect of your own methods. I want to say, I don’t care whether you pick up where somebody left off and then tweak from there, or you build from scratch, or you have a testbed where you play off to the side and that’s where you tear things apart and put them back together. I don’t really know if that matters, but fundamentally do you understand, have you torn apart and put back together how you solve problems and understand why it is the way that it is? I think that’s critical to truly developing mastery.
[00:48:54] Josh: I appreciate that. Well, I know we are going to wrap up here. I want to ask you one last question. You co-founded JFlinch, how can JFlinch help?
[00:49:05] Jamie: JFlinch primarily works with clients, one of three ways. We do advisory support, which is helping answer the tough questions for internal teams. We do leader coaching, which is helping one-on-one leaders really build what they need to build. We do workshops called Learning Lab Workshops, which are intact teams going through learning and applying what they learn together. They can see more of that at jflinch.com, hopefully, we can be helpful in some way.
[00:49:36] Josh: Well, we’ll have a link to your site in the show notes, check it out. Continue the conversation, you can also reach Jamie on LinkedIn as well. I’ve connected with him. Feel free to connect with me, search my connections, or just search for him in general. Then, don’t forget, check out People Solve Problems: The Power of Every Person, Every Day, Every Problem by Jamie available, October 26th. Jamie, thank you so much for joining us today.
[00:50:02] Jamie: Thank you, Josh. I enjoyed it.
[00:50:09] Walter: Hey all, it’s Walter. I’m another producer for Conquering Chaos. Before you go, if you’re not ready to try Parsable to help you get rid of paper, why not watch a quick video instead. Check the show notes for a link to a demonstration Josh put together to show frontline workers, what it’s like to use a dynamic digital experience to get work done. In it, Josh shows you how using a modern-day app enables you to connect to people, information, systems, and machines, just like the apps you use in your personal lives. Take a look and let us know what you think.
[00:50:44] Josh: That’s the show. Thank you so, so much for joining us today. Conquering Chaos is brought to you by Parsable. If you’re a fan of these conversations, subscribe to the show and leave us a rating on Apple Podcast. Tap the number of stars you think the show deserves. As always, feel free to share what’s up in mind for you and who you think we should talk to next. Until then, talk soon. Take care, stay safe, and bye-bye.
[00:51:20] [END OF AUDIO]Listen to find out how people can solve problems