Rule #5: Improvise, adapt, overcome.

While Rule #4 was probably my first rule in this set Rule #5 has been my most influential. I chose to embark on a career as a computer programmer and engineer. As such problem solving has been the most valuable skill in my repertoire. At face value Rule #5 demands problem solving. 

As small children have started to be more present in my life, friends having babies, brother having babies, my wife pointing out every baby she sees, I have observed a very real factor in maturity and growth. The ability to see an obstacle and choose to overcome it instead of sit down and cry. A simple parable may clarify the idea. "A man was waking to town with a sack of grain he had recently harvested. On the way he encountered a tree fallen in the road. Naturally the man turned around and went back home." If you thought this was the most absurd thing you have ever read you already understand Rule #5. Unfortunately people are not taught to solve problems or overcome obstacles. So even mature adults would rather sit on their hands and cry then find a solution to the problem.

When I encounter a problem here are the steps I take.

  1. Acknowledge the problem - This sounds obvious but it's an important step. Like AA teaches the first step is admitting there is a problem.
  2. Identify the problem - This seems redundant but many problems are never solved because they are misidentified. If someone has a bad attitude you may say the problem is the attitude. But the real problem may be the person hasn't eaten in 3 days. Identifying the problem is necessary for the solution.
  3. Choose and execute an immediate solution - Step over the tree, go around the tree, etc. This is what the phrase of Rule #5 is talking about. Improvise a solution, adapt to the situation, and overcome the obstacle.
  4. Choose a long term solution if necessary - Some problems once immediately resolved will keep coming back. Short term might be pull the weeds encroaching on your garden. Long term may be to dig up the roots and replant the garden.
  5. Evaluation - The most important step is to look back on the problem from a distance. They say hindsight is 20 20. If only that were true! Hindsight does however give you a fresh perspective. Was the problem properly identified? Was the problem satisfactorily solved? Was the long term issue resolved? What could be done better the next time a similar problem is encounter.

If I was reading this post my first thought would be, "This guy is nuts! There is no way he actually walks through those steps every time he encounters an obstacle." True. I don't evaluate every time but when I encounter a problem I've never seen before I often run through multiple scenarios of solution and genuinely evaluate every tiny action. My occupation, my entertainment, my life is dedicated to solving problems and teaching others to do the same. I really do follow these steps. Crazy or not I'll continue to vigilantly do so.

 

Comments

Reflection, then two perfect stories.
Reflection: My SOP for a challenging situation (car's in a ditch, etc) follows these steps. AND, I plan on adding your second step to mine.
1. Identify the problem (let's keep the analogy - my car is in a ditch) (Thanks for this one Daniel, it's SO key.)
2. Ask, "what are my available resources?" (car parts, pocket knife, duct tape, rope, attractive and/or female passenger - incredibly useful in recruiting strangers)
3. Try the standard responses (change gear's and try driving both forward and backwards, in both directions)
4. Try every available option until I run out of them (stuff mats, branches under tires. Push from the outside and try rocking it back and forth.)
5. Ask myself, "Who can I recruit to help." More minds and resources create synergy ("hey Daniel, i'm stuck in a ditch....bring Eric)
6. Repeat step 4 with the newly developed team.
7. When none of those options work. GET CREATIVE to create new options. ("Hey, let's catch those two horses in the field and hitch them to the front bumper." "Let's tie a rope around the tire and use it as a wench.")
 
Story 1: Fail. Me and my friend decided to earn money painting a fence for my dad. We were using one of those motorized paint sprayers. While I ran an errand, my friend encountered a clog in the system. When I got back he was sitting on the porch with the machine at his feet, staring at it. That was it! "It broke. Sux. I'll stare at it."
Story 2: Success. My 7 month old kid was sitting in his feeding chair on the table. He's at the age where everything in reaching distance is an opportunity to play, touch, taste, and learn. My wife stepped into the kitchen for a moment. While on his own, he spotted his cup of baby food on the table near him, BUT it was out of reaching distance. Employ rule 5. My kid grabbed the place mat that the food cup was on, and pulled it towards him bringing the food into arm's reach. Then, in victory he turned it over and shook it all over himself, the chair and the table. Well done son, well done.
 

So first I must say I reread my post to understand this comment better and I was struck with ammusment at my own comment of: "But the real problem may be the person hasn't eaten in 3 days."  One of those moment you go really, self. That's the example you came up with.
Dom,
Love the stories. Both going to be added to my list of parables. And I think I will also be stealing your problem solving process step #5 "Who can I recruit to help." No man is an island and problems tend to be solved much faster and more effectivly with a team. Also I like that you emphasized creativility. That is going to be added to my step #3. And I think I'll also add an item for "Taking stock of what resources are available to me"