Merge's Blog

When it comes to successfully solving problems in the workplace, molten rock might offer a clue!

As leaders, our days are often about solving problems, usually one after the other.  For that reason, this topic of solving problems comes up often on the blog.  In fact, my last post on this subject was exactly month ago (Making risky decisions: a simplified approach).  Today’s post is on this very subject, but my insight on an approach to solving problems came from an unexpected source.

What an adventure!

Last month I had the opportunity to do something very few people are fortunate enough to do – I was able to hike out (six miles over some of our planet’s most punishing terrain, but that’s not the fortunate part!) to the edge of an active lava flow on the Big Island of Hawai’i, and stand less than 20 feet away watching the molten rock slink and slither its way across the blistering earth.  Eventually this hot rock makes its way to the ocean, creating new shoreline hour by hour, day by day.   I filmed about 45 seconds of this experience on my iPhone, and you can see the video with my brief audio commentary below:

It was exhilarating to watch the raw power of the earth, up close and personal, and I found that 90 fascinating minutes fled by in what seemed like seconds.  Once I got over the initial elation of the experience though, I noticed that the flow was continuously changing course.  The terrain was rocky and uneven, crumpled and creased from lava flows of the recent past, so the lava repeatedly ran into obstacles in its path.  If you’ve never seen molten rock before, it’s a glowing-hot, boiling, viscous liquid, so whenever it encountered a barrier too big for it to overcome, it simply shifted direction and found a way around the obstruction, still slowly making its way towards the ocean.  The impediments in its way didn’t stop it, the molten rock simply altered its course and continued on its journey.

The leadership insight came much later

It wasn’t until much later that it occurred to me that this phenomenon was a great metaphor for how leaders can deal with problems and difficulties.  When you encounter a stumbling block in the workplace, you can either remain rigid in your point of view and your approach to resolving the situation, or you can choose to be more fluid and flexing, and thus fully capable of shifting direction to get around and past the complication.   If you choose to remain rigid, the only possible outcome is a collision, usually not to the benefit of either, but certainly a disadvantage to the smaller participant.    If you are fluid and willing to reconsider different perspectives and directions, the impediment is simply a challenge to overcome.

What are some of the things we can do as leaders to be more like flowing lava rather than unyielding rock?  And perhaps more importantly, would it allow us to accomplish more, yet with fewer destructive effects?  Your thoughts welcome, please share below.

2 thoughts on “When it comes to successfully solving problems in the workplace, molten rock might offer a clue!

  1. Hi Merge,

    Great analogy!!! I am definitely lava. In this day and age if you are rigid like rock you lose. As a leader you have to be able to look at all angles and consider anything that will get you closer to your goals. If you stick to your guns with only one way of thinking you will soon realize you are up against a rock and a hard place but more importantly you will find you are alone as everyone else has found a way around you and your rigidity. Think outside the box, be fluid, examine many and all paths and take the path the safely gets you to your goal with the least amount of resistance. Definitely free flowing lava for me……. Find solutions not problems…..

  2. Vince, so good to hear from you. And thrilled to see that you get this metaphor! I know that your philosophy has always been to find solutions, not problems. Me too!

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