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Tag Archives: independent thinking

How the “road fairy” took ownership of the problem

Every so often I run across a nugget of news that makes me shake my head, partly in amazement and partly in frustration. Take the case of Veronika Bobrus, a 26-year old Russian florist who, exasperated by number of potholes in her home town of Omsk (and seeming lack of action by city crews), decided to take matter into her own hands. Mind you, not by complaining to the city, or going to the media, or god-forbid, staging a sit-in, but by taking action. By going out in the middle of the night with concrete and gravel to fill the potholes herself! In the middle of winter! In Siberia! She became an overnight local celebrity in Omsk (dubbed the “road fairy”) when last month, a local motorist caught her on his dashboard camera and subsequently posted the video online.


So far, so good, you might be saying. Why would this cause you to shake your head Merge? Continue reading

Leadership that is contrary to popular opinion …

Henry Ford is often credited with saying:

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.

In fact, my imperfect research has not been able to substantiate this quote, but it nevertheless falls under the category of “well if he didn’t say it, he should have!”  Because it’s a useful principle for every leader to keep in mind!  Clearly, there are times when seeking input and obtaining consensus from your team and other stakeholders is not only important, it’s critical.  But there are also instances when it’s crucial that you stand up, step out, and make decisions that are contrary to what the majority thinks or wants.  Continue reading

Use “reverse brainstorming” as a powerful way to improve service

If you lead a department that provides any sort of service, whether to external or internal clients, then service improvement should always be one of your goals. There is a very interesting technique known as “reverse brainstorming” that is particularly effective when it comes finding opportunities for service improvement. You’ve probably heard of regular brainstorming – the popular problem-solving tool used to generate creative solutions to a difficult issue. Reverse brainstorming is similar except that it asks the contrary or opposite questions. In regular brainstorming, you would define the problem, and then encourage people to come up with as many ideas as possible to solve it, from solidly practical ones to wildly impractical ones. In reverse brainstorming, you change the definition of the problem by posing two questions:

  1. Instead of asking “How do I solve or prevent this problem?”, ask “How could I possibly cause this problem?”
  2. Instead of asking “How do I achieve the results I want?”, ask “How could I possibly achieve the opposite effect?”

Then you take the same approach as you would with regular brainstorming, encouraging people to come up with as many ideas as possible, no idea is too conservative or too crazy.

Let me give you a recent example to show you how powerful this technique can be. Continue reading

Seek out advice from impartial sources

One of the lesser-known of the famous Murphy’s Laws is the First Law of Expert Advice.  It states:

Don’t ask the barber whether you need a haircut.

Like all Murphy’s Laws, within the humour lies an essential kernel of valid and legitimate advice.  If you’re in a position of leadership, then you often have to solicit and rely on advice from others.  After all, you can’t know enough about everything to make sound decisions solely on the basis of your own knowledge and experience.  But always evaluate where you seek out your guidance.  Yes, you should go to an expert when you are seeking counsel on any subject, but continually ask yourself whether the advice may be biased.  Does your advisor have a vested interest in one decision over another?  Ideally, you want the person who guides you to be impartial and unprejudiced and not likely to gain an advantage from one alternative over another.  Independence from the outcome is always a good measure of the quality of the advice received.

Having said that, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should completely ignore any counsel that comes from someone who will benefit from your decision.  However, you must temper any advice you receive from such a source with a healthy dose of pragmatic skepticism.  Always remember, if you ask the barber whether you need a haircut, the answer will always be a resounding “yes”, even if it isn’t true!

A colleague commented: is is even possible to get an independent expert nowadays?  It just seems that everyone has a hidden agenda?  What do you think?

The business case for not solving the problem

Most leaders will tell you that they value independent thinking and initiative. Yet, inadvertently, many supervisors and managers discourage such behaviour. How? By taking over instead of pushing back.

Consider this scenario. An employee comes into your office with an issue regarding some aspect of his job responsibilities, looking for you to resolve his predicament. And like any good manager, you, the person with the experience, the knowledge, and the job title, give him the solution. But is that necessarily the best approach? By taking over, you are discouraging your employee from thinking independently and showing initiative.  Good leadership requires that you push back: that you withhold your response and curb your action; that you push the employee to take ownership of the problem and thus also, ownership of the solution.  For four compelling reasons, and tips to make it happen, read the entire article in the March/April issue of CGA Magazine here.