At MBNA America, we regularly held “autopsies” of recently completed negotiations. We opened these meetings to a larger audience in hopes that they might learn from the mistakes others had made and avoid them in the future.
A lot of people are proud of their ability to resolve problems, to find solutions. I’m one of them. But as I’ve struggled to define my own personal brand, it’s become increasingly clear that the skill I should be highlighting is my ability to find problems (along with taking responsibility for eliminating their root causes).
This message has been driven home by two great books — Rules of Thumb by Alan Webber and Know What You Don’t Know by Michael Roberto. I’m going to discuss Rules of Thumb in more depth next week, but Webber’s point is that while we recognize that prevention and early intervention work for health care, energy policy, public education and transportation, business leaders don’t put the same emphasis on it in the workplace. Or they fix the symptoms rather than the root cause — buying buckets for under the leaky roof rather than patching the roof.
Roberto, a Bryant University professor whose blog is worth a read, talks about the seven skills required for being a great problem finder. They include watching the game films (that’s the autopsy reference); circumventing the gatekeeper to get the real data; encouraging useful failures; and the somewhat similar ideas of hunting for patterns and connecting the dots in smaller issues that come up long before something becomes the bigger problem.
What can you do to become a better problem finder?