Byron's Babbles

You Will Just Have To Accept This! Why?

file 6I have always believed we need to always refuse to accept the existing reality. I really believe this in our personal lives, organizations we work in, state, nation, and world. My thinking was affirmed when reading A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas by Warren Berger this past weekend. He told the story of Van Phillips. This amazing and inspiring story is about the person that invented the mind-blowing “blade runner” prosthetic device.  When Phillips lost his leg in a boating accident, he could have asked the usual question.  Why me?  Instead he went further, asking “If they can put a man on the moon, why can’t they make a decent foot?”  Then he took ownership of the question:  How can I make a better foot? It’s easy, when we’re confronted with a challenge that seems insurmountable to ask “what are we going to do?”  Or… worse yet, to just accept that is the we it has to be. What if, we ask, “why does it have to be that way. Or… better yet, what if, instead we asked “What if this change represents an opportunity for us?”

AMBQ-Hardcover-Paperback_edited-1-768x634In this great book, Berger, incorporates a wide array of examples and his three question framework of innovation: Why, What if, and How. Plenty of innovation has started with questions, many of which are downright strange. Warren Berger’s definition of a beautiful question is, “an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something—and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change.” We need to remember that questions trump answers, every time.

As leaders, we would all be better served to practice divergent thinking and encourage our teams to think and question this way as well. Divergent thinking is the intellectual ability to think of many original, diverse and elaborate ideas. This type of thinking is associated with the right brain dominant, which is seeing things in a perceptual manner. In other words asking, “Why does it have to be this way?” This is in contrast to convergent thinking which is the ability to logically evaluate and choose the best idea from a selection of ideas. This type of thinking is associated with the left brain dominant, which is seeing things in an analytical manner.
We need to develop the capacity in ourselves and those we lead to produce many, or a greater number of complicated or complex ideas from a single idea or “why does it have to be this way?” question to trigger more ideas. It calls for making unexpected combinations, changing information into unanticipated forms, identifying connections among remote associates, and the like. In divergent thinking, a single question returns multiple answers, and though the answers vary considerably depending on the person, all answers are of equal value. Perhaps they did not exist ever before and so are novel, surprising or unusual. Now, this is not to say we need only divergent thinkers because we will need the convergent and linear thinkers to help us accomplish our goals.
Asking the powerful question “why?” forces people to think deep. They can then peel back the layers of excuses and get to the root cause of the problem. Asking “why” seems easy enough. It’s just a little word, after all. So, why don’t leaders ask this powerful question more often? Probing deep can be scary for a leader. It smells of confrontation and hints of accusation. It also is giving up some authority and asks others to weigh in. Many leaders are also accustomed to and want to be the go-to person for answers. They’re used to giving direction and opinion. It makes them feel valued, important and reinforces their position of authority. Also, some leaders prefer to deliver the answers because they think it will save precious time. Unfortunately, when leaders routinely dish out the answers, they become enablers of that dysfunctional cycle, which is actually a huge time-waster. Employees regularly seek out leadership for the solution rather than being leaders where they are and becoming problem-solvers. This prevents the ability to develop real solutions, stifles employee growth and ultimately limits company productivity. Remember, leadership should be happening where the data is produced.
The best leaders are those who understand that asking “why” is a highly productive teaching method. Teaching – true professional growth – and challenging people to think is what stimulates discovery, solutions and growth. So, the goal of any leader is to become a great teacher and develop the necessary skills. This includes not only asking “why”, but then also giving employees the autonomy to ask “why” and the appropriate amount of time to determine the real answer. Remember, we all live in the world our questions create!

Letting My Lite Shine

file1-2A couple of weeks ago at one of our Focused Leader Academy (FLA) retreats I was asked by participants to do a session about how to balance the amount of personal information that should be mixed with our professional lives. This can be particularly tricky in education. Of course I said sure, but I had no idea how challenging of a topic I had taken on. As I began to study I realized that there was not much out there on the topic except for people who thought you should reveal everything and those who thought you should reveal nothing. I wasn’t sure I agreed with either of those theories.

file-1 2Therefore, me being me, I decided to develop my own program from scratch with all my own thoughts for getting the discussion started. I really like to use a through line and some type of building or creating to get the process started. After quite a bit of thinking I decided to use Lite Brite® as the through line and creation activity. I purchased one of the flat screen LED Lite Brites® for all the participants. Hopefully you can all remember the Lite Brite® toy and have had the opportunity to create a picture on one.file-2 2

Mavin Glass introduced Lite Brite® in 1967. It was an electric alternative to painting. To me this was a genius toy to use for this topic. The black paper acts as a filter. Just as we have to filter out what we message/reveal at times. The filter element makes the picture worth a thousand words. The black paper which blocks a portion of the light acts as Lite Brite’s® filter. Without the black paper, the pegs poked in would blend in, leaving and indistinct message. It is not about letting all light out, but what light is limited. This is like asking the question: What is relevant and what is unimportant?

As leaders we must choose delivery design and place our pegs in a way people will understand our message. We have to design how much light to let through and design the picture in such a way it tells our leadership story. Remember, simplicity is not stupidity; instead it causes a better understanding. Lite Brite® is such a simple toy, but gives us such a great example of developing a balance of how much light to shed and how much of our true colors to reveal. The Lite Brite® bulb symbolizes our message – our thoughts, words, beliefs and ideas that we want others to know. The pegs then symbolize our points. Just as the pegs are colorful and beautiful, so are the differences that we bring into the world.

“It is simplicity that makes the uneducated more effective than the educated when addressing popular audiences.” ~ Aristotle

To begin our discussion I had the FLA participants take their Lite Brites® and make a picture by either using templates provided or a picture created by them. Here is a picture of all of their Lite Brite® creations: file-1

The participants then needed to describe why they did the picture they did and reveal something about themselves and their own leadership journey. This prompted an amazing discussion. I have included the graphic recording by Sita Magnuson here:file1-1

What Will You Reveal?

Your message won’t be bright if there is no light, but will chaos if all light is revealed. As a leader we need to take complex issues and deliver them in an understanding manner. We need to be adaptive leaders and make adjustments/orientations according to context. There is value in vulnerability and authenticity. This opens the door to dialogue and community. We decided in our discussion that knowing decreases judging. We need to experience feeling, listening, seeing, and embodying. We must decide what we will reveal and break down the barriers that are not useful. How will you let your Lite shine?

What Do You Bring To The Table?

file1A couple of Saturday’s ago for our Focused Leader Academy (FLA) we used the mental model of food again. Participants decided to prepare breakfast and tell their story. This was pretty special and really meant a lot. I was struck by the fact that these teachers who had been ISTEP (Indiana’s students achievement test) all week and were probably exhausted would want to do this, But, as always, they amazed me one more time.

What a spread! It was the most amazing breakfast buffet I had ever seen with: two kinds of bacon, cinnamon rolls, blueberry muffins, yogurt, biscuit and gravy casserole, bagels, cheesy potatoes, and lots lots more. I have put a picture of the buffet here for you to see, We have a practice of writing on the table butcher paper and on the breakfast buffet table someone had written the statement, “What do you bring to the table?” This of course then became the theme for the discussion. file 5

So what does it mean to bring something to the table? I believe it means to ​provide something that will be a ​benefit. Just like the fact that I believe everyone is a leader, I also believe everyone brings something to the table. Essentially, your list of what you bring to the table should reflect your best qualities, and that is what you should be offering to an organization, school, or business. Is what you are offering equal to what you are expecting? Do you consider what you have to offer those you lead, or merely what your team is offering YOU?

Leadership is about taking care of those you lead. Leadership is serving others. It is involving others in setting and achieving their own goals or the group goals. Leadership includes learning from mistakes and growing from them. Leadership is about having a positive impact on anyone we cross paths with. Leadership is contagious. If we can do these things, we are offering quite the leadership buffet to our organizations.

It was so great that Saturday to have Mike Fleisch, Sita Magnuson, and Kelvy Bird all present to graphic record the discussion presented by the FLA members about their food. It is the first time they had ever worked at an event all together. These are amazingly talented individuals, thought leaders, community leaders, and facilitation conveners. I have embedded a photo of the graphic here:file2Just like the awesome selection and choices that a breakfast brings us, the more different people become leaders, the more problems we will solve. The more skills, interest, and expertise that will be brought to the table. We need leaders to think about and organize around many issues beyond those of our organizations and schools like: youth development, economic growth, substance abuse, crime, the environment, health care — the list goes on and on. Each issue will require a troop of skilled leaders to handle them. We need leaders who are women, young people (we were all young once), people of color, low -income people, immigrants, people with disabilities and many others that have been told that they should follow others, not lead. We need leadership from all walks of life in order for ours to be a truly democratic society. Remember, we are all leaders!

You have to make a decision to lead and view yourself as a leader. No one else can contribute what you can. You have a point of view that no one else has. You have a set of skills that is unique. Your corner of the world will be different if you decide to act on its behalf.

How has your organization benefited from having you in leadership roles? What do you bring to the table? Are you showing value in your current role?

Share the Financials – the $100 Tool

culture_works_fbad_1This is a guest post from Kris Boesch originally published on www.choosepeople.com/blog

Share the Financials – the $100 Tool

Be open with your team about the flow of money. Sharing tells employees they’re important. Commitment grows and confusion declines.

Every year in an all-company meeting I would share our financials with the team using the $100 Tool (described below). It was amazing to see the light bulbs go on. Their entire awareness and attitude would shift. They would come up to me for weeks after this meeting with ideas on how to make and save the company money. They now realized why it was so important to take care of the trucks (cost of truck repairs) and to charge customers for boxes (high margin product) and not to forget moving blankets at the customer’s home ($13/each – easily four hours worth of profit.)

Some organizations are worried about sharing their financials, either because they’re struggling or very successful. Sharing financials when you’re in trouble is the only way engage your employees’ support. It helps them understand the urgency in your voice. Your employees aren’t stupid. They know if something’s off. Sharing the financials puts fears to rest because rather than grappling with the unknown, they can see what you see and participate in generating money making and saving solutions.

If you’re on the flip side and very successful and fear employees will want a bigger piece of the pie, communicate your growth plan and the need for cash to fund investments in equipment, technology, personnel or assets. Rather than envisioning all the extra money going into your pocket, they see it as a shared savings account. If you’re not looking to grow, make sure your people are well compensated and appreciated. This may also be a good time to share the risks and rewards of owning a business.

Use the $100 Tool to share your financials in a tangible, accurate, concrete way.

  1. Get one hundred one dollar bills.
  2. On a flip chart or white board break down by percentage your high-level income streams:$43 – local moves, $37 – national moves, $12 – storage, $5 – boxes, $3 – insurance. On another page or board break down by percentage your high-level expenses (fuel, truck repairs, truck maintenance, furniture repairs, regulatory fees, marketing and networking, utilities, insurance, rent, payroll – including workers compensation, payroll taxes, and benefits.
  3. Speak about how your organization makes money. Share which verticals, products and services are the most and least profitable. Explain why you choose to keep those that are less profitable — (loss leader, bread and butter, competitive edge.
  4. Then speak about expenses. As you detail each expense, hand out the dollar bills to individual employees. Saying for example:
    You are my landlord you receive $4 for rent.
    You are my accountant you receive $2.
    You are my utilities you receive $5.
  5. Speak to employee payroll, payroll taxes, work comp and benefits last. Employees are always wowed by the comparatively large piece of the pie that is directly theirs.
  6. Then show them, with the dollars left in your hand, how much profit is left.  Explain this profit is taxed, leaving a net profit and how that money has to be used to pay off debt as well as to reinvest in the company to spur growth. Explain how it is this money – the money that’s left over – that funds raises, better benefits, new uniforms, additional staff, or new equipment.
  7. Help them understand which numbers they can impact and which ones they can’t. You want them to leave knowing how they individually can help the organization make and save money.
  8. Depending on your team, it can also be valuable to explain the difference between profit and cash available. You may want to share the role of revenue to profit. Clarify that without profit, revenue is wheel spinning. Small increases in revenue beyond goal can cause exponential increases in profit due to the relatively static nature of overhead costs.

Owners tend to wonder how to represent their compensation when sharing financials. In the process I recommend above, simply roll your compensation into payroll. By being open with your team, you can begin to create a culture of honesty.

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Kris Boesch is the CEO and founder of Choose People, a company that transforms company cultures, increases employee happiness and boosts the bottom line. Her new book, Culture Works, and accompanying workbook are available now on her website and will be available on Amazon around May 15.

Prepare Thoroughly Before You Begin

2943db3662439efb1c6664f1025cb4bePrepare Thoroughly Before You Begin
By Brian Tracy

The following post is an excerpt from chapter 9 of Eat That Frog.

A word about frogs… It has been said that if the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long. Your “frog” is your biggest, most important task, the one you are most likely to procrastinate on if you don’t do something about it. It is also the one task that can have the greatest positive impact on your life and results at the moment.51DFpUVGkQL

Prepare Thoroughly Before You Begin

One of the best ways for you to overcome procrastination and get more things done faster is to have everything you need at hand before you begin. When you are fully prepared, you are like a cocked gun or an archer with an arrow pulled back taut in the bow. You will be amazed at what you achieve in the months and years ahead. You just need one small mental push to get started on your highest-value tasks.

This is like getting everything ready to prepare a complete meal. You set all the ingredients out on the counter in front of you and then begin putting the meal together, one step at a time.

Begin by clearing off your desk or workspace so that you have only one task in front of you. If necessary, put everything else on the floor or on a table behind you.

Gather all the information, reports, details, papers, and work materials that you will require to complete the job. Have them at hand so you can reach them without getting up or moving around. Be sure that you have all the writing materials, log-in information, access codes, e-mail addresses, and everything else you need to start working and continue working until the job is done.

Set up your work area so that it is comfortable, attractive, and conducive to working for long periods. Especially, make sure that you have a comfortable chair that supports your back and allows your feet to rest flat on the floor.

The most productive people take the time to create a work area where they enjoy spending time. The cleaner and neater you organize your work area before you begin, the easier it will be for you to get started and keep going.

When everything is laid out neatly and in sequence, you will feel much more like getting on with the job.

It is amazing how many books never get written, how many degrees never get completed, how many life-changing tasks never get started because people fail to take the first step of preparing everything in advance.

Once you have completed your preparations, it is essential that you launch immediately toward your goals. Get started. Do the first thing, whatever it is.

My personal rule is “Get it 80 percent right and then correct it later.” Run it up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes. Don’t expect perfection the first time or even the first few times. Be prepared to fail over and over before you get it right.

Wayne Gretzky, the great hockey player, once said, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” Once you have completed your preparations, have the courage to take the first action, and everything else will follow from that. The way you develop the courage you need is to act as if you already had the courage and behave accordingly.

When you sit down with everything in front of you, ready to go, assume the body language of high performance. Sit up straight; sit forward and away from the back of the chair. Carry yourself as though you were an efficient, effective, high-performing personality. Then, pick up the first item and say to yourself, “Let’s get to work!” and plunge in. And once you’ve started, keep going until the job is finished.

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Brian Tracy is one of the top business speakers in the world today. He has designed and presented seminars for more than 1,000 large companies and more than 10,000 small and medium- sized enterprises in 75 countries on the subjects of Leadership, Management, Professional Selling, Business Model Reinvention, and Profit Improvement. He has addressed more than 5,000,000 people in more than 5,000 talks and presentations worldwide. He currently speaks to 250,000 people per year. His fast-moving, entertaining video-based training programs are taught in 38 countries.

Brian is a bestselling author. In addition to Eat That Frog, Brian has written more than 80 books that have been translated into 42 languages, including Kiss That Frog!, Find Your Balance Point, Goals!, Flight Plan, Maximum Achievement, No Excuses!, Advanced Selling Strategies, and How the Best Leaders Lead. He is happily married, with four children and five grandchildren. He is the president of Brian Tracy International and lives in Solana Beach, California. He can be reached at briantracy@briantracy.com.

Leading Like A Thunderbird!

thunderbirdsRVMOn our way home from The Gulf on our spring break with my family we saw the B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber flying over Maxwell Airforce Base in Montgomery, Alabama. This was an awesome sight of power and technological superiority. We then saw the US Air Force Thunderbirds. We were memorized by the many formations, maneuvers, and acrobatics. This was all part of the Maxwell Air Show & Open House held April 8-9, 2017. We were fortunate enough to be traveling through at just the right time.

The pilots of America’s military demonstration team, the US Air Force Thunderbirds, are some of the world’s best, performing death-defying tricks in fighter jets. While the individual skills of each pilot is admirable, what sets the pilots of the Thunderbirds apart is their ability to work as a synchronized team.

img_0136-2-1024x684I did a little research and found the mission of the Thunderbirds. Officially, the Thunderbirds are known as the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron. The squadron’s mission is to plan and present precision aerial maneuvers to exhibit the capabilities of modern, high-performance aircraft and the high degree of professional skill required to operate those aircraft. Within this broad mission, the team has five primary objectives:

  • Support Air Force recruiting and retention programs
  • Reinforce public confidence in the Air Force and to demonstrate to the public theprofessional competence of Air Force members
  • Strengthen morale and esprit de corps among Air Force members
  • Support Air Force community relations and people-to-people programs
  • Represent the United States and its armed forces to foreign nations and project international goodwill

The Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon represents the full range of capabilities possessed by the Air Force’s tactical fighters. This highly-maneuverable multi-role fighter has proved to be one of the world’s best precision tactical bombers and air-to-air combat aircraft. The only modifications needed to prepare aircraft for air demonstrations are a smoke-generating system and painting in Thunderbird colors. The Thunderbirds are actually part of our combat force. This squadron must be ready for actual missions at a moments notice.maxresdefault

As I watched the precision of the maneuvers, I was awestruck by how this team of pilots could fly just one or two foot away from each other at MACH 2 speeds. It was amazing! Then I thought about how this was the ultimate example of leading teams and team cohesion. This team of pilots must be both familiar with each other and trust each other. Trust is about reliability and doing the right thing. Trust is a characteristic that builds respect and loyalty, as well as a supportive and safe work environment. I can only imagining the practice that it takes to build the familiarity and to fly as Thunderbird or be a part of the team on the ground.

Even though most of us do not have the thrill and danger of travel inches apart in aircraft going at MACH speeds, all leaders and teams must study fear, understand it, and be prepared to cope with it. I say it all the time – we must have some fear and be uncomfortable in order to grow professionally. Like fear, courage takes many forms, from a stoic courage born of reasoned calculation to a fierce courage born of heightened emotion. Experience under fire generally increases courage, as can realistic training by lessening the mystique of what we are doing.

So, just as I imagine all the practice and real-life maneuvering that goes into the Thunderbirds work, we must all strive to learn in the real time/real world context of what we do. Strong leadership which earns the respect and trust of team limits the effects of fear. Leaders should develop unit cohesion and the self-confidence of individuals within the team. In this environment a team member’s unwillingness to violate the respect and trust of his peers will overcome personal fear. This is why we must help our team members to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and get out of their comfort zone to learn new maneuvers and give great performance. Are you leading like the Thunderbirds?

 

Thanks For Not Being An Expert

file 4

My Awesome Delta Flight Attendant!

I wrote the following post yesterday during a day of flight delays trying to get to Pensacola, Florida to ultimately hook up with my family. Literally, I wrote the post in the cover of the book I am reading by Frederick (Rick) M. Hess, Letters to a Young Education Reformer. This post came to mind as I was reading the chapter entitled, “Why You Shouldn’t Put Too Much Faith In Experts.” Here’s what I wrote in the cover of the book:

Thanks For Not Being An Expert

I was inspired to write this post, honestly, by my flight attendant. She kept me up to date on what was going on during a day riddled with delays and cancellations. I had started the process in the afternoon yesterday when my flight to Atlanta was cancelled. I then started the process at 6:30 this morning and had been cancelled and delayed again until 12 noon when we finally got on the plane. I now did not think I was going to make my connection in Atlanta to get picked up by my wife and son in Pensacola, Florida. It might not have been quite as big a deal except for the fact that my son, Heath, and I were scheduled to go bow fishing tonight. rick_hess_book_portrait

For the trip I had brought along my friend, Rick Hess’s new book,  Letters to a Young Education Reformer. It is an awesome book and while sitting on a delayed plane I read the chapter “Why You Shouldn’t Put Too Much Faith In Experts.” As a guy that does not really believe in using experts, subject matter experts (SMEs), or consultants, I loved this chapter. Really, it’s not that experts are bad, but we just shouldn’t rely on their word as the final word. As Rick says, “I’ve found that experts often forget that their expertise represents just a tiny sliver of the world, and thus overestimate how much they know and what it can tell us. And that can cause problems” (p. 32).

My flight attendant let me know that my connecting flight had been delayed in Atlanta. She was not sure why we were not taking off, but she would see if she could find out and would keep me posted. Keep in mind, I was about the only friendly person on the plane. With so many flight cancellations and delays from the rash of storms across the south and eastern seaboard, everyone was struggling to get where they needed to be. The airlines were struggling to get pilots and flight crews where they needed to be.

file 4

First Draft of This Post Written In The Cover of Letters to a Young Education Reformer

Here’s the deal; my great flight attendant did not try to be an expert, nor did she even want to be an expert. She was a great example of what I believe we should all strive to do – not give blind guesses or speculate. She certainly had flown enough to be considered an expert, but she did not try to baffle me with expertise or make assumptions based on past experiences like this one. Instead she impressed me by leading with clarity, not certainty! She used the tools and information available to keep me informed of my circumstances. As the expert flight attendant, she did the precise task, using her available information and training to keep me informed of what was going on. When I got to Atlanta she let me know we were at Terminal F, Gate 1 and that I needed to go to Terminal C, Gate 41. She also assured me I was going to make it because my connector flight had been delayed and I now had 1 hour and 10 minutes to make it on the plane. Just like with airline industry schedules, in education we don’t always have a lot of certainty as to what will work, we just need to strive for clarity. 51bHghz6ihL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Remember, the experts get it wrong all the time. The reality that when people become emotionally invested in their predictions, they cannot see straight—no matter how experienced or educated or smart they are. They become blind to other view points or the actual facts of the situation. All too many times experts begin speculating on past experiences and not the situation at hand. In his new book, “Stop Guessing: The 9 Behaviors of Great Problem Solvers,” Nat Greene calls this the “Expert Curse of Knowledge.” Experts think they know things and then don’t look at all the options. Experts should never be put in a position where their opinion means more than yours.

Are you acting too much like an expert or spending too much time listening and following experts?

Dig In & Stop Guessing

Stop Guessing by Nat Greene
Stop Guessing: The 9 Behaviors of Great Problem Solvers
by Nat Greene (Goodreads Author)

All leaders should read this book and put into practice the behaviors of sound problem solving. These behaviors are also transferable to all decision making. Particularly noteworthy is the knowledge this book provides regarding use of experts. Experts can also learn how to be more valuable by reading this book. The bevaviors for solving problems are easily implemented. By using the right data points and digging in recognizing all hard problems are solvable, we can stop guessing and make the right decisions.
~ Dr. Ernest

Decision Making vs Problem Solving — and Why the Difference Matters

file 9Decision Making vs Problem Solving — and Why the Difference Matters
By Scott Whitbread and Nat Greene

Decision-making and problem-solving are two very different techniques for conquering different challenges that businesses face. Choosing the right one in the right situation can mean the difference between business success and failure. However, businesses frequently use decision-making techniques when they should be using a problem-solving approach. This leaves important problems unsolved and value locked away.

The Difference Between-Decision Making and Problem-Solving

Both decision making and problem solving involve using information to inform an action. However, this is where their similarities end.

Decision-making involves choosing between different courses of action. The process of decision-making is clear: each option is evaluated based on a set of parameters or criteria. But the outcome is not as clear: the outcome from the decision only becomes clear when a decision is made.

Problem-solving involves finding a root cause among many possible root causes, whether or not the true root cause has emerged as a possibility in anyone’s mind. The outcome is clear: the problem should be solved in order to bring a business process back to optimal performance. But the process is not clear: what is causing the problem is not yet known, and the problem solver must explore the process without yet knowing their destination. They do not know their destination until they have discovered the root cause.

A detective is a problem-solver. Their role is to unequivocally determine who committed the crime, and thus exonerate all other suspects, and thus their objective is clear. Their journey is not clear: they may never find the criminal.

A judge is a decision-maker. Their journey is clear: they look at evidence, circumstances, and precedent in order to arrive at a judgment for a convicted criminal. But their purpose is not always clear: they face competing goals, including justly punishing the criminal, giving satisfaction to the victims, appeasing the public, setting an example for others, and not over-burdening the prison system.

In business, a problem to solve may be the explosion of the SpaceX rocket on September 1, 2016, which required detective work in order to identify the root cause. Product quality problems, talent retention problems, and customer service problems all fit this mold.

In business, decisions may include where to build a new facility and at how much capacity, what product to launch, who to hire, or what security system to use. All of these decisions are choosing between alternatives that are already apparent.

As in the case of a crime, decision-making frequently enters at the end of a problem-solving effort. Once the root cause to a problem is found, the business may need to decide between different possible solutions in order to maximize the value of the actions it takes. Before solving a problem, a business will choose which problem to devote resources to solving.

Why it Matters

When businesses correctly identify a challenge as a decision or a problem, they are able to apply the correct technique to overcome the challenge. But frequently a business will treat a problem as a decision, use the wrong approach, and fail to solve the problem.

One large chemical upgrader facility experienced frequent outages due to failing process pumps. These pumps cost millions of dollars apiece, and the outages were costing the business tens of millions per year. The pump seals were wearing down after a few months, causing the process chemical to leak. As pumps were replaced with spares, the business worked with its vendor to choose between potential upgrades for the pumps: harder seals, larger seals, or different geometries. They treated their problem like a decision to make, and despite multiple upgrades, they continued to experience outages.

When they pivoted to a problem-solving approach, and acted more like detectives, they closely observed the failures themselves, and found the presence of small, hard foreign grains. These grains caused excess friction and wore the seals down. Further problem-solving found the source of these grains–the “culprit”–and they were able to solve the problem.

How to Choose the Right Technique

A decision is the result of choosing among several alternative possibilities. You will see a decision in front of you when the business is attempting to take a step, and the next action requires identifying and evaluating the values and needs of the business in order to select an option that maximizes these.

A problem is an ongoing, intermittent, or one-time failure of a process or system to perform at an acceptable level. If a process produces errors or unacceptable products or outcomes, does not run as quickly or efficiently as it should, or poses a negative risk for a business during operation, you are experiencing a problem and should use a problem solving technique.

Choosing the right technique for your challenge requires understanding what kind of challenge lies before your business. Learning to recognize and differentiate between these kinds of challenges will help you pick the right approach, and successfully overcome the challenge.

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Nathaniel Greene is the co-founder and current CEO of Stroud International, and author of Stop Guessing: The 9 Behaviors of Great Problem-Solvers. Nat has a Masters of Engineering from Oxford University and studied design, manufacturing and management at Cambridge University, in addition to executive education coursework in Harvard Business School’s Owner/President Management program.