I trudged out to pick up sticks and branches that had fallen into our yard during a thunderstorm. I worked my way from one side, breaking them into smaller sticks to fit in the yard waste bag. I was confident I picked up everything, until I turned around to head back to the house. That’s when I saw that I had missed many sticks! How did that happen?
I walked back to the house and looked out to find no sticks in sight. I returned to the far edge of the yard and counted 28 sticks, as I picked them up. Out of curiosity I went to look at the third side of the yard, and found three more sticks. This reminded me of a very important lesson:
Solutions which appear satisfactory from one angle will be woefully short from another viewpoint. So, how do you get different perspectives on a problem?
- Use your imagination. What does this problem look like from a customer’s view? What about your peer’s perspective? Your employees, or members of your team? (Hint: Start with what’s important to them to get a sense of how they will see a problem and possible solution.)
- Consider the time dimension. What happens 1 week or 6 months or 2 years after you implement a possible solution? What new problems will you have, and will you prefer those to the current problem? Play chess, and think out a move or two.
- Ask other people. Accept it as a fact that we can see better together than as individuals. Smart leaders ask for input and test out their ideas with other smart people. It is especially valuable to ask someone who is directly affected by the problem.
The other benefit of examining problems from multiple perspectives is that you will often discover a superior solution. This is one of the teachable skills you can pass along to the next generation of leaders.