Posted tagged ‘problem solving’

Dreamtime: You Need It To Work Best

January 14, 2008

You’re a marketer for an agency or in a corporate setting; or you’re a small business trying to handle your own marketing and communication.

I bet I can describe your day: Rush in, fire up the computer, check your schedule for the day’s tasks; have a meeting; get rolling on the stuff that’s piled up since you last left. Grab a quick lunch. Maybe read some back stuff that’s been untouched for a while. Back to work.

Suddenly it’s over and you’re joining the commute back home.

Any dream time in there? Not likely.

But here’s a business secret I was given by a business exec a long time ago before people talked about such things: Take some time each day and spend it dreaming.

Every day he (in those days, they were always a he), would close the door, tell his secretary to refuse all calls, lay down on a couch and just dream for an hour. Nothing else. Just random thinking. This guy was at the top of his game, and said that was why.

I’ve tried to follow his advice ever since, with mixed success. I’m not perfect and there were too many times when I let tasks take over from my real work, which was creating ideas. But I always went back to it.

You should too. Unless you’re performing some physical labor, ideation, problem solving, thinking, mulling — dreaming — is what your job is really all about. The rest is all just implementation and follow through.

Here are several ways to build dream time into your daily life:

Self hypnosis: This is extreme relaxation that allows the subconscious mind to go to work, usually in a very visual way that’s almost like a movie running in your head. The beauty of it is it can be directed to a specific problem or subject. In self hypnosis, you create a special place in your mind, and pose a problem to yourself. Usually, someone or some thing, a kind of mental avatar, comes along to your place and starts telling you a story that helps you work it out. If you do this, it’s best to be hypnotized first by a professional so you can get into a hypnotic state quickly.

Meditation: Lots of people like this, especially now that yoga’s popular again. Meditation is in a sense the opposite of self-hypnosis in that it lets you “empty your mind” so that thoughts can just bubble up to the surface. You’ll never completely empty your mind, of course, because the mind doesn’t like to be empty: it’s wired to solve problems, so will immediately work on anything that’s bothering you. Just let the thoughts come.

Exercise: Lots of people do this, picking a time during the day when they can run, walk, work out, or whatever they do for exercise. But not many convert it to dream time. It’s suited to it though, because in most exercise you are going through repetitive actions that don’t require thought, which frees up your mind for other things. I’ve known several poets, writers, and others who do their best work when they’re exercising: all have shared one thing. They direct their mind to a specific task. So stop watching others while you’re working out, and start dreaming.

Creativity techniques. I’ve referred to these in a previous post. There are many creative thinking techniques that can be employed if you simply let yourself use them. To do so, you have to put yourself in a creative state: calm, uninterrupted, and open minded. This is what the athletes call in the zone, or what cognition experts call a state of flow.

The main thing with any of these methods is consistency. It’s difficult to dream at first because you’re not used to it, but like any muscle, the brain responds much faster if it’s used regularly. So, yes you’re probably busy, but you have to keep using your dreaming muscles if they’re going to work.

You’ll find after a while that it responds quite rapidly when you’re ready for your dream time.

Just Say No

December 30, 2007

You finished the year frustrated by all those various forces that stopped you from getting your marketing job done. So now at the beginning of a new year you’re determined to be more productive by dealing with it in a professional way.

Better learn to negotiate. Specifically, learn to say no says Jim Camp, an expert on negotiating and author of No: The Only Negotiating system You Need for Work and Home. To get what you want when negotiating with people or tackling a difficult situation say “no” early and often, Camp insists. Some of his suggestions are:

1. Start with “No.” Resist the urge to compromise. Remember that “no” is not an absolute rejection, but a decision that can be changed. Try inviting that person to explain his or her vision; it may open the door to an honest discussion that can eventually turn out in your favour.
2. Be in control. Do not dwell on gratuitous things you may want; focus instead on what you can control — your actions and behaviours.
3. Face problems head-on. Identify the issues and bring them out into the open. Whether they are your own problems or somebody else’s, acknowledging them gives you an edge.
4. Check your emotions. Practise self-control and let go of any expectations or judgments. Whatever you do, don’t be needy.
5. Get them talking. Ask open-ended questions that begin with “what” and how.” Find out what the other person wants or needs, and how you may benefit him.
6. Have a purpose and a vision to reflect it. Learn to present your ideas as solutions. By helping others see exactly what they will gain from your plan, you spark decision-making and action.

Now, obviously, you can’t say no to everything your boss or client throws at you. After all, they are paying you to do a job for them. But you can negotiate with the interruptions.

For example, you can be more discerning by sorting through the various interruptions or requests. As with most things, most of those requests are just talk and/or random thoughts. We’re all familiar with the client or supervisor who throws out ideas in the hopes that some will stick.

So pick the ones that are doable, and just say no to the others.

Solve Marcom Problems The Managerial Way

October 22, 2007

As a management consultant I see organizational problems all the time. And I always approach them from a consulting viewpoint that’s based on the understanding that all organizations, whether for profit or not-for-profit, feature six functional areas of management: Strategy, IT, Finance, Human Resources, Operations, and Marketing.

Note the last one. Marketing isn’t some junior department that’s at the beck and call of people like the VP of operations. It is integrated with the other functional areas of management and so has an important role on the management team.

Marketers and communicators may have specialized knowledge, but they have to think like others on the team, the people in finance, operations and other management areas. This means that management of marketing and its subset, communications, should be approached from a business operation point of view.

And one of the first roles of any manager is to solve problems. Marketers and communicators face problems all the time: Sometimes it seems that’s all they do. But they often approach them in a reactive way, applying some familiar methodology in order to deal with the problem quickly.

In some cases, that suffices. But other problems are sometimes larger, so knowing the methodology of managerial problem solving can be very useful in the every day lives of most marketers and communicators.

With that in mind, here’s a template to approaching problem solving. It can be as detailed as you want, or reduced to a very simple exercise, depending on the severity and impact of the problem:

1. Define the problem — this can be harder than it seems. Most problem solvers founder because they attack symptoms instead of identifying the real problem.

2. Identify requirements of a solution — You have to know what exactly constitutes solving the problem. So you have to list the requirements that a solution should satisfy.

3. Generate alternative solutions — Don’t get hung up on one solution. Shoot for several, even if they’re a little crazy. This is where the real work is done, and so some methods demand that you score each alternative solution against the solution requirements.

4. Identify risks, hidden assumptions, and unexpected impacts — We all have a tendency to fall in love with our own ideas and be blinded to unexpected results and risks. So this risk analysis process is very useful. Again you can use a scoring system if it helps.

5. Select the best solution. This would be the one that directly speaks to the problem, satisfies the most requirements, and poses the least risk.

6 . Plan how to implement the solution. Too costly, not enough capacity, no one knows how to do it — solutions aren’t worth much if they can’t be used. So you have to plan out how you can actually use the solution you’ve identified. Sometimes this might mean changing the solution somewhat: For example, you may have to combine some aspects of two different solutions to arrive at one that works.