Temporary Solutions

The department of music at the University of Windsor, I’ve been told, is located in an old bowling alley. The acoustics, something fairly important in teaching, and especially in music, are pretty bad. The building is more than 50 years old, and shows its age. Yet, the department remains, year after year, despite all the indications that the building is not a suitable location.

There’s an expression that I’ve heard quoted many times:

There’s nothing more permanent than a temporary solution.

This article is about the psychology of the problem – why would people continue to use a temporary solution even years after it has been put into place (or, in this case, decades)?

The answer, of course, is that once the temporary solution is in place, the problem is no longer a priority. As a result, any move toward bringing in a more permanent solution would be deferred in favor of more urgent needs – the problems that have not yet been solved even partially.

Think about this from another perspective. If two clients are vying for your attention to address a problem, in general, you will help the one who is completely stuck before assisting the one who has a work-around. If you have many clients doing this, then you are likely to defer correcting the need for a work-around indefinitely.

There isn’t a real solution to this problem, unfortunately. It’s in our nature to avoid dealing with issues that are an immediate problem. In the case of the department of music, they do have a location, even if it isn’t really suitable for their needs. As such, it would be difficult to allocate the funds and resources to move them to an appropriate location, since the need is much harder to justify.

This leads into tomorrow’s article, which will take a look at the root cause of such situations, and how to avoid creating such dilemmas in the first place.

Minimum Technical Requirements

I was recently in the market for a new computer for my office, and while I was willing to pay the price to get the right equipment to suit my needs, I was also on a budget, trying to minimize the price. True to my field, I started by checking out some sites, asking around on various social media outlets, trying to get a feel for what’s available.

Then I realized that I actually needed a second computer as well, and realized that the decision I would eventually make about where I bought the computer would have a larger impact that I originally thought. So I picked up the phone and called a friend who had recently outfitted his office with several computers, and asked his advice.

Apparently, my approach had been completely wrong. Being a programmer, I was looking at purchasing a new computer, and possibly a used monitor. I figured I needed the most modern processing power available, but not necessarily the equivalent in graphics. Jack made an alternative suggestion.

Buy a used computer from an electronics recycling depot near the office. It would come with a clean hard drive, and possibly an operating system installed, at my choice. Any accessories I need can be purchased there or at a small computing store in the area.

For the monitor, though, it’s worth buying new. The cost of a new monitor, on sale, is about the same, or just slightly over, the cost of a used monitor of equivalent specifications.

It’s what I did, purchasing a pair of computers from the recycling depot for just over $100 each. The monitor I bought from Dell, and cost me just over $200. The $400 I spent in total would have translated into a single new computer, no monitor, had I tried buying everything new.

Know your true needs

The fact that I ended up in the right place is clearly not the point. What is the point is the path I took to get there.

Without sitting down to think about my real requirements (being able to develop a PHP/Zend-based application) I went looking for the wrong thing. Fortunately, I was brought to the realization that I needed a second computer to use as a server, which made me think to ask Jack about making such a purchase. I did manage to save myself some money, but I also managed to waste significant amounts of time looking for the wrong thing.

When purchasing a product, we try to get the advice of experts to help us make a selection. But when purchasing technology, finding an unbiased expert can be difficult, since many are affiliated with brands or stores, which impacts their objectivity.

In my case, I was fortunate that Jack was available to point me in the right direction. I was lucky that I remembered to ask him before spending any money. I knew enough about the technicalities to understand why his suggestion made sense, and that he was correct about my true needs.

How about you? How would you go about determining what it is you really need when looking at an area that you aren’t fully familiar with? Where do you go for advice?

Fundamental Lifestyle Changes

Sometimes, change needs to happen. Often, the acknowledgement of this is triggered by a major event, also known as a wake-up call.

There are really two ways to go about handling this, and I’ll describe both, along with practical examples of each. After that, I leave it to you to decide how you might proceed.

Quick and Big

In this system, the changes required are made all at once, no matter how large. Even if it’s broken into stages, each stage is a dramatic change from the status quo.

There are benefits to doing things this way. Sometimes, the change must be made, and there are no partial steps that can be taken. Perhaps there is concern that if hurried steps are not taken, there could be further damage done by the status quo. Alternatively, it’s possible that the change itself is what is needed, not an outcome of the change.

As an example, look at smoking. A smoker who chooses to quit can try stopping completely in one shot. In this case, the goal is the complete elimination of smoking, and, if the person has the willpower to do so, will give himself significant health benefits by going this route.

Naturally, the problem with this is that few people have the required willpower. In other areas as well, the adoption rate of dramatic changes will be low, because most people avoid change where possible, at least at some level.

Slow and Small

The alternative is to take a small change, and make it last a while. The problem with this route is that changes can take a long time before an effect is realized. It’s easy to become discouraged, because true progress can’t be seen.

However, the benefit is that because the change is small, it’s easier to keep it up permanently. To take the example of the smoker, reducing smoking by a single cigarette a day may not seem like much, but it is easier to do than completely stopping all at once.

To use a second example, look at dieting. A diet can involve a major change to food intake, exercise regime, and overall lifestyle. It may take the pounds off quickly. But the adoption rate is low (how many people can keep up one of these diets, and do so for a long period of time), and, as soon as the diet stops, the person is likely to regain the weight.

On the other hand, a person can make a small change to their lifestyle, perhaps adding a single workout to their week, or making one meal a week vegetarian. It’s a small change, but it’s also sustainable. Over time, it too will work to remove the pounds, and this time, they’ll stay off because of the basic change.

Your Business

In business too, changes are often needed. Large changes may get you where you want to be quicker, but they are also less sustainable. Additionally, the adoption rate may be low (or high with large amounts of resentment regarding the changes).

Alternatively, describe the goal of where you want your business to go, and list out a series of small steps that will get you there. Make sure that none of the steps are too large an increment, and you’ll see that it’s easier to follow the path, and to get others to come along with you.

That’s not to say, of course, that drastic changes should be avoided at all times. But often it’s easier, and just as efficient to make a series of small changes, and will take less energy to convince others of the merits of those changes.

Generation WHY

Although there is no clear-cut date for when Generation Y began, or when it ended (if, in fact, it has already ended, although this is a near-universal opinion), I am personally part of that generation, being born in 1982. However, it wasn’t until recently that I thought of myself in such terms, and then largely because of my comfort-level with media and technology. At a mid-sized Canadian corporation, I was working with a mix of people from both Generation X and Generation Y, with most of management being from the older generation.

Over the three-plus years I was at that corporation, combined with the increase in exposure to various social media platforms, my eyes were opened as to the true difference between the two generations, at least as far as the workplace is concerned.

We aren’t Generation Y. We’re Generation Why.

Tradition

Just because you've always done it that way doesn't mean it's not incredibly stupid.

Growing up in an environment with strong influences of social interactions and mass communications, we’ve learned to question tradition. As the poster to the right shows, it’s not necessarily the best way to do things, even if it has been done that way for as long as memory serves.

What has become prevalent in our generation is that feeling of questioning why things need to be the way they are. Whether we’re discussing politics or looking at how to dress at work, we have a tendency to ask why.

In a recent discussion with another coworker, I raised the question of why a particular piece of documentation was required. I explained that I had no objection to improving quality or ensuring accountability. If, however, the required documentation did not actually accomplish the purpose for which it was deemed necessary, then I felt my time would be better spent debating the merits of the process rather than filling out the requested document. Perhaps this is just me (and some of you who have known me for years might say that I’ve always been this way), but I’ve come to the realization that while I may be more vocal about this than other people, I’m not alone in my opinions.

In any environment, healthy growth occurs when boundaries are pushed, and barriers that are in place are questioned, and removed when deemed irrelevant. A promising business will look to establish barriers that promote quality, process that ensures accountability, and policies that encourage innovation. Such a business will constantly question the status quo, because what may have been useful or necessary last year may no longer apply.

This attitude of questioning is common in Generation Y, which is why I choose to call it Generation WHY.

True Relationships

I recently accepted a contract working for a small company. I was interviewed by the two owners of the company before being retained, and was introduced to their significant others. Between the time that we signed the contract and when I started working for them (there was almost a month gap there) I invited them to my place for a barbecue to get to know them better. The dinner lasted several hours, and while we couldn’t leave business completely out of the conversations, it was certainly more social than professional.

To me, the casual meetings are as valuable as the formal, professional ones. I prefer to hold meetings that aren’t strictly confidential in coffee shops or over lunch or dinner. If I can’t have the entire conversation casual, I at least aim for a casual setting. This works for me, though I certainly understand why some people find it odd and unsettling.

Perhaps that’s what I’m aiming for.

No, I’m not trying to unsettle people, but I am trying to get to know people better. I want to know the person I’m dealing with, and what they are like outside a professional environment. It’s a chance to learn about their other interests, and sometimes, other sides to their personalities.

For example, having a meeting in a coffee shop dictates that there will be some small talk, whether about finding the location, or the type of drink preferred by each person. Because it’s a more casual environment, discussions will tend to be more casual as well, which has its benefits especially when going through initial meetings, trying to determine needs and expectations.

There’s more to it than that, though, which is the title of this article. Meeting in casual places is one way to develop a true relationship. It’s a way to connect to people beyond the professional ties that brought you together in the first place. If a relationship is strictly professional in nature, than there’s no loyalty in either direction, because each person is truly in the relationship for themselves.

Like marriage, a relationship needs to be about the pair, the combination of people, in order to succeed. Each person has to want the other to benefit from the relationship, and has to care about the other people. As such, it is important to establish relationships that have few borders, that are not limited to certain topics or subjects.

How about you? When you develop relationships with people, do you limit them to professional subjects? Or, like me, do you prefer to cross the various lines and establish a complete relationship with the various people you work with in your day-to-day life?

A Matter of Choice

I attended a lecture this week in which the speaker was discussing the concept of choices. His conclusion, based on a variety of arguments, is that the fundamental difference between people is the choices we make.

I then reflected on a conversation I had with an entrepreneur last week, in which we were discussing the concept of luck when it comes to developing a successful business. My opinion, which is certainly not universal, is that there is limited amounts of luck when it comes to success.

To be more precise, looking at success stories in hindsight, there is rarely a critical moment in the story that the subject was “lucky” to have encountered which defined their success. In fact, the stories will often be filled with failures, hard work, contributions from other people, and eventually, success (according to your preferred definition of the word).

When appraising a new idea for a business, I therefore combine these two concepts. As an entrepreneur, you have a choice to make – and you are likely making these choices all the time. You need to decide which idea to pursue as a business, who to partner with, how to go about achieving success.

On top of that, you need to act to remove luck from the equation. If you work hard, you will, at the least, learn something from your endeavors. You will be giving yourself the best chance possible for success.

It is, naturally, your choice. You can choose to rely on luck, and hope that your luck is good (but then why don’t you just buy lottery tickets and hope for the winning numbers). Alternatively, you can choose to work hard, and to learn from your experiences, and you’ll find that luck is not really a factor in success.

I Hope People Hate My Product

I’m a bit strange, I know, but this sounds weird even for me. Yet it’s true – I really do hope that people hate my product, despise my services. I find it encouraging when someone tells me how awful something I’ve done is.

Why?

When I hear someone tell me I did something wrong, I take in a lot more than what that person is saying out loud. I’m listening to the subtle message that perhaps that person isn’t aware they’re sending. It’s a message that they want to like my product.

How does that work? Simple – they care enough about what I’ve done to tell me that it’s wrong. As an example, think about going to a restaurant. If the food and service are passable, then you won’t say much about it. If it’s really bad, you’ll complain to your friends. But if you care about the owner of the restaurant, then you would tell him how awful the experience was, with the hope that he’ll listen to you and make some changes.

Yes, sometimes people will criticize without wanting to help. They’ll complain because that’s the type of person they are. They’ll be vocal in a non-constructive manner.

But people who complain to me about me are the people who want me to do something about it. They might want me to stop completely. But they also might want me to fix the problem. By telling me what a bad job I’m doing, they’re also telling me how I can improve. That is, if I choose to listen to them.

The people who are complacent about my products and services don’t help me sell more. They don’t assist me in improving my offerings, because they don’t tell me what’s wrong. The same can be said for those who love me – in their eyes, I can do no wrong (okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea). Those who complain, though, the ones who tell me how badly I do things, they are the ones who are telling me how to make it better.

If you want to get a great product or a fantastic service, you should, like me, hope some people hate it. Only that will help you remove the flaws and improve it to the point of perfection.

A Matter of Perspective

Sometimes, a situation needs to be viewed from another perspective. Often, though, it’s only someone who isn’t in that situation who can see the other side of the coin.

As people, we have a tendency to believe ourselves to be correct. A common complaint of teenagers, for example, is that others don’t understand them. Years later, however, it will often be acknowledged that their parents and teachers did, in fact, understand them quite well.

As adults, though, we are not immune to this. There are countless examples where people have stood firm to their opinions regardless of the myriad of arguments presented to demonstrate the flaw in their thinking. One of the sites in my RSS Reader, The Daily WTF, is built on such examples. Readers of the Dilbert cartoon will also be able to relate to this concept.

Perhaps, then, the real issue is not so much an ability to see other perspectives, but a true desire to. How many of us can honestly state that we welcome all debates, and would fully reconsider our position on any issue if presented with alternative thoughts?

No, you don’t need to convince me that you would – you need to convince yourself.

The second half of the issue is the fact that many of the people who delude themselves that they are infallible are also under the impression that they are able to honestly analyze every situation (but they just happen to always be right). How do you deal with someone who is always convinced of their infallibility and accuracy?

There are two options, really. On the one hand, you can choose to ignore such people. This works if you aren’t forced to interact with that person, and their decisions do not impact you directly. If you are able to take this route, it is certainly the easier path.

The second option is if you will be affected by the deluded decisions, or gross incompetence. In that case, you truly do have to deal with the person and their decisions. Again, you have a few options:

  • You can ignore their decisions, and do things your way, and hope that in hindsight, it will become apparent that your way was the correct way. The risk, of course, is that if you fail, you will be blamed for not following the instruction, and if you succeed, you are unlikely to be awarded the credit.
  • You can work with the decision. In that case, make sure that any caveats, or arguments in opposition to the decision, are clearly documented. That way, you can protect yourself from taking the blame for the failure toward which you believe you’re headed.

How about you? What methods do you use to convince those who have difficulty seeing the other side of an argument?