Thursday, January 22, 2009

How Bad Do You Want It?

The grind I currently find myself participating in has its advantages. Namely, the problems are complicated and haven't been solved by numerous other "smart" people who have tried for extended periods of time. I've had a week and been slowly making progress.

As is often the case with tremendously screwed up situations like this one, even some progress is met with skepticism and distrust for a while. I'm carrying the baggage of all the months and host of people who were here before. To cope with this I've been repeating another foundational tenet.

You haven't failed. You've only gotten feedback.

The trick to really complicated problem solving is realizing that you don't have to boil the ocean all in one go. You can take steps and make progress, sometimes just by ruling out things that clearly aren't the answer.

Thomas Edison has a good quote on this, Benjamin Franklin has one, and so does Albert Einstein. There are numerous other versions and misquotations, but they all can be paraphrased in the same supporting tenet:

You can only fail if there is a time limit.

Specifically in my situation, I have people who have already tried quite a few alternative solutions. So when I ask them to proceed down a path they believe they've already wandered, they resist. They fight every step of the way. But as is often the case, I'm able to point out something in the way that they failed which sets them on a new direction. Yesterday we had a breakthrough because I insisted on making someone follow my instructions even though we both knew it was going to fail. We needed to see the way it failed to clearly develop an alternative to the process. Once we saw that, I was able to twist the problem and put him on a path to success. Which in very short order he achieved.

When you feel like you are beating your head against the same wall, perhaps you need to consider. But if you continue to learn and improve even though you fail repeatedly, don't give up. Acknowledge the success of your feedback, twist the problem, and keep going.

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