Sunday, September 28, 2014

Find the "ON" Button in your life: A guide to trouble shooting

Summer is over (in New York) and the Monsoon has passed (in Mumbai). Since seasons don't really apply to Singapore, I measure time in work terms. It has been a whole quarter in my new city at my new job. The weather is almost as systematic as the city's public transportation is the same every day; sunny and humid with rain shower or two, every day.

"How are you settling in?" is the most common question I get ( "Can you help get me a new job?" being a close second!) Compared my Tokyo and Mumbai moves, Singapore has been rather easy. Except my cable incident, which was both funny and insightful...

The cable technician came over last week and after he plugged in the cable box, the TV said "No Signal".  The anxiety riddled man immediately went on a tirade and blamed the building. I proceeded to summon an army of building folk (ok, it was two, but in a small apartment which now had 3 people flummoxed over the no signal, it felt like the army had descended and were plotting a coup). Since I'm still waiting on my furniture to arrive, I sat on a box and sullenly stared at the uncooperative TV, fiddling with the only thing I could find. The remote. And then it hit me. I hit the "ON" button. Go figure. In all of this, the technician never thought to turn ON the cable box! The army retreated and the tortured soul of a technician sheepishly wrapped up. The "ON" incident did give me some insight into why a systematic and "by the book" work ethic might lead to frustration and ineffective outcomes.

When a person gets too used to everything working so efficiently and smoothly, it is no surprise that if something doesn't work, it is paralyzing for them. The technician, despite decades of experience, clearly had trouble shooting instincts that were blunt as toothbrush. The opposite is also true, I suppose. In cities where things often don't work smoothly (like Mumbai), the technician's instinct would have been to climb up to the roof of the building, checking every wire, unscrew the electrical outlet, dismantle the cable box before realizing it was as simple as the "ON" button! In this case, the technician's instincts were as sharp as a machete.  But most issues in life don't need a machete to solve them.

Over the course of my life and career, I have interacted with, worked for and managed a variety of toothbrushes and machetes. But I have also observed some amazing problem solvers/crisis managers. Here are 10 tips on how to find the "ON" button to your life/career.

1. Don't beat yourself up over a "bad" decision. Every decision is a good decision at the time you made that decision. Because it was based on the information you had at that time. If you now have new information, make a new decision that reflect that but don't lament over your old decision.

2. Be a spectator to your own thoughts. When you are in sticky situation with someone or a group of people, don't react instinctively.

3. Don't assume the worst in people. Assume you are not privy to their circumstances and that they have a reason to be that way. If someone cuts you off while driving, you get mad at them. But what if I told you that their kid is in the hospital? Don't you feel differently immediately?

4. Don't quit/judge/decide anything when you are mad. Go to bed. You will probably come up with a better answer to situation solution if you are fresh.

5. Outsource the solution, not the problem. Venting about the situation to people will not make you feel better. Find people who can help find the solution, engage them, pay them whatever. But don't waste your time on finding people to update on the problem.

6. Don't accept monkeys. The offshoot of #5 is that, if you are the "go to" person to solve problems, you may end up having too many people putting their monkeys on your back. You may have the solution but that doesn't automatically mean that you need to make yourself available to everyone. Monkeys are no fun (unless they are those monkey backpacks we got as kids). Too many get too burdensome.

7. Drink to celebrate, not to hide. Pouring a drink may seem like a good way to get out of or forget a bad situation but usually it ends up making a bad situation worse. You need your wits about you. Read #4 for the alternative.

8. Cry,  it's cathartic, then smile, its therapeutic. Much like a river, tears must go downstream and not upstream. Once you get the tears out of your system, find something to smile at, no matter how trivial. In case you are struggling on the latter, look at my Twitter feed for cute puppy pictures! Works for me!

9. Don't be bad, be better.  This is one I learned early on because of some kids in middle school who gave me a hard time. I realized the best thing to do as a revenge was to just be better than them. At everything.

10. No matter how you feel, look the part. When you are faced with crises, the last thing you think about is how you look. If anything you typically dress the way you feel. Men don't shave, women skip doing their hair or makeup. If you are going to declare war on problems, you need camouflage. Don't wear your problems on your sleeve. You need supporters and cheerleaders not people who feel sorry for you!

Bonus one! (10% extra!)
11. It may be God's will, but it needs to be your way.  If you find your strength to deal with a difficult time through prayer, more power to you. But problems don't solve themselves. Open your eyes, face the problem head on. Prayer is a tactic but a plan is a strategy.

These are not original thoughts, I have picked these priceless tips from a variety of different leaders, colleagues, friends and family over the years. But I try to adopt them as a way to handle crises or problems. "Try" being the operative word! Do share your own tips for crisis management/problem solving by leaving a comment!

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