Tool problems and clarity of purpose problems

When we’re trying to drive change, we typically run into two types of problems – i) Tool problems or ii) Clarity of purpose problems.

For example, I’ve come to believe I am one true reset away from being a much better version of myself. This is coming from months of observing my desire to ‘seek to understand and then to be understood’ wilt as I move through the day. I kept telling myself the importance of finding a way to reset over the course of the day – but, change never came as I was clear about why it mattered.

I finally got a timer app to remind me to do so every 30 minutes and resetting has worked better since.

Similarly, an organization may want its employees to start entering granular expense reports for compliance reasons. If this isn’t communicated, employees may not get on with the program. Then again, even if they do understand, if their expense recording software is draconian, employees may still be dissuaded from entering expenses.

When we’re looking to drive change, it helps to be clear if we’re trying to solve a problem with the tool or with a clarity of purpose. And, zooming back further, the best solutions are designed for problems that are well understood.

It probably doesn’t need force

There’s an unsaid rule when you are assembling an appliance or a piece of furniture – the right tools and technique work much better than force.

If you’ve tried applying a lot of force to align edges or to ram screws into pre-drilled holes, you’ve experienced this. When force seems to be the only way through, it is likely you need to go back to the manual or find a different tool.

It turns out that solving people problems isn’t all that different. While there is the rare occasion when force is useful, for the most part, it serves as an indicator that you are doing something wrong. Technique in working with people is making the effort to understand those you are seeking to influence and employing a combination of humor, care, systems and thoughtfulness.

When in doubt, choose tools and technique over force.

Two sided tools

Humans invented the Axe around eight thousand years ago. It was one of the most powerful tools ever invented. And, its foremost use was cutting wood. While it went a long way in easing early human effort, it also had a dark side.

The Axe also became a powerful weapon when humans fought each other.

Many millennia later, tools and inventions continue to have a two sided nature. Overdosing on life saving medicines, for example, can kill us.

Similarly, technology analyst, Benedict Evans, shared a headline yesterday that likely brought a smile to the face of anyone reading it. Macedonian entrepreneurs have been making money by creating more than a hundred fake pro-Trump sites and sharing them on Facebook. As Ben Evans pointed out, try explaining that headline to someone ten years ago. Yes, we can use social media to connect with each other. But, we can also use it to waste huge amounts of time reading stuff that isn’t real.

All of this is a lovely reminder as we walk into our work desks today. We have an unparalleled array of technology and tools at our disposal. We could use these to learn, ship and make a positive difference. Or, we could be among the millions who only get to experience their other side.

It is on us to choose.