Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 3, Issue 32;   August 6, 2003: Finger Puzzles and "Common Sense"

Finger Puzzles and "Common Sense"

by

Working on complex projects, we often face a choice between "just do it" and "wait, let's think this through first." Choosing to just do it can seem to be the shortest path to the goal, but it rarely is. It's an example of a Finger Puzzle.

Glen had heard enough. "So what you're saying is that you need another three weeks to finish the requirements, and work on the specifications would begin three weeks after that, right?"

Finger Puzzles

A finger puzzle. Photo courtesy Celebrate the Child.

A little disturbed by Glen's manner, Bernice held her ground. "Right. We can shorten the requirements process, but for every day we cut, we should tack on about a month to the schedule overall."

Glen was exasperated. "Well, I don't believe your 20-to-1 ratio. There must be some way to get started on something while the requirements process finishes."

Glen and Bernice are locked in a common struggle — between "getting started on real work" and "thinking about it some more." How they resolve this can determine whether the project is a success or a money pit — or somewhere in between.

Typical factions in such struggles are "technical folks" advocating thought and planning, and "business folks" advocating "action." When their influence is balanced, the organization makes fairly good decisions. When one dominates, problems arise.

Both can learn from the finger puzzle.Sometimes the way out
of a trap is counterintuitive

A finger puzzle is a braided straw tube about 2-3 inches (5-8 cm) long, and about a half-inch (2 cm) in diameter. You put one finger into each end, and when you pull your fingers apart to remove them, the tube stretches, tightening its grip. Try as you might, you can't break free.

To free yourself, you have to do something counterintuitive — you push your fingers together, shortening the tube, and increasing its diameter. Then, holding the tube with your thumbs, you can easily extract your fingers.

Life is full of Finger Puzzles — situations that call for action that's almost exactly the opposite of what our "common sense" tells us to do.

The Requirements phase of a complex project is like a Finger Puzzle. The business folks want "progress" to start, but ironically, the project will finish sooner if we wait until the requirements are clear. During the requirements phase, the way to speed things up is to wait.

Action is a Finger Puzzle, too. The technical folks want to get the design right before going "public" with customers, but, ironically, we get things right faster when we have customer input. We think more clearly when we take action to get more information.

Even the debate between these two factions — "just do it" vs. "think about it some more" — can be a finger puzzle. While the antagonists contend, they give each other energy to continue the debate. Resisting one's opponent in debate, ironically, extends the debate. We reach agreement faster by exploring each other's positions, rather than asserting our own.

Get a finger puzzle. Tack it on your wall. It will remind you to question your common sense. Go to top Top  Next issue: Beyond WIIFM  Next Issue

Rick BrennerThe article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as an individual or as an organization. You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenBpOlEnXxMBcObxEzner@ChactsbcrTMdhvyhOvrXoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Project Management:

Emergency extrication drillEmergency Problem Solving
In emergencies, group problem solving is unusually challenging, especially if lives, careers, or companies depend on finding a solution immediately. Here are some tips for members of teams that are solving problems in emergencies.
Shackleton, Scott and Wilson, of the British Antarctic Expedition 1902The Injured Teammate: Part II
You're a team lead, and one of the team members is suddenly very ill or has been severely injured. How do you handle it? Here are some suggestions for breaking the news to the team.
The Shining Flycatcher, native of Northern Australia and Southwest Pacific islandsBacktracking in Incremental Problem Solving
Incremental problem solving is fashionable these days. Whether called evolutionary, incremental, or iterative, the approach entails unique risks. Managing those risks sometimes requires counterintuitive action.
Example of an unsecured driver-side floor mat trapping the accelerator pedal in a 2007 Toyota Lexus ES350Risk Management Risk: Part I
Risk Management Risk is the risk that a particular risk management plan is deficient. It's often overlooked, and therefore often unmitigated. We can reduce this risk by applying some simple procedures.
Erecting a floating bridge in Korea (1952)When Change Is Hard: Part II
When organizational change is difficult, we sometimes blame poor leadership or "resistance." But even when we believe we have good leadership and the most cooperative populations, we can still encounter trouble. Why is change so hard so often?

See also Project Management, Problem Solving and Creativity and Critical Thinking at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A schematic of a symmetric virtual meetingComing September 28: Favor Symmetric Virtual Meetings
Virtual meetings are notorious for generating more frustration than useful output. One cause of the difficulties is asymmetry in the way we connect to virtual meetings. Available here and by RSS on September 28.
Astronauts Musgrave and Hoffman install corrective optics during the Hubble Telescope's Service Mission 1And on October 5: How We Waste Time: Part I
Time is the one workplace resource that's evenly distributed. Everyone gets exactly the same share, but some use it more wisely than others. Here's a little catalog of ways we waste time. Available here and by RSS on October 5.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenqdzxBDVzOJKEDpcLner@ChacoBlxHlgMfsYUjfJtoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Leading Virtual Meetings for Real Results
LeadiLeading Virtual Meetings for Real Resultsng or participating in virtual meetings — teleconferences, Web conferences, video conferences, and more — is challenging. Miscommunications, misunderstandings, distractions, politics, and interpersonal conflict all thrive in the typical environment of the virtual team. We'll inventory the challenges virtual meeting leaders and participants face, and provide tools for anticipating and addressing them. The focus of this program is practical — attendees will learn concrete techniques for preventing and dealing with the problems that arise in virtual meetings. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here are some upcoming dates for this program:

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
How to Spot a Troubled Project Before the Trouble StartsLearn how to spot troubled projects before they get out of control.
52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around.
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.
Comprehensive collection of all e-books and e-bookletsSave a bundle and even more important save time! Order the Combo Package and download all ebooks and tips books at once.