Finger Puzzles and "Common Sense"
by Rick Brenner
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?"
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.
Sometimes the way out
of a trap is counterintuitiveTypical 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.
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. Top Next Issue
The 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? rbrenAysfmTsYtwWLXxVVner@ChacMxUOFOiJxfmBsryQoCanyon.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.
More articles on Project Management:
- Declaring Condition Red
- High-performance teams have customary ways of working together that suit them, their organizations, and their work. But when emergencies happen, operating in business-as-usual mode damages teams — and the relationships between their people — permanently. To avoid this, train for emergencies.
- Nine Project Management Fallacies: Part I
- Most of what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we "know" just isn't so. Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully.
- Communication Traps for Virtual Teams: Part II
- Communication can be problematic for any team, especially under pressure. But virtual teams face challenges that are less common in face-to-face teams. Here's Part II of a little catalog with some recommendations.
- Publish an Internal Newsletter
- If you're responsible for an organizational effort with many stakeholders, communicating with them is important to success. Publishing an internal newsletter is a great way to keep them informed.
- Nonlinear Work: Internal Interactions
- In this part of our exploration of nonlinear work, we consider the effects of interactions between the internal elements of an effort, as distinguished from the effects of external changes. Many of the surprises we encounter in projects arise from internals.
See also Project Management, Problem Solving and Creativity and Critical Thinking at Work for more related articles.
Forthcoming Issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 2: Suppressing Dissent: Part II
- Disagreeing with the majority in a meeting, or in some cases, merely disagreeing with the Leader, can lead to isolation and other personal difficulties. Here is Part II of a set of tactics used by Leaders who choose not to tolerate differences of opinion, emphasizing the meeting context. Available here and by RSS on December 2.
- And on December 9: Clearing Conflict Fog
- At times, groups can become so embroiled in destructive conflict that conventional conflict resolution becomes ineffective. How does this happen? What can we do about it? Available here and by RSS on December 9.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates.
Contact Rick for details at rbrenZXfVXYxtLYPSrGCrner@ChacxzjNScASxpDOIqIaoCanyon.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
- Managing in Fluid Environments
- Most people now work in environments that can best be characterized as fluid, because they're subject to continual change. We never know whats coming next. In such environments, managing — teams, projects, groups, departments, or the enterprise — often entails moving from surprise to surprise while somehow staying almost on track. It's a nerve-wracking existence. This program provides numerous tools that help managers who work in fluid environments. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- Cognitive Biases and Workplace Decision-Making
- For most of us, making decisions is a large part of what we do at work. And we tend to believe that we make our decisions rationally, except possibly when stressed or hurried. That is a mistaken belief — very few of our decisions are purely rational. In this eye-opening yet entertaining program, Rick Brenner guides you through the fascinating world of cognitive biases, and he’ll give concrete tips to help you control the influence of cognitive biases. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program: