Thinking Inside the Box
Many of us, particularly those with managerial responsibilities, tend to overthink things. When faced with unique problems or challenges — be them business or personal related — our typical response is racking our brains for an answer. We tend to analyze all angles and leave no stone unturned. Yet just as often as not, the best solution is something relatively simple and, in hindsight, likely obvious. And in this high-tech age, it’s also commonly something fairly low-tech and inexpensive.
An experience of mine illustrates this conundrum. In 2006 I made a major lifestyle change by leaving the only place I had ever called home, Los Angeles, to set down north of Charlotte, N.C., with my wife and then-infant son. Going from being an apartment-dwelling L.A. urbanite to a southern suburbanite introduced me to many new experiences, including riding lawnmowers. The growth of humidity-aided vegetation is no joke!
I found out that, unless you are very enterprising or a skilled mechanic, these mowers need to be routinely taken in for maintenance and repair. To transport the machine, among other reasons, I had traded in my commuter car for a more utilitarian pickup truck. The problem was figuring out how to get the extremely heavy mower onto the truck bed. So I set about researching a solution.
I looked into small trailers, but they were too costly and storage was an issue. I then explored ramps. Meeting my criteria of being inexpensive, light enough to handle myself but strong enough to support 800 pounds, safe and easy to use, with a decent warranty proved daunting. I also considered constructing a suitable ramp myself but realized the time/effort/cost/result did not pose enough advantages over purchasing one. So I finally settled on a two-piece ramp set for $150 from Sears.
Unfortunately, while workable, my solution was far from ideal. Not only did the ramps have to be assembled but they were not as sturdy as I had hoped and, in fact, had to be straightened out after arriving bent in the box. Plus, they required me to drill holes into the truck’s tailgate for linchpins to hold the ramps in place. After all that, I discovered I still needed assistance to push the darn mower up the ramps.
So, I flagged down one of my helpful neighbors to provide the extra muscle. He was more than happy to oblige, but before he left he said something that made me feel like I had a rock in the pit of my stomach and rocks for brains: “Why don’t you go over to the little hill around the block, back your truck up to it and then just drive the mower right on? That’s what I always do.” I would say he taught this city-slicker a lesson but he was also a transplant … from Cleveland no less.
The moral of the story (besides Goldfine doesn’t have much going on upstairs) circles back to my points at the outset. How often do company owners overspend when there are more cost-effective and strategic alternatives? How often do managers fail to see the capabilities and talents of their reports? How often do installers deploy overly complicated devices for a given application? How often do technicians waste time by overlooking basics when troubleshooting? Far too often, and the bottom line is efficiency is just as critical as effectiveness.
I threw this quandary out to a few SSI columnists and Editorial Board members. They touched on three key points for solving challenges and avoiding problems.
Consultant Sandy Jones recommends seeking input from peers. “Once you learn what many others have done you can tailor your own program,” she says. ASG CEO Joe Nuccio advises being familiar with all aspects of a story. “Take the time to listen to both sides of the situation, then the decision is easy, stress-free and efficient,” he says. Bob Dolph (“Tech Talk”) advocates preparing ahead of time, and grouping and sequencing tasks. “This is what techs need to practice to become better and more efficient,” he says.
The reality is the best solutions are often easily attainable and simple (“keep it simple, stupid”). Today’s imperatives to do more with less and work smarter not harder can entail thinking inside rather than outside the proverbial box. Now, anyone interested in a set of barely used mower ramps?
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