Well, here we are in our new “reality”. After 20 years of traveling in airplanes, staying in hotels, eating in restaurants, riding in cabs, and living on the road, everything has changed. Now it’s “watch what you touch”, wear your mask, socially distance (whatever that means), stay at home, and stay healthy. Well, if your job, like mine, requires you to come in contact with others to make a living, its a bit of a bummer. So, whats a public speaker supposed to do in the middle of a pandemic? In the words of Bear Bryant, “Punt.” My personal new “reality” has given me time to pursue my recreational interests and do a little self reflection—otherwise known as pondering! Am I concerned? Yes. Am I fearful? Nah!
We live in the most dynamic, inventive, entrepreneurial, and problem-focused country on the planet. Plus, there is opportunity in everything. And for those of us who are willing to use our heads, there is a plethora of things you can do to lean into a whole set of new opportunities. Let’s be honest, this virus has shaken us at our core, and I am not sure when I’ll get the opportunity to stand in front of a thousand folks and do what I love to do! I’m not convinced conferences were intended to be done while socially distancing or over the internet—just seems a bit cold. So until there is a cure (or Michelle finds a way to do small group trainings), I will just blog and do what I do: encourage others. Which brings me to today’s topic of “It’s the Thought That Counts”!
I am an RVer. We love to camp, and my wife, Debra, and I have had everything from tiny trailers to huge motor homes. We currently have a Mercedes Winnebago View. After 50,000 miles and no issues of any kind, we decided to replace the tires. Our good friends at Gary’s Tires in the big city of Harriman, Tennessee fixed us up and installed valve extensions to make tire inflation a little easier. Debra and I hit the open road on Friday and headed for Houston, Texas where I work for an awesome company as their consultant. Now, it is important to note that I have not had any issues with this motorhome. No flats, no problems!
With new tires and confidence, we leave our home in Kingston, Tennessee and arrive at our home in McKenzie, Tennessee which is 4.5 hours closer to Houston and our motorhomes—the home (where we store our View in its own garage). Up early on Saturday, we load up and travel toward Texarkana, Texas, our second stop. I always get diesel before we get back on I-40 and do a quick walk around (something I see the big rig drivers do and kick the tires) makes me feel more knowledgeable. As I kick my back set of dual tires, one is almost flat. So, let me set you up!
It is Saturday, there is a pandemic, and nobody is open. Not good. My perfect record of zero problems is increasing exponentially. I have had the honor of working with several of the larger fuel companies and formed a friendship with one of the executives at Love’s Travel Stop. He has always encouraged me to stop and put his folks to the test. I pulled in and drove straight to the service center. Love’s services trucks, big trucks, & really big trucks, so I pull into the lot driving my little 24 foot motorhome. After about five seconds, Deb said, “Well, can’t hurt to ask.” So, I put on my face mask and proceeded into the service center. That is where I met Zack. Zack Ward is a service technician and with one eye on me and the other on my motorhome he smiled and said,” How can I help you?”
“Zack I have a flat. The good news is that it is just flat on one side!” He smiled like he had never heard that before. “Well, let’s take a look! Hey, you have picked a great time to have a flat; I’m not busy. Let me get a tire on this trailer, and let’s back it in.” Did I mention they only do big trucks? My motorhome looked like a toy, and you could tell Zack wasn’t accustomed to working on non-truck trucks. But, he got the tire off and checked it for leaks. “These are new tires, aren’t they?” I replied, “Yes, Zack, they have less than 500 miles on them.” He responded, “That is weird, because I can’t find a leak anywhere.” Zack put air in the tires and decided to replace the valve stem. The Valve stem set off bells and whistles! So, I said, “Zack, I had valve extensions put on those tires.” Zack responded, “Well, there is not one on this tire.” I was perplexed and said, “Huh, well that is strange, but I was glad to be back on the road with my tire fixed. What are the damages?” as I reached for my wallet. “Oh, no charge! It was my pleasure to help!”
We pulled out of the service center and into the parking lot of Love’s, where I did another walk around. Tires good, life is good. On to Texarkana, Texas! Uneventful and enjoyable, we had a great day on the road. A good night’s sleep and a great breakfast and off we went to Houston. I stopped for gas and did another quick walk around the RV. Now, don’t get ahead of me! But you are correct, I had another flat on the inside tire this time. So, I put on my deduction hat! Could it be the valve extensions? I crawled under the motorhome, and there it was: a cut in the extension hose. Tires were perfect, so I proceeded to disconnect the hose. From no where, I hear a friendly voice. “What seems to be the problem?” Sitting up, I told my story, and he proceeded to join me in my roadside repair. We removed the broken valve extender and replaced the air in the tire. Good as new. “What is your name?” I asked. “ZT. And that is my rig over there. I just stopped to get me some hot wings and get back on the road.” Before I could get up, he was gone. ZT is all I knew about my new friend. We made it to Houston with no problems.
Problems and problem solving! Things happen when we aren’t ready, but they cause us to become inventive. This is where the rubber meets the road (please forgive the pun), and the little things we do for each other—it’s the thought that counts. As you find your path through the days to come, and you deal with your new reality, remember you are that thought to someone else. Zack and ZT were the thought behind my problem-solving and customer excellence without even knowing they were my heroes. Here are some ideas that might spark your next involvement in excellence and problem provocation:
1. Identify the problem
There is no better starting point than defining what it is that needs to be fixed.
It means taking the time to thoroughly review the situation – separating the symptoms from the cause. Making your diagnosis is about understanding what hurts and why. This takes time and might mean doing a bit of research to reveal the underlying issues behind the problem.
2. Determine the Root Causes
Once you have identified what your problem is, you need to figure out why it is.
- What is behind it?
- What is causing it?
- Can it be quantified or qualified?
- What is going on at a core level?
Because, as you work towards solving your problem, you are going to want to find a solution that deals with the causes and not just the symptoms, right? So again, take the time to investigate the situation. Collect information, analyze your findings, and refine your diagnosis.
3. Find Multiple Solutions
Being a good problem-solver means thinking innovatively, which means thinking outside the box. Do not settle for the first solution you find. Push the boat out. Find as many alternative solutions as you can. And then find some more.
This might mean looking for solutions in unusual places or from unusual sources: talking to a different set of colleagues, keeping an open mind, or being receptive to the interchange of ideas or perspectives. Whatever it takes, once you have a set of alternative solutions, subject them all to analysis.
4. Find the Solution that will Work Best
Easier said than done? Not necessarily. Go about it logically. Answer these questions:
- Is it technically viable?
- Is it scaleable?
- Do you have the resources?
- What are the risks? Can they be managed?
- Does your solution benefit as many people as possible?
- Can it be measured? How will you measure it?
5. Plan and Implement Your Solution
Give this part plenty of thought, too. Build a really tight plan to execute your solution. You will need to cover who, what, when, and how you will implement your plan.
And just as importantly, you will need to think about how you are going to determine if your solution was a success, which leads us to the final step.
6. Measure the Success of Your Solution
How does it measure against your goals? Have you met your objectives? Have you stayed within budget? Is the work complete? Can you see a measurable outcome?
Evaluating the success of your solution is a vital and often a neglected step, because it clearly shows whether your solution is the correct one, or whether you need to go back to step one and start over. Because a key part of problem-solving effectively is about being prepared to get it wrong and to learn from your mistakes.
Remember that all problems are simply puzzles waiting to be solved. It’s the Thought that Counts!