Use Tenacity and Creativity to Solve Work Problems

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Career Q&A: I keep getting promoted and find that at my next level of responsibility the problems I face are increasingly complex. I often end up staring at problems where no one else can see solutions yet it is my job to find an answer. How do you teach your clients to resolve problems that have been lingering in their office with no solution in sight?

A: Your promotions mean management believes you are a creative and resourceful employee. What I teach my clients is that all thorny problems demand we use more mature thinking than was used when the problem first emerged.

People who study animal functioning believe that what makes humans the top of the planetary food chain is our ability to combine tools and ideas in novel ways that previously did not exist.

One study with primates put a banana on a ceiling and a chair in the room to see whether primates could figure out how to use the chair. Most of the monkeys did everything with the chair except get the banana and eventually gave up. A few smart monkeys tenaciously kept playing with the chair until they saw they could jump on it and get the banana.

So we have to ask ourselves at work are we smarter than the average monkey? Can we use tenacity and creativity with the resources in the room to keep at it until we get the banana at our office?

Notice that cultivating this skill means we have to become comfortable with failure while we discover what does not work. What differentiated the successful monkeys from the monkeys that went hungry was the capacity to keep at the task despite frustration and a lack of immediate results.

I often tell clients that if they are seeking an important banana at work and have tried 100 things that the good news is they are crystal clear about 100 things that do not work. They now have a better idea about the thing that they have not tried yet.

There is a joke that the difficult takes a long time and the impossible takes a little longer. The truth in this humor is that most of us give up our banana rather than keep trying because we really hate looking foolish.

Many exceptional people have been able to achieve a breakthrough for the simple reason that they are more obsessed with learning and getting that banana than the short-term problem of looking bad.

Many exceptional people also realize that when they feel discouraged and fed up they can use these emotions to try again more intelligently.

Don’t let temporary setbacks become permanent limits because you gave up. Do make room for feeling discouraged and do use that frustration to fuel another creative approach that is different than what you previously tried. Getting those bananas at work is the permanent satisfaction.

The small price is the temporary frustration of learning what does not work.

The last word(s)

Q: I had an employee suddenly quit with no notice even though he know how much we were depending on him. Is there a way to get him to realize what a crappy move this was?

A: Nope, people who behave in especially crappy ways lack empathy so your words are wasted on him. Consider how you can avoid hiring someone like him again as your future success will beat any lecture you want to give your deadbeat employee.

(Article written by Daneen Skube)