Friday, November 27, 2009

Finding the Problem-Solving Super Highway [Matt Schlegel]

Returning to Marcus Buckingham’s book “First, Break All the Rules,” I delighted in his analogy of people’s strengths and weaknesses as super highways and country lanes in the wiring of their brains. I subscribe to this line of thinking; however, it leaves me wanting for a way to identify predictably the super highways and bumpy country lanes of candidate team members, be they for a problem-solving initiative or a spot on a development team. So began a search for a navigation tool to find those super highways and avoid the country lanes.

Many people subscribe to the romantic notion that if you try hard enough you can do anything. I don’t. There are things you are naturally good at and things that you are not. Further, there are things that you are passionate about and things that you are not. The magic occurs when there is alignment of your passions and your natural talents.

Let’s say that you are John Rittman, Head Coach for Stanford’s softball team. And, let’s say that your ace pitcher throws right handed. The problem is that the teams in your division hit much better against right-handed pitchers than against left-handed pitchers. What is the solution to this problem? Are you going to tell your right-handed ace to start practicing with her left hand because if she tries hard enough she can be as great with her left hand as she is with her right hand? Or, are you going to let your ace right hander continue to hone her skills as a right hander and go out and find some left-handed talent to round out the roster?

I am right handed, and last weekend I went out and practiced throwing with my left hand. It is remarkable to me how absolutely inept I am at throwing with my left hand compared with the right. Both accuracy and power suffer, as well as my whole body feels off balance. My brain definitely applies its resources to giving me some competence at throwing right handed while neglecting that capability with my left hand. My right hand definitely got the super highway to my left hand’s country lane.

What we need is a navigation device that can help our teams navigate the problem- solving process. This device needs to not only find the shortest path, but keep us on the super highways whenever possible. I will describe such a device in the next few blogs.

As an engineering manager, one of Matt Schlegel’s most satisfying roles was finding the alignment between people’s natural talents and their passions, and guiding them towards roles in which they could be fabulously successful.