As a creative problem-solver, I love to get insights into ways around roadblocks. That’s why I am thrilled to have been introduced to Russell Bishop, highly respected business strategist, speaker and author of the new book, Workarounds That Work: How to Conquer Anything that Stands in Your Way at Work. Russell has 30 years of global experience in working with executives and business leaders of many Fortune 500 companies in the areas of strategy and implementation as well as leadership and serves as Senior Editor and columnist for the Huffington Post.
Since so many entrepreneurs and small business owners face roadblocks, I thought getting Russell’s insights on workarounds would be helpful. Here are 7 quick questions with him on Workarounds that Work:
CR: What is a workaround and why are they so important to small business owners and entrepreneurs?
RB: 1. Imagine you were out sailing and the mast broke. What would you do? Sailors know they would create a temporary mast, often called a “jury rig,” that will get them going again. That temporary mast is a “workaround,” something that gets you moving again, and beats the heck out of drifting around, hoping someone else will rescue you. It may not be perfect, but at least it works!
2. If you run a small business, you are likely to encounter all kinds of “broken masts” out there. Rarely do things go as smoothly as you might like and learning to work around the roadblocks is a real key to keeping everything moving forward.
CR: Why is how you frame a problem so critical to finding a solution? What tips do you have to more effectively reframe problems?
RB: Whenever you frame something as a problem, your brain will start looking for challenges, proof that this really is a problem. If you can reframe the issue as a puzzle, you will begin looking for solutions. It’s not that problems can’t be solved, it’s just that most people wind up stifling their creativity when they adopt problem thinking. One way you can begin to make the transition is with that old notion of starting with the end in mind: instead of focusing on the problem or challenges you are facing and how difficult it might be to overcome them, instead start by imagining a good outcome, or better still, several alternative good outcomes. What would this situation look like if resolved successfully? Once you have a good image of a successful outcome, you can then reverse engineer from the good outcome back through the steps you will need to take to get there.
CR: Why is mindset and if you think you can or can’t critical to being successful?
RB: a. Henry Ford used to say: “It does not matter whether you believe you can, or you cannot, you are probably right.” If you believe you can, you’ll keep trying until you succeed; if you believe you can’t, you may give up before you even start. It goes a bit like this: if you believe you can not, you do not; if you do not, you have not; if you have not, you then have “proof” that you cannot.
b. It is said that Edison experimented with over 1,000 combinations of filament and gas before he came up with a working light bulb. Later on, the science editor of the NY Times asked him how it felt to have failed so many times. Edison looked back incredulously and held up a light bulb saying simply, “Failed? Light bulb!” When the editor persisted, Edison informed him that he started out knowing there would be a light bulb (puzzle thinking? Good outcome thinking?) and that he just didn’t know how many steps it would take before he wound up with light bulb. He went on to say that if he had had the editors mindset, he would have given up long ago – after all, how many people can “fail” hundreds of times and keep on going. No, he did not suffer from “can’t do it” thinking; he just knew there as a light bulb at the end of the journey.
CR: What is the importance of goals and objectives and choosing to do the right things instead of the current zeitgeist of “staying in action”?
RB: This is the story of busyness vs. business. Some people measure their productivity by the volume of activity they engage in, some by the number of boxes they can check off, others by the number of to do’s they can cross off the list. However, customers don’t usually pay you for doing lots of things, they pay for a result they want. If activity were all that mattered, you could charge a lot for being not very efficient. So, think of yourself as your own customer. Would you pay rather pay for activity or pay for results? It’s no longer a question of simply “getting things done,” but instead “getting the right things done.” What are the “right things?” Simply stated, the “right things” are those tasks that enable you to create meaningful value, something that matters to you. I recommend that people start with focusing on the “why” of their business: why are they in business in the first place? What is their purpose, both for themselves, for their customers, and for their employees. From there, you need to ask yourself what you will have to accomplish those purposes – what goals will you need to achieve, what projects will you need to complete? Now you can map your to do list to what matters – your reasons for being in business, the goals you want to accomplish, and the basic requirements to stay in business (like reporting, taxes, hiring, training, etc). If something is on your to do list and it doesn’t directly relate to your purposes, your critical goals or the basic operating requirements for your business, you need to ask yourself if that task really needs to be done – does it pass the “what-value-is-created-if-I-get-this-done” test.
CR: One of the things that is very difficult for entrepreneurs is knowing whether to start, stop or continue? How can they evaluate these?
RB: Any time something new shows up on your business radar screen, you need to review what’s already on your plate to make certain it still belongs there. If there’s a shift in the market, are your goals, projects and action plans still lined up with where the market is going? If you adopt a new strategy, a new target customer, a new product or service line, you need to ask yourself these three basic questions:
a. START: as a result of this new direction, issue or opportunity, what do we need to start doing that we have not done in the past?
b. STOP: what projects have we been working on or what processes have we been following that no longer matter, that no longer will be moving us toward our new goals, customers or offerings?
c. CONTINUE: which projects, tasks or procedures that we need to continue in order to either keep fundamentals in place or to achieve goals that are still meaningful?
d. By regularly reviewing what’s on your plate against your purpose and goals, you can keep the business fresh, focused and on a continuous track of improvement and growth.
CR: What’s the difference between deciding and choosing?
RB: This one could seem like semantics until you look more closely. Many people have a difficult time with decisions and that’s because decisions can be associated with some kind of negative consequence if they turn out wrong in some way. Deciding something can also carry with it a sense of finality – “we crossed that bridge already” kind of thinking. The easiest way to think about this is to simply look at the word decide – do you know any other words ending in “cide?” Suicide, homicide, patricide, pesticide, and a host of others will come to mind. They all share the same Latin root word which means to kill or to cut out. De is a prefix meaning “of” or “from.” Many people approach decision making from what’s-wrong-with-option-number-one kind of thinking. Once option one is “dead,” they then turn their critical thinking to number two, and so on. They either kill off all the options, or wind up taking one that hasn’t been critiqued as much as the others – hardly an inspiring way to get things moving!
Choosing is more about gaining clarity about where you are heading – what is your purpose, goal or desired outcome? By keeping the outcome in mind, you can then brainstorm options, or choices, about how to get there. While there may be multiple options, you may be better suited to one or another for any number of reasons. Choosing an option means keeping the outcome in mind while starting with what you think might work in terms of helping you get there. However, if you “cross that bridge” and it turns out to not work as well as you had hoped, you can always backtrack a bit, and select a different option or choice. It’s hard to go back to a choice or option that has been “killed off” in a “de-cision” process.
CR: Why is “Fire Prevention” so critical to entrepreneurs and small business owners?
RB: a. Fire prevention can be as simple as reviewing your goals, projects and actions once a week to see if anything is coming in the next week or two that can be handled now, before it has become a full fledged fire or crisis.
b. Everyone knows about fires and crises. We all have them. The only challenge is that most of us keep being surprised that they show up and then wind up somewhere between complaining about them to wearing them as a badge of courage. If your job really is to fight fires, then much like the fire department, you organize accordingly. Fire fighters have to maintain their equipment, undergo training, and even do routine reporting, but when the fire alarm sounds, they drop what they’re doing and respond. There’s no luxury of ignoring the phone. So, they have organized everything from their clothing and gear to the layout of the station to support the fact that they have both routine work and fires to fight. Rarely do they start their own fires, however.
c. What we call fires and crises in ordinary businesses usually means something was important earlier on, got shoved to the “back burner,” and left there until it finally erupts into a full fledged fire. That could be something as simple as a passport that needs to be renewed – nothing urgent, and so it gets left for “later.” The business equivalent of oily rags in the closet are those email messages that you opened, and decided you would come back to later. Instead of handling when it “shows up,” you wait until it “blows up.”
I hope you are able to implement some of these workarounds in your business. For more workarounds and roadblock busters, check out Russell’s Workarounds that Work book, which is available everywhere now!