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Take the Time to Think!
By Tom Dennis –
President, Effective Engineering [email@example.com]
are crazy at work. People are running around like chickens with their
heads cut off. They’re running in every direction with no semblance of
purpose or foresight or understanding. The big picture is unclear; even
the little picture is unclear! No one seems to have a clue. They just
want something done! Many of the ‘leaders’ in the company appear
to be equally confused, and are spouting out directives that are not
well thought out and even contradictory, and these just add to the
confusion. Their antics are disappointing and undermine confidence in
the management team of the company. People are looking to you, as a
person with some level of authority who is viewed with respect,
demanding that you do something, anything, and do it now!
What do you do? Adding to the confusion with ill-informed conjecture or
unthinking “actions” will only add to the chaos (see
Like Trying to Change Tires On a Fast Moving Car!).
The level of respect you have earned did not come by jumping to
conclusions without understanding. You need to take the time to
think before you act – to gather information, to analyze
rationally, to comprehend, to understand – and only then to act
responsibly, and not foolishly.
It’s your job to be an island of stability in an ocean of uncertainty.
Before reacting, step back, block out all the craziness and distraction,
clear your head, and think clearly. There is more than enough
unclear thinking going on, enough reaction without any understanding,
enough action without planning. Someone has to separate the wheat from
the chaff; the important from the minutiae (see also
Stop Picking the Flyshit Out of the Pepper!). Someone
needs to develop and propose a thoughtful plan of action that recognizes
what needs to be done, understands the potential consequences, and
proposes a reasonable path to achieve the goal. It’s your job to be that
So how do you go about this? How do you ensure that you’ve thought
things through carefully but expeditiously; that you’ve taken the right
amount of time to think? Different people approach this process in
different ways. There is not one right way to approach this, but there
are many wrong ways.
Your approach should follow the normal process of examining a problem
and proposing a solution. Think through the
what’s, why’s, where’s, when’s,
how’s, who’s, if’s, and however's.
What are the problems? What are the possible approaches to the problems?
What are the best approaches to the problems? What are the possible
solutions? What are the best solutions? What can best be done to
implement the solutions? What needs to go right? What can, will, or is
likely to go wrong? What are the ‘yeah buts’? What else needs to be
Why are these problems happening? Why aren’t the people currently
involved unable to solve the problems on their own? Why will or won’t
possible approaches and solutions work? Etc.
Where are the problems coming from? Where do we need to be? Where will
the solutions take us? Etc.
When were these problems first identified? When were they recognized as
significant problems? When was the alarm raised regarding the problems?
When do these problems need to be resolved? When can these problems
possibly be resolved? When is too late? Etc.
How did we get into this situation? How can we best get out of this
situation? How can we get there from here? How can we best help
ourselves? How can others best help us out? How about this approach or
another approach? Etc.
Who is currently involved in the problems? Who identified the problems?
Who caused or worsened the problems? Who can help? Who is needed to most
quickly resolve the problems? Who else is needed? Etc.
If we try this (or that) possible solution, what are the potential
consequences? If we bring in additional resources, will that help or
hurt the situations? [See Brooks Law from
The Mythical Man-Month: Adding manpower to a late
(software) project makes it later. See also
Too Many Cooks Spoils the Broth!] If we bring in this person
or group, will that help or hurt the situation? If only …? What if …? If
this (or that), then what? Etc.
What are the ‘however’s’ with any proposed solutions. Think through the
Plan Based on What You Do Know, and on What You Don’t!)
How you best think through the
possibilities is a personal choice. For me, my best thinking occurs in
the morning in the time between waking up and getting up; it’s a time
when thoughts come most easily, including many good ideas and
opportunities for free thinking. Or when I go for a walk, preferably
outside and alone. Or when I close my office door or post a ‘do not
disturb’ or ‘thinking’ note by my cubicle. It’s at those
times I can close out distractions and really take the time to think.
Thoughts conceived during these times can be great, but can be fleeting,
so it is critical to write them down. Have a paper and pad (or
electronic device) handy so you can write your thoughts down while
they’re fresh, or later, when you try to recall them, they may be gone
forever. Don’t try to tell yourself you’ll remember. You may not!
You need to do what works best for you.
Don’t rush your thinking process. It
is a process, and it takes time to think things through properly. Think
slowly and logically. Start to thoughtfully put the pieces together,
and/or tear them apart. Think things through thoroughly. Think about
pros and cons, cause and effect, actions and reactions, good things and
bad things, etc. Don’t cave in to pressure. Take the time it needs.
Moments taken now can preven major regrets, and problems, later.
If you find a process that is particularly effective for you, educate
others in your process. More careful thinkers in an organization can be
far better than more unthinking doers. Too many people simply react
without proper thinking when an ‘emergency’ arises. Don’t be one of
those people. Take the time to think!
2011 Effective Engineering Consulting Services, All Rights Reserved