What is the real problem?

source: pcmag

I am the new owner of a Fitbit One. For those of you who don’t have experience with Fitbit, Jawbone UP, or Nike Fuel Band, these devices track your activity. They measure how many steps you’ve taken, calories burned and even how well you sleep.

Peter Drucker tells us that “what gets measured gets managed.”

The makers of activity tracking devices have a hypothesis. If you are continually measuring your activity against set goals, over time you have a better chance of living a healthier. more active live then those that don’t us the device.

What would this look like in the context of your life? What would it be like if every activity your performed was tracked? Would it give you a better shot at achieving your goals?

More importantly, does technology solve all our problems? I will admit, I am terrible at tracking my activity. I even made the book below to try and stay on top of what I was doing at work.


But is technology really the root cause to this problem? Many individuals in the last several hundred years have managed to log their activity.

Will technology make activity tracking easier? Of course it will. But keep asking “what is really the problem?”

In The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership, Jeffrey Liker tells a story about a problem that was occurring in the body shop at a Toyota plant. The workers on the line where over tightening the bolts and it was causing small dents in the body.

A new Toyota executive, Gary, had the perfect solution to the problem – buy wrenches that shut off at the proper torque. i.e. upgrade the technology. GM, Ford and others all had these wrenches. Why didn’t Toyota? This answer did not suffice for Toyota management – they sent Gary back into the plant to observe some more and come up with another answer.

Through root cause analysis (see The 5 Whys), Gary was able to determine that the real problems were tool maintenance and training. He instituted a new program that helped to keep the shop tools well maintained. Rather than spending millions of dollars on new drills, his solution was cheap and solved the real problem.

Without question, root cause analysis is hard. Your boss will want “the story” quickly and many companies have short term goals, so quick fixes are preferred to solving the real problem. Think of the patience and wisdom Toyota had by sending Gary back to the plant for another week to try again. How many managers would have been delighted that his or her employee had come up with a solution?

Next time you discover a problem and think you have a solution, think about root causes. You may be solving the wrong problem.

These go to eleven

Friday afternoon I received this email from a co-worker:

Hey Lance,

I’ve been reading your blog and I just wanted to let you know that I really enjoy it.  I thought I’d send you a note of encouragement on your month long journey of blog posts.  I’ve even picked up “The Lean Startup” and plan on starting it this weekend.

Anyway, keep up the posts.

On a scale of awesomeness from one to ten….these (notes) go to eleven!

Source: This is Spinal Tap

How long to do think it took for the author of this email to write this note to me? Probably all of two minutes? But what was the impact? This note was amazingly encouraging.

In some way, encouragement is like trading a good that you have a vast supply of, but the recipient is unable to produce it on his own. That said, one key ingredient is time. Although it may only take a minute or two to send a thoughtful email or text or call, it will be impossible to do if you are self-absorbed (which I will be the first to admit, I am a lot of the time).

Encouraging others takes selflessness. Tim Keller, in The Meaning of Marriage, describes selflessness as literally thinking of ones self less and thinking about others more. If you had to categorize your thoughts what % of time is spent on issues that effect you and what % is spent thinking of others?

If there was a thought tracker that I could attach to my brain, I think I would be embarrassed at the breakdown.

As I have mentioned in other posts, this is something I am trying to change. One small step I have taken is to try and call/text a friend everyday on my drive home. Similar to posting every day, it is a routine that I hope to make a habit.

It only takes a couple of minutes to let someone know that you care or that they are doing a good job, or that they knocked the last project out of the park.

We’re all in this together. You will work for a long time. You will be with your family for a long time. You will be in friendships for a long time. Spend some of your time thinking about and encouraging others.

I like, I wish, what if

My last post focused on how to encourage ideas and more effective brainstorming using “yes, AND!”. Now, I’m going to let you in on some language that will allow you to give more effective feedback. Three simple phrases, I like, I wish, and what if.

How often have you had someone at work (or home) say. “Why did you do that?” or “I don’t like this.” It’s easy to be on the defensive and potentially close up.

I like, I wish and what if is some more d.school magic that changes the posture of the conversation. Here’s an example of how I used this just the other day while reviewing a powerpoint presentation. Here’s how the conversation went…

“Hey, I really like that you were able to show this info in a graph instead of a table. I wish that we could make the text more readable. What if we inserted notes explaining what caused the inflection points on the graph.”

Can you see how using this language has changed the conversation? I could have said what I didn’t like and said, why didn’t you include notes, etc, but that would have been counterproductive. Also it didn’t take me any longer to use IL/IW/WI and the person on the other end is in a good position to take my feedback and make changes.

Try to use I like / I wish / What if this next week and report back. I am betting that you will be more effective at giving great feedback. You could even give me some comments on my blog using I like / I wish / What if!


pdf from the d.school on the method of IL/IW/WI.