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5 Practical Steps For Drowning Your Problems

There’s an old saying that contains a great deal of wisdom:

When problem solving, don’t just put out the fire – find the guy with the match!

Another saying admonishes us to make sure that we solve problems completely. It simply says:

Hold every problem under water until it drowns!

Learning Effective Problem Solving

Both of these statements are aimed at communicating one thing to those of us who are in the problem solving business – and that is that far too often, problems are never solved because people are addressing the symptoms instead of identifying and killing the real root cause.

My forty plus years of experience as both a technical and business problem solver have taught me some powerful lessons. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned when it comes to effective problem solving.

  1. Most of the time, the root of the problem is deeper than you think. Just like a pesky dandelion in your yard, the flower (symptom) waves in the wind, but the root of the plant (the real cause) is hiding deep in the ground. You can chop the top off all you want, but until you extract or kill the root, the plant (problem) is going to keep coming back.
  2. Be patient. Taking the time to think things through, and being careful not to overreact, is important in the problem solving process. Cool, logical, analytical heads always prevail.
  3. Listen to the process. Every business process has a story to tell if you listen closely. Observations, data collection and analysis, and a healthy dose of common sense can be integrated to create a picture of what is going on. Just as a doctor uses the skill of observation, combined with information in the form of test results, to diagnose what is wrong with a patient, so must you combine all of the information you can gather to understand the problem with which you are dealing.
  4. Test your theories. The ultimate test in solving a problem is not “did it go away.” Where the rubber meets the road is in answering the question, “Can you turn it on and off?” Being able to turn a problem on and off means that you have identified the causative factors that, under the right conditions, allow the problem to manifest itself.
  5. Verify effectiveness of your solutions. When you finally put corrective actions in place, always monitor the process for a period if time to make sure that the problem never rears its ugly head again.

Need help with problem solving? Give us a call at 203.599.1467, or email us at We’re here to help!


©2014 by Gary L. Smith and Optimum Performance Technologies, LLC ( All rights reserved.

Overcoming Procrastination

Procrastination is a word most of us don’t want to deal with.  You may laugh at the contradiction contained in the preceding sentence, but it’s true.  None of us want to face the fact that, more times than we are willing to admit, we have not done things that we were supposed to do.  We don’t want to face procrastination in our lives because we are ashamed to admit that we don’t always do what we need to do when we need to do it.  My words of wisdom to you are:

  • Get over being ashamed.  Procrastination is a bad habit, not a terminal illness.
  • Procrastination is also a very prevalent human fault, so you are not alone!
  • Learn to identify why you procrastinate and deal with it.

Have you ever asked yourself why you procrastinate?  How about asking a higher quality question?  What can we do to identify the sources of our procrastination, systematically eliminate them and, by doing so, learn to live more effective lives?

Procrastination keeps us from being the people we’re intended to become.  If that’s the case, why do we procrastinate?  I bet you can come up with some good reasons why you do.  Here are the reasons that are on the top of my hit list:

Fear of failure. Let’s face it, taking on challenges when we are not assured of success creates fear.  Fear drives our imagination to think of the worst possible outcomes which, in turn, lead to paralysis, sometimes in our thinking and sometimes physical.  Some people literally become unable to take action because the fear is so strong.

To avoid having to deal with difficult people or situations (or at least delay it as long as possible). Remember back to when you were in school.  How many of you waited until the night before a major paper was due before starting it?  You were procrastinating, putting off that ugly chore until the last minute.  It finally caught up to you when the fear of getting a failing grade became more powerful than not writing the paper.

Not wanting to get too far out of our comfort zones. We all have an invisible wall built around us called our “comfort zone.”  This wall defines where we believe our limits are and, although our beliefs about this comfort zone are almost always incorrect, they are strong enough to cause us angst when a situation requires that we operate outside these walls.

Want to beat procrastination at its own game?  Here are some ideas that will help:

  1. Realize that procrastination is a universal “bad habit.”  Everyone in the world faces it at one point in time or another; most of us have faced it frequently throughout our lives.  Since everyone is familiar with procrastination, consider finding an accountability partner, someone who will be honest with you and challenge you to overcome procrastination on a daily basis.  Sometimes knowing that we are going to get a phone call asking us if we’ve dealt with a problem is enough to prod us into action.
  2. Learn to deal with fear.  As an emotion, fear is neither good nor bad; it is neutral.  What makes fear good or bad is how we respond to it.  It becomes bad if our response to it is paralysis and inability to take action.  What we need to do is learn to look fear in the eye and take action in spite of it.  Try it and you will be pleased with the results.  You’ll also find that, like developing any other habit, the more you do it, the easier it becomes.
  3. When it comes to dealing with difficult people or situations, put these activities at the top of your list each day.  Doing so forces you to deal with them and get them out of the way.  It also frees you and gives you empowerment to successfully complete the rest of the day’s activities.
  4. Practice getting outside your comfort zone by trying new things.  Learn a foreign language, travel to a strange country, learn and try some new ways to positively change your work, family, or church.  As you do these things, your comfort zone will expand and you will develop a consistent belief in your ability to move and change to meet any challenges (spelled opportunities) that you may face in life.

Procrastination is like any other bad habit.  If you replace it with good, action-oriented habits, it will fade away and your life will move to an entirely different level.

Well-Defined Goals Provide a Strong Foundation for Success

Well-defined and properly pursued goals and dreams are the foundation for a successful life.  You build a successful life by setting your own goals and building toward them day by day, month by month, year by year.  A strong foundation, if laid carefully and painstakingly, will lead to the attainment of your dreams.

In a building project, the foundation must be strong and well thought out in order to allow for future planning and additions.  Likewise, with strong goals you can build a solid life and business.  The dream is the motivation.  Fulfillment of your dreams comes through big, yet realistic goal setting on three levels:

Long-Range Goals

If a building contractor wants to construct a building, he must first conceptualize the entire structure; he can’t just focus on a brick or a pane of glass.  Similarly, you should think big and develop the entire picture in setting your long range goals.  You need to decide what you want to achieve in the areas of spiritual, family, professional, financial, social, physical, and mental goals.

Medium-Range Goals

The building contractor must consider the steps from foundation mortar to high-rise glamour.  He also has to set a day-by-day timetable.  Even though he must be concerned with both foundations and final decorating touches, he knows that the first floor framework must be completed before the second floor construction can begin.  The same applies as you build your life and business – you cannot get so concerned about being at the top that it blocks your sight to what needs to be done today.

Short-Range Goals

Even the most prestigious builder of skyscrapers must still take care of dirt moving and mortar pouring.  Short-range goals are extremely important.  Unfortunately, many people ignore this category.  Even those who do take time for these details often set their short-range goals too high, so high that they become unreachable.

The fulfillment of dreams is a gradual process that needs to be worked out on a day-by-day basis.  The establishment of immediate goals provides the stairway that will carry you to the achievement of your medium and long-range goals.  What happens when you reach a short-range goal?  It should merely be the beginning of a new adventure.  You should transform those medium-range goals and aspirations into short-term ones; you should change long-range goals into medium-range ones; and then you should develop new long-range goals.

Realizing Your Goals

Fulfilling those dreams that link with each goal you achieve rewards your efforts, but your goals must also be realistic.  Wanting to buy a Rolls Royce on an annual income of $20,000 is hardly realistic.  Be realistic, but once you have attained one goal, decide to set your sights on something bigger and better.

Especially for your immediate goals, it is important to define your dreams and aspirations.  Write them down.  Consider what you want to buy or do when you reach those goals. How soon do you want to achieve them?  Visualize your dreams and goals by posting pictures or statements in private places in your home or car.  As an example, if you want to get a new car, go sit in the plush upholstery, drive it, think about it.  Do everything needed to reach the goal so you can make that dream come true.

If you haven’t achieved everything you have dreamt about in the past, don’t stew about it.  Forget about the past, make a decision to move forward, set your goals, and go for it!

Understanding Courage

I began developing the thoughts for this part of the newsletter as I sat on the beach on the south shore of Boston this past weekend.  I was reflecting on how very much I appreciate the price that all the members of our armed forces have paid and are paying to insure that we continue to enjoy our freedom and safety.  I also thought how wrong it is of us to take these freedoms for granted.

Thank you to each one of you who love our country and have fought to keep us free!!  We love, appreciate, and pray for you!

As I was following this train of thought, my mind began to dwell on the word “courage.”  What is courage really?  How do our soldiers have such courage in the face of sometimes overwhelming and fear-creating odds?  What can we learn about courage that will enable us to be better leaders?

Let’s deal with the first question.  What is courage?  Most people think of courage as bravery.  It is the opposite of cowardice.  That’s true, but is that all there is to courage?  Read the following words written by G. K. Chesterton:

“Courage is almost a contradiction in terms.  It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die.  “He that will lose his life, the same shall save it,” is not a piece of mysticism for saints and heroes.  It is a piece of everyday advice for sailors or mountaineers.  It might be printed in an Alpine guide or a drill book.  The paradox is the whole principle of courage; even of quite earthly or brutal courage.  A man cut off by the sea may save his life if he will risk it on the precipice.  He can only get away from death by continually stepping within an inch of it.  A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying.  He must not merely cling to live, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape.  He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide, and will not escape.  He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine.”

When you think of it in Chesterton’s terms, would you consider yourself to be a courageous leader?  As a leader in your home, your business, your church, and your community, do you show the qualities of investing your life in others with an attitude of “whatever it takes”?

Chesterton’s definition talks about people who, when pushed to the verge of losing their lives, save their lives by being willing to die in order to live.  They will do whatever it takes, pay whatever price is required within the bounds of their very high personal integrity, to live.  What about us?  Most of us don’t find ourselves in situations where we are about to lose our physical lives, so does that mean that Chesterton’s comments don’t apply to us?  Absolutely not!

One of the great problems with Americans today is that our affluence has brought about indifference, and that indifference has led to a whole generation of leaders who are ineffective, not because they don’t know what to do, but because they lack the commitment to pull it off.  One statistic that proves this is the number of times senior executives change jobs in their careers.  The trend in this number has been on the rise since the 1950’s.  Why?  Why will leaders change jobs so many times in their careers?  At present, the average is about nine times.  Why?  I realize that there are exceptions in many instances, but I believe the primary root cause is that leaders have lost the courage, the pure, raw guts to invest themselves in their people and their organizations with the energy that comes only from a commitment to see it through…no matter what!

The funny thing, or perhaps sad is a better word, is that the lack of leadership doesn’t just show on the job.  It shows up in families where children are left to parent themselves because there is no leadership in the home.  It shows up in broken marriages (52% of couples in America divorce) because there is a lack of courage which leads to a commitment to see it through.  It permeates our churches where courage is almost a dirty word.

My friends, this country desperately needs leaders who have Chesterton’s definition of courage. Our homes need parents who will do whatever it takes to invest themselves, their values and energy, in their children so that another generation of solid leadership will emerge.  Our businesses need leaders who will invest themselves in their organizations and, when times get tough, will dig in for the long run and not jump to the next opportunity.  Our churches need leaders who will work to establish visions for the future and will invest themselves to see those visions come true.

Will you commit to being a leader with courage?  Will you pledge to work toward the election of those public servants who know and embody this kind of courage?  The future of our nation depends on you!

Dealing With Difficult People

Many years ago, I heard a successful speaker and trainer say that, out of every 100 people you meet in life, 80 are nice, 19 are difficult, and 1 is impossible.  There is 1 person in every 100 that you can’t get along with no matter what you do or how hard you try.  His point was that each of us must deal with these kinds of people at some point in our lives, and that it is imperative that we maintain a positive outlook and sense of humor when we are in contact with these individuals.

I think that there are several other things we can do that will assist us in dealing with difficult people.  These ideas will also enhance our relationships with all of the other people in our lives.  Here are my suggestions:

Strive to act justly.

There is nothing in the world like working with people who have a sense of fairness and justice.  These kinds of people have integrity.  Integrity is a character trait to which we are all drawn.  One of the highest compliments I have been paid in my working career came from a 3rd shift union steward who worked for me in the late 1970’s.  I had given my 2-week notice to my employer and, on my last night at work, my steward walked me to the door, said goodbye, and told me how much he was going to miss me.  I asked him why he was going to miss me because, over the time we worked together, we had certainly had our differences of opinion.  He responded that, while we had indeed enjoyed our share of differences, he had found me to be both reasonable and fair, character traits that he had not found in many of his previous bosses.  That statement made me realize that, as business leaders, we have an obligation to our employees and organizations to make sure that we always strive to act justly.

Learn to love mercy.

Many people will read the statement above and immediately think that showing mercy is a sign of weakness.  Those of you who know me or who have read my newsletters and blogs probably know that I am one of those individuals who tend to go against the tide of popular opinion.  I don’t do it to be controversial, but because I believe that businesses in America are failing at a high rate because people have lost track of the basics, the fundamentals that enable businesses to survive and succeed.  One of those fundamentals is showing mercy.  There is an old cliché that reminds us that “people won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  I have found that cliché to be completely true.  People first have to know that we are concerned about them, that we value them as individuals, and that we put this ahead of any business relationship we have or are trying to cultivate.  Every person on the planet has a need to feel cared for and to feel important.  The person who shows caring will win that persons loyalty and support.  Be careful, however, that your mercy is genuine and that you are using the right motives.  Mercy displayed insincerely is easily detected for what it is, and such mercy leads to suspicion and distrust.

Seek to walk humbly.

An old friend once told me that being humble means that we are teachable.  Being humble doesn’t mean that we are spineless and that we let people walk all over us.  What it does mean is that we never have an exalted opinion of ourselves or our abilities.  When we don’t think too much of ourselves, we are always open to learning.  We realize that everyone around us can teach us something.  In most of my consulting assignments, I learn as much as I teach.  One main reason that I learn is because I ask a lot of quality questions.  Ask a lot of questions, get a lot of answers, and learn a lot is typically the way I work.  Another reason that I learn as I teach is that I realize that the people I am working with have probably forgotten more about what they do than I will ever know…and that is fine.  My job isn’t to know more than they do; my job is to ask questions, probe, learn from them, and help them discover the answers they are looking for.

When you evaluate yourself and your approach to business, how do you fare in these three areas?  Even for those of you who scored yourselves high, I recommend that you tuck these ideas in the back of your mind.  Then, as you engage in your daily activities, grade yourself based on the quality of the encounter you have with each person you meet.