Consider How Well-Defined a Problem is When Building Teams

To improve innovation on a team, consider building a team differently based on the problem you’re facing. There are many ways of categorizing a problem your team must solve, but one is along the axis of well-definedness.

Well-defined problems – here, you know what you’re trying to solve, you know what end-state your audience will find acceptable, maybe you’ve seen similar problems solved elsewhere or you even know some current acceptable solutions.

Poorly-defined problems – these might be more general problems, things you’ve never encountered before, problems nobody else is even thinking about yet. Maybe your boss doesn’t know the full shape of things, or maybe the full shape of things is not yet knowable.

Research shows that for well-defined problems, having a less experience-diverse team can produce more innovative solutions. Diverse is a loaded word these days, but in the case of the research diversity was measured in terms of experience relevant to the problem. I’m calling that experience-diversity. So – for well-defined problems, having a team comprised of individuals already versed in the problem set produced more innovative solutions.

For poorly-defined problems, having a more experience-diverse team can produce more innovative solutions. Diversity, again, along the lines of folks versed in the problem. This means – if you don’t have a clearly defined problem, get a bunch of folks with a variety of expertise. This will help you find all sorts of solutions, some of which may be obviously appropriate and good, and others which you will need to take more risk on. The whole definition of the poorly-defined problem, though, indicates that you don’t really know what you want until you see it.

You need a team that’ll produce the iPod, for poorly-defined problems. And that takes experience-diversity.

Consider How Well-Defined a Problem is When Building Teams

Build on My Strengths and on My Peoples’ Strengths

Everybody has a strength. Probably more than one. We are better-employed when we use our strengths. When possible, improving your weaknesses can make you a more effective individual… But we already possess our strengths and can put them to work now.

Build on My Strengths and on My Peoples’ Strengths

Know your peoples’ strengths and put those strengths to work. Build teams with a diversity of strengths. When a task lines up with an individual’s strengths, put them on that task.

It’s just fun and feels good to get to use your strength. It feels like someone hit the easy button. We have enough things to do that we can’t always be working on our weaknesses – maybe we can’t hardly ever work on our weaknesses. If tasked to our strengths, we’ll do the things that matter to the organization and we’ll do them efficiently.

Probably everyone who works for me will have something they do better than me. Some strength I cannot match. Use that! As a leader I need to delegate all tasks that I don’t have to do myself. Delegate them to the folks that are better at those tasks than I am.

Build on My Strengths and on My Peoples’ Strengths

This one is kind-of a no-brainer. But often (at least in the military) we spend a lot of time working on our weaknesses – putting ourselves in situations that make us uncomfortable so we get better at those weaknesses. Making ourselves more general. I think that makes us stronger as individuals, and that’s great.

But it’s a hard way to work. I need to remember to press that easy button for my folks more often. Develop them strategically – look for those opportunities also… But in everyday tasks look for that easy button.

Mastermind Meetings

When I was flight commander, supervising a group of fellow nerds with nerd jobs, I spent almost all of my time on the administrative requirements. They needed me to do the boss stuff – that was my official position!

I really wanted to do the nerd stuff though. It’s more fun, it’s my strength, and I’ve got more experience with it… I’ll admit that as the boss I had input into many nerdy problems, and having that was rewarding.

These nerds had issues holding them back, and I had problems that could use nerd solutions that I hadn’t clearly identified (or for which I hadn’t identified someone to do the work). Putting all the problem solvers together with the problems has a ton of value, and brainstorm-like meetings can help solve that.

It doesn’t necessarily get me any time to work the nerd issues though – to exercise that part of my personality.

By the way, the type of nerd problem I’m talking about is cyber-related – that’s my field so I think I can call us all nerds safely.

Some talk about “mastermind meetings” or “evil genius meetings” – getting all the nerds together to talk about and solve their issues, usually at the tactical or operational issue. This isn’t regularly something the commander hops-in on, it’s an opportunity for the technical experts to sit around and solve problems over a beer.

I’m a technical expert too though!

I need to make sure I hold mastermind meetings with the types of nerd I resonate with. I need to make sure technical experts in the other fields I supervise also get together for their own mastermind meetings… I can set these expectations as the boss by finding the leaders in these groups and empowering them with time and support.

I’ll need to make sure rank and position are left at the door though. Free-flow of ideas is critical to this type of session.

Participate in Mastermind Meetings with my Top Nerds

Perceptions Sometimes Count and Facts May Not

“Perception is reality”

I’ve heard this quote numerous times.  The falsehood evident in those words should be obvious, but these days perhaps it is not.  Reality is reality, perception is perception. 

Often reality and perception overlap heavily – but we don’t notice those times when our perceptions are correct.  Our brains think that’s the default.  There’s also almost always some amount of perception that doesn’t overlap reality – when our brain is jumping to conclusions and we are misled.  These situations often don’t matter too much, and sometimes they even keep us safer than we’d be otherwise.  Optical illusion is one time when perception doesn’t line up with reality.

The quote is usually stated to remind us that often it’s not the reality of a situation that matters, but others’ beliefs about reality.  The quote is often cited to caution individuals away from taking actions that others might misunderstand as ethically or legally wrong.  It cautions individuals away from taking an official-use-only vehicle out to the boss’s house in any capacity.  It cautions individuals away from spending notable amounts of time in private with members of the opposite sex, for even laudable reasons.

These are important cautions!  It’s often hard or impossible to walk back mis-perceptions, and if they are simply avoided then your life will probably be much easier.

But it doesn’t change the falsehood of the statement.  Perception is not equivalent to reality. 

Perception is perception, and reality is reality.  And while thinking people understand the difference intellectually, non-thinking people probably aren’t thinking about it.  Even thinking people will often make mistakes of assumption.

In the era of the false cries of “fake news” and widespread campaigns of actual misinformation, we shouldn’t aid purveyors of this bunk.

Here’s the truth – and I didn’t make it up myself, it’s a quote from a speaker, but was said in a non-attribution environment:

Perceptions Sometimes Count and Facts May Not

That quote warns individuals without suggesting falsehood, and without implying that the situation is acceptable.

It’s not acceptable that, in so many situations, individuals give in to their perceptions and disregard facts.  It happens though, and we must be prepared for when it impacts us.  We should recognize this bias for perception over fact in ourselves too, and seek to avoid being overly influenced by it.

Don’t accept that some hold perception higher than fact, but recognize that

Perceptions Sometimes Count and Facts May Not

Know Your Why

I’m personally driven by a few ideas… Things I’m pretty passionate about. Improving cyber security in the US though education is a major one.

When I remember my goals they my action. Why do I want to volunteer to teach at a college? Why did I spend time building K-12 python, cyber security, and boolean logic short courses? Why do I look for opportunities to have my knowledgeable folks teach the rest of my folks?

That passion is my why.

People that know their why are much more effective followers and leaders. It’s maybe important to work their why into their work…

Make Sure My People Know Their Why

This is the real reason why we make sure our followers know how they got into the mission, why they’re critical parts of the mission, and why the mission is critical. If they don’t already have a “why”, that gives them one.

Why should I get out of bed? Go into work? Give a shit?

Make Sure My People Know Their Why