(Note - this appeared first as a monthly column emailed to subscribers).
The world has been consumed this past week, as it is every year at this time, by the theory and practice of setting resolutions. News broadcasters and print journalists have trotted out their annual story of peoples' desire to change something about themselves or their situation.
- "I want to quit smoking, lose weight, be a better person, take more time off, spend more time at work, get organized, be more relaxed."
For a couple of weeks we seem to be obsessed with the idea of changing things. The status quo, that comfort zone of sameness we worship and struggle to maintain all year, is shuffled off to the corner for as long as it takes us to realize that change is difficult. We lay a problem on the table and no matter how resolved we are about fixing it, we either allow the resolution to quietly fade away or announce to ourselves and those who matter that we are no longer in the race.
- "I have decided that losing 50 pounds in a year is impossible, so I am going to stop trying."
The dilemma of trying to change goes beyond your personal life. If your company is like most, there's a file cabinet somewhere labeled, "Things We've Tried to Change but Can't."
So, is it our destiny to set and fail at resolutions each year? Is this an unalterable path?
Let me suggest a road less taken.
Perhaps all we need do is to pronounce the word differently.
Instead of the conventional pronunciation - res-o-LU-tion - it might help if emphasis were placed on the first syllable, as in RE-solution.
REdesign, REthink, REposition - REsolution.
The whole process of resolving to change might take on new power and meaning if we look for new solutions to old problems. Rather than trying to fix today's problems with yesterday's answers, maybe what we need are RE-solutions.
This is much easier to write about than it is to do, so here's a little exercise I have used with some of my clients to help them begin the process of RE-solving old issues:
The problem with looking for new solutions is that the left side of your brain - the logical side - loves to follow patterns. When you ask it to think of solutions to problems, it goes through its file of "things that solve problems" and comes up with ideas that are, unfortunately, logical. The secret to finding new solutions is to bring the right side of your brain into the picture. I do this by tricking the left side into thinking we're just playing a game.
- Have a group of 4-6 people each tear a sheet of paper into 6 sections. On each slip of paper, have each person write a simple noun such as dog, tuna, hammer, kitchen, sky, book and pencil . Put the slips in a hat, bowl or box.
- Ask the group to suggest a couple of "problems" that need solutions. They should be somewhat simple things to start with, "My son is always late for school" or "My aunt is always changing her mind at a restaurant."
- Choose one of the problems, then pick a slip of paper from the pile and have the group offer up simple solutions using the chosen word as part of their suggestion. The solutions can be silly, in fact, I find that silliness helps. Encourage the group to fire ideas around the table, branching out to derivatives and synonyms of the word and then playing off other suggestions. Keep it going quickly and change to a new word as the momentum sags.
- After running this with a few simple problems, try something a bit more complex or more in touch with your corporate reality, perhaps "The staff doesn't seem to be engaged with our new product line."
- As with the simple issues, allow suggestions to start out silly and keep the pace up. You're doing this to fool your left brain into thinking it's "just a game." But, if you pay attention, somewhere along the way an idea will float up that can actually lead to a plausible RE-solution of the problem.
As your group becomes more adept with this exercise, you can add adjectives and other types of words to the pile. Some of my clients play similar games every time they get together, as a way of encouraging creativity. If this one strikes your fancy, I'd be happy to suggest others.
Here's to a great new year, filled to the brim with new ideas and successful RE-solutions.