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John Maxwell Team

John Maxwell Team Certified Member

Priscilla Archangel is a John Maxwell Team Certified Coach, Teacher and Speaker.

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    What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do

    away-1019745_640As a leader, the “buck” for certain decisions stops with you. You’re responsible for outcomes impacting your team, your organization, your career, your family and friends. Sometimes the choice is clear, but frequently, it’s not. Ambiguities are the norm, and while there is pressure to make fast decisions, you know that it’s more important to make timely decisions. Meanwhile, stakeholders press you because they have their own motivations and need to know how your decision impacts them.

    Good decision-making isn’t based on the quantity of information you’re able to review, but on the quality of information you’re able to comprehend and process to the right conclusion. Good decision-making brings together intuition and systems understanding of the many networks impacted by the choices you make. It incorporates intellectual agility to draw conclusions from a broad array of facts and data to reach desired outcomes, with the political savvy to navigate varied perspectives and power dynamics. Thus, decision-making is not only a science but an art.

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    Who’s In Your Garage

    There’s a story that someone once asked Bill Gates where his greatest competition was. The expectation was that he would mention another major high tech company competing for the same business.  Instead, Gates said he was more worried about two guys in a garage; quite the antithesis of the presumed response. Why should he be concerned with two guys in a garage?

    Because there are people like John Nottingham and John Spirk, who founded their namesake company in 1972, in a garage (several years before Microsoft was born).  After graduating from the Cleveland Institute of Art, they declined offers from well-respected and established companies to instead strike out on their own and form their namesake company. Their objective was to design products using a different business model.  Instead of creating products and then trying to sell them to other companies or customers; they invited companies to bring their product predicaments to the Nottingham Spirk Innovation Center.  They then engineer solutions for these companies and receive payment in the form of royalties on sales, or a flat rate up front.

    Today they’ve moved from the garage to a converted church building in Cleveland, Ohio, where with a small team of 70 people, they’ve amassed over 900 patents to their credit. This includes repackaging Purell hand sanitizer, developing the Twist and Pour paint can for Sherwin Williams, developing Dirt Devil products, Scott’s Snap Lawn Spreader, the Unilever Axe Bullet, Swiffer SweepVac, and the Crest Spinbrush.


    Garage Thinking

    One obvious question is why companies like these weren’t able to solve their product dilemmas internally.  My guess is that they needed an external perspective and focus; literally, someone to help them think outside their corporate box or mindset. They needed to be able to think like they were in the garage by starting from the beginning and taking a fresh and different approach.

    Think about it. As leaders, how many times have we had a product or process dilemma where we needed a simple, but elegant solution? We come at it from every angle we can think of. We brainstorm, use mindmaps, and other elaborate problem solving techniques.  But when we casually mention the issue to someone totally unconnected to our organization, they quickly come up with a new perspective on how to solve it. Sometimes their suggestion is so simple that we initially dismiss it, because after all they don’t understand the complexities, rules and processes of what we do. But in reality, the customer needs uncomplicated answers, not encumbered by the back office complexity of how we got there.

    Sometimes we find a need for this in our personal lives. How many times have you been thinking though a major decision, or wondering how to handle a situation.  You labored with it, until one day you mentioned it to a friend, loved one, coach or even a total stranger.  Maybe they only asked you one question, but it was so perceptive and insightful that almost instantly, you had the answer. You knew what to do.

    The Magic of a Garage

    So back to the two guys in a garage.  There’s a slew of companies that started out in the proverbial garage like Amazon, Disney, Apple, Hewlitt Packard, Google and Harley Davidson. A couple of guys and gals, slogging through a problem that no one else perceived as a problem or took the time to resolve.  They took risks because at that point they had nothing, so there was nothing to lose. They had few predispositions as to how their project should operate because it had never been done before. There was no bureaucracy or lengthy decision making process impinging on their activity.  The boundaries of imagination were wide, and the possibilities for development and integration of technology were unlimited.

    Sometimes, in the midst of all the business challenges and demands on our time, we need to find time to become two guys in a garage.  Find that spot where we can innovate, concentrate, create, and view situations from the perspective of a learner to come up with an answer.  Or find a few people on our team who can work on the issues without being encumbered with an expected solution; who can innovate, inquire, and integrate to arrive at the best answer. So who’s in your garage?


    Read the Forbes article for more information on the Nottingham Spirk Innovation Center

    Photo courtesy of IStockphoto

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    Solve A Problem

    Kevin Plank recognized a problem.  As a football player at the University of Maryland, he became increasingly focused on the fact that after they played, the cotton t-shirts worn by the players under their pads were constantly soaked with perspiration. Kevin felt that the weight of the shirts negatively impacted their performance on the field.  Already an entrepreneurial hustler on campus, Kevin decided to find a way to develop a shirt that would draw moisture away from the body.  He started with a synthetic fabric made from women’s undergarments, and a friend joined him in marketing their product to sports teams and retailers. His brashness, creativity and pure hustle paid off, and they were eventually able to sign well known endorsers. Today, his company, Under Armour has a full line of athletic clothes, undergarments and shoes for men and women. They went Man writing the word "problem", crossing it out and writing the word "solution"from their first big sale in 1996 to becoming a publicly traded company in 2005, and their 2012 second quarter apparel net revenues increased 23% to $253 million compared with $205 million in the same period of the prior year. (Click here to read the full story by Monte Burke in the September issue of ForbesLife.)


    Plank’s solution to a problem became his key to success. Problems are all around us every day. The question is whether we recognize situations around us as “problems”, and what do we do about it. This requires attention to our surroundings and issues, and a willingness to own a role in developing a solution.


    A Peanut and a Sweet Potato

    George Washington Carver is a perfect example of this. According to Os Hillman in his book Change Agent: Engaging Your Passion To Be The One Who Makes A Difference,(p. 104) Carver lived in an era of pervasive racial discrimination when he encouraged southern farmers to plant peanuts and sweet potatoes because their land was depleted due to planting too many cotton crops. They initially criticized him for this suggestion, believing that the market wouldn’t support it, but nonetheless began to do so.  Carver, a Christian from an early age, would get up in the morning and go out to the fields where he sought the wisdom of God on what to do with these crops. God obviously answered his prayer because he subsequently created three hundred products from the peanut, and one hundred from the sweet potato. This revitalized the economy in the south, and made him a friend and confidante to presidents and business leaders. Why? Because they recognized that he was a problem solver. He had the ability to recognize problems where others overlooked them.  Then he was willing to own the problem and take on the challenge of addressing it.  Finally he had the vision and creativity to develop and implement a solution.

    Your Personal Problem

    Unfortunately too many of us look past the problems surrounding us with the attitude that we have no ability to impact or address them. We feel powerless and incapable of coming up with a solution, and look to someone else to handle it. But there’s nothing special about Kevin Plank or George Washington Carver. They simply opened their minds to future possibilities, and didn’t let their circumstances limit them. Both had a vision to see a problem situation and identify a potential resolution for it. They didn’t blame others around them for these problems; they stepped up and took responsibility for the solutions. Individuals who demonstrate this skillset are valuable members of any team

    Each of us has a problem or set of problems assigned to us from God that we are uniquely equipped to solve. God is exposing the problem to us, and drawing us to Him so that He can reveal the solution. Based on our instincts, interests and initiative we can be a change agent in our environment. Joseph demonstrated this capability in ancient Egypt when he interpreted the King’s dream of the coming seven years of plenty, followed by seven years of famine. Then he provided a proposal on how to prepare for the famine. He was instantly appointed second in command in the kingdom. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have used their billions in assets to address global issues of hunger, poverty, education and health care. Every problem solver won’t reach the same number of people, but every problem needs to be addressed.

    So what problems has God assigned to you? Be diligent in discovering them because solving them is your pathway to your purpose and your road to success.

    Recommended Reading:

    Hillman, Os. Change Agent: Engaging Your Passion To Be The One Who Makes A Difference. Lake Mary, Charisma House, 2011.

    Copyright 2012 Priscilla Archangel

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