Personal development is often viewed as ‘fluffy’, with little relationship to the bottom-line, not something a CIO would hang a vision and strategy on. This blog series demonstrates that the reverse is true. If we are to make the most of the brains in our companies, we need to start re-wiring these machines, understand more about how our brains work, and use tools that harness our strengths and protect us against our weaknesses.
From the moment we are born we are being wired-up. As we open our eyes, feel the cold, scream in protest and are coddled in our mother’s arms we are creating synaptic connections. As we learn a new skill we create new neural pathways, these pathways with repeated experience, become a track… a street… a highway and a super-highway. These neural super-highways are the synaptic patterns of our experience and personality. They define our values, beliefs, decisions, memories and meta-programs that ultimately define who we are and how we see and interpret the world.
In any one second our senses allow us to receive an estimated 2 million bits of data per second. We have the ability to be consciously aware of about 7+/- 2 streams of data at any one time, roughly equating to 134 bits per second.
From this constraint we have evolved to identify patterns within the information overload – to recognise data points in our sensory perception, interpret that data at the conscious and sub-conscious level and respond.
That is to say, that at a biological level, our brains have evolved to take in very small amounts of data, identify patterns and make decisions. This leads to a natural ‘need’, ‘desire’ or ‘expectation’ to solve problems rapidly with a single solution.
Our ability to filter data, recognise patterns and act has a large impact on the way we work, it affects everything we do, how we interpret the environment, interact with each other and make decisions. There are both positive and negative effects.
The positive effect is the ability to understand a context rapidly, identify potential solutions, and select a solution and act, essential capabilities in urgent, tactical, operational environments where speed is essential. The negative side of this is the ability to filter out data that doesn’t immediately make sense, ignore data that doesn’t ‘fit’ previous experience, or not spend enough time understanding the problem before moving to a solution. In other words, we are so well wired to make quick decisions on limited data that on the occasions when we have time and data to make a more in-depth decision, we often lack the ability to change and adapt our approach.
This problem is more pronounced when working with complex processes such as software development, as our ‘need’ to provide solutions, regularly inhibits our ability to fully understand and resolve the root-cause of problems.
There have been a number of techniques designed to structure our problem solving abilities. They have been developed in many industry verticals from health care to automobile manufacturing, from new town design to software development, emphasising the ubiquitous need for strong problem-solving skills.
Two particularly useful tools that have cross-industry adoption are Design Patterns & A3 Problem solving. Design Patterns originally developed by the architect Christopher Alexander provided a framework for codifying the context of a problem and applying solutions.
“The elements of this language are entities called patterns. Each pattern describes a problem that occurs over and over again in our environment, and then describes the core of the solution to that problem, in such a way that you can use this solution a million times over, without ever doing it the same way twice.”
Design patterns have been adopted in Software development and were popularised by the Gang of Four in their 1994 book “Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software”. More recently design patterns have been used in organisational design (pioneered by the work of Coplien), to provide companies with tried and tested patterns for team and organisational design to solve problems in organisational performance.
A3 problem solving is a tactic within the Lean Thinking methodology, to help our brains spend enough time in the problem domain to understand the problem background, the current problem, the intended outcome, and the root cause before trialling multiple solutions as experiments and recording the outcome. Again, Lean Thinking has been adopted across multiple industry verticals particularly in the US.
In today’s corporate world, with the CIO in a more strategic position, such a tactic could prove invaluable. When CIOs are being asked to innovate while at the same time provide income generating solutions, the ability to enable your teams to address the root cause of a problem and focus on measurable outcomes to achieve business goals, could prove vital to achieving competitive advantage.
By understanding more about ourselves and how we perceive, interpret, and interact with each other and the world, we will create more effective teams and organisations.