Solving challenges one perspective at a time

April 22, 2010   //   SWC Technology Partners, , ,

My wife is a notoriously bad cook. I have been married for fifteen years and I love my wife–but it’s not because of her cooking. The truth is that she simply hates the entire process. If I walk into the kitchen and she is doing anything more than pulling some fruit from the refrigerator, I turn around and walk out as fast as I can.

Over the years I have tried to come to grips with my wife’s disability. It’s a little bit like the five stages of grief.  First there is denial: “Her cooking is really not that bad.” Then anger:  “You’re kidding me!” Then bargaining: “How about we go out to eat tonight, then shopping!”  Then there’s depression and finally,  acceptance. I haven’t gotten there yet.

Today, as the father of growing children, I find myself in sympathetic company, particularly with my teenage sons.   It’s shocking  how much food a teenage boy can eat. Maybe even more impressive is how fundamentally important food is to a teenager. There are moments, if I catch them at the wrong time, when they are really hungry, that I know my life hinges on how fast I can get them to something edible.

Last night turned out to be one of these near death experiences. I was driving home from work when my wife called.

“Can you pick up the boys from practice?”

“Sure,” I said.

“Pick up the baseball player first, then the swimmer,” she said.

“No problem,” I lied, knowing that this will take me from one side of town all the way to the other. During rush hour.

“Oh, and I made dinner tonight,” she said.

“What did you make,” I asked.  My toes curled as I waited for her response.

“Stuffed peppers!” she said cheerfully.

“Great! That sounds great. See you soon,” I said, wondering how in the world I was going to sell stuffed peppers to our teenagers.

At the baseball field, my son jumped into the car.

“I’m dying!”  he barked. “I need to go to Portillo’s.”

I try and sell the stuffed peppers. I fail miserably. We drive to the other side of town and pick up my oldest son. I try and pitch the stuffed peppers again.

“Stuffed peppers?” he said, his voice mixed with disbelief and disrespect.

The ride home was littered with complaints, wild arm motions and desperate pleading to save them from Mom’s dreaded stuffed peppers. I had two choices: either feed my kids at a local drive-through and risk the wrath of my wife or put two savagely hungry teenage sons in front of the mystery peppers and make my wife happy. It was a classic no-win situation.

Every day I find parallels between business and life. How many times have all of us been faced with “no-win” situations in business? In IT consulting, it happens at the drop of a dime. Somewhere between the complexities of technology, the dynamics of mid-market operations and the flaws of humanity is a formula for chaos.   Misunderstandings can litter our everyday dialogue and put us in compromised positions every day. How we deal with these situations can be as important, if not more important, than the situations themselves.

To find the right solution, people often use the skills, tactics and strategies that are most familiar to them personally–even though that may not be the best approach to every situation. That’s why it’s important for IT consultants to think of situations from other perspectives beyond their own and ask, how would Bob solve this challenge? What would Stuart say if he were in this situation? By viewing the challenge from the prism of another, we may find a winning solution, even in so-called “no-win” situations.

In the case of the crazy teenagers vs. the stuffed peppers, I was tired and desperate, but I did manage to work a little magic and find a solution that made everyone happy. But as I sat at the dinner table with my family, I realized two things: my wife had cooked the best meal of our marriage and my sons needed to work on their table manners.