Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Problem Solving and Climbing

This past weekend I did some rock climbing at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch in Jasper Arkansas. This was the first time I've ever done any climbing outdoors, after doing gym climbing for the past few months.

Outdoor climbing was a lot different from climbing in the gym. In the gym there are a set of holds that you follow as you climb up, all marked with colored tape so you know where to go next. Outdoors, you have to figure out where to grab and step. It becomes a problem solving activity as much as a test of physical capability to get to the top.

I thought about how this resembles the difference between taking a training class and working in the real world. A training class is like the gym, you are guided along. In the real world, you have to take what you learned in training and use that to solve problems you didn't face in the gym, or class.

As this was my first time outdoors, I have a lot to learn about climbing, just like a new project manager. It will only be through experience that I learn how to climb better. The other thing I had was a group of more experienced people to help show me the way, just like a new project manager should have a coach or mentor to help show them the way. No one can climb that cliff for me, but they can help me see the path.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Multi-tasking and Creativity

I've written before about multi-tasking (here, here, and here). In general, I think multi-tasking doesn't work and should be avoided. But does it hamper creativity?

In a study done by Teresa Amabile and others (see footnote), they found that having a fragmented day (ie, multi-tasking) didn't help bring out more ideas. Focusing on a single topic and collaborating with a single individual increased creativity.

I think about my typical day on site with a client. I have multiple meetings on different topics and don't seem to get a lot deep thinking work done. On Fridays, when I work from home and have more control over my day (and less meetings), I can carve out a large chunk of time to focus on a single topic and that's when I come up with some good solutions.

I've heard of organizations that are going to no email Fridays. I think the benefits will be the same. Without the distraction of email, they can focus on a single problem and let the creativity flow.

So pick a problem you've been trying to solve, block your calendar for half the day Friday, turn off the email, and get creative.

Teresa M. Amabile et al., “Time pressure and creativity in organizations: A longitudinal field study,” Harvard Business School working paper, Number 02-073, 2002