Why User-Z Matters

Bad ReviewWhenever you propose your plan for a big project in a meeting, and everyone is immediately fine with it, then you know something is wrong. Maybe not necessarily with your plan, but with the group you are presenting your plan to.With more than five people it is usually hard to get a consent on what route to take to the airport, thus, something is foul when nobody questions anything you are presenting.

They either didn’t listen, or they didn’t care, or they didn’t get what you were saying, whatever it was, undisputed consent should always raise a red flag.

John D. Rockefeller, who started out from humble beginnings to become the richest man of his time, surrounded himself not with yes-men but with critical thinkers and operated only by consent of his leading directors. This way he avoided major blunders and was thus able to grow his Standard Oil company to the biggest oil refiner in the world. And all that in the highly volatile years of the mid 19th to early 20th century.

What you want is strong opposition in your inner circle to make sure you can face the hard realities of your work’s existence in the outside world. (more…)

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Why You Should Aim for More Problems

Empty-RoadI was raised to ‘get things done’, to ‘get it off the table’, to ‘finish quickly what I started’. And that is a great attitude to have. It feels good to pull through and complete something that was not fun to do. I love the feeling when I get my taxes filed, or a big report submitted or my garage cleaned up. There are many of these tasks that feel so good to check off my to-do list.

But somehow I always have at least one big thing on my list or in the back of my mind that is bothering me. Something that is sitting on my shoulders and weighing me down. At the moment, it is a scientific paper I wanted to get done in February. But then I moved and ever since I keep dancing around it. Now so much time has passed that I need to review the literature again to make sure I don’t miss an important study that came out in the meantime. Time is tight right now and even though I know I could get done if I just dedicated 15 minutes every day, I just can’t get myself to start. Do you know the feeling?

It’s not that I don’t love writing. I enjoy writing a lot; I even like literature research and drafting diagrams because I love producing something useful. For me, it is difficult to start because I already know that to get done I’ll have to answer a couple of quite difficult questions. Right now, I don’t even have the slightest idea of how to deal with these questions.

We like to see the end of tasks before we start. If we know there are problems that are complicated to solve, then it is hard for us to imagine the end and that is why some tasks are just harder to start than others.

The main reason is that we don’t like to deal with problems. Somehow we think problems are bad.

We want to look at our day as an empty road without any obstacles. When is life ever like this?

And if it were, it would be hell. Just imagine you had nothing to do tomorrow. Nothing, no work, no errands, no food to buy, no laundry to do, no emails to write. Imagine that everything is taken care of. (more…)

Deconstructing the Email Myth

The-email-mythProductive people hate email. If you pay attention to productivity tips at all, then you’ve likely read too many posts about email hacks already. The email inbox ranks high on the nuisance scale. The average person it seems spends way too much time with their emails. I think that is a myth.

So how comes that virtually every blogger who writes about modern life has written at least one ‘email strategy post’ over the last year? And isn’t it ironic, when at the same time all these bloggers ask you to sign up for their newsletters?

I don’t want to be a hypocrite here. Yes, I also ask you for your email address and I also write about managing our email inbox. Yet, with this post I want to question how much of a problem email actually is. It is not the email inbox that’s the problem, is it?

How much trouble do you really have with your email inbox?

Before I get to the problem,  I want to talk about why email is still one of the best means of communication.

For me personal one-on-one communication tops everything. Then why don’t we meet everyone in person?
Because we can’t.

Yet, we can reach literally everyone via email. And that makes email so appealing. Unlike with a phone call or meeting, your recipient doesn’t have to be available at the time you want to communicate. The other huge advantage of email is that you can reach a lot of people at the same time. And unlike a video or audio broadcast it doesn’t require much setup, cost or effort. Our email inbox is still something very personal to us which makes email a more personal way of communication than it often is. If you see it from the sender’s side it means that sending an email is a way to get close to someone whom you don’t even know. And that is why everyone asks you for your email (me included).

So what is your problem with emails? (more…)

The Best and Most Popular of Travel Blogs

Most-Popular-of-TravelTraveling is a dangerous activity. Not because you leave the safety of your own couch, but because everything you may think you know about the world and other cultures is at risk of being shattered into pieces through the experiences you make and the people you meet.

Although I can’t claim to have traveled even nearly as much as any of the authors of the posts below, living a life as an expat (although I don’t like the word too much) has taught me a lot about myself and how much “truths” are relative.

Traveling is not only great to fuel up your creativity, everyone who travels a lot keeps running into sometimes expected, but mostly quite unexpected problems that need to be solved on the spot with limited resources.  With reaching point X being the first of a series of obstacles, it can easily be said that travelers are problem solvers from the start.

I rarely had so much fun and difficulty at the same time writing a post. Every blog lives off the personality and the personal experiences of its owner. For travel blogs, these couldn’t be more different. Over months I collected a list of over 300 travel blogs, every one of them full of good advice, great stories and a lot of personality, so that it broke my heart not to include them all.

To be as fair as possible, in addition to my favorites I randomly chose another 75 blogs (of these over 300) and selected what I thought fits best in this list. When possible I stuck with the most popular posts, which are usually most popular for good reason, but on occasion I took another post. Obviously, not all of theses 75 made it into this list  just like the ones that weren’t randomly picked. You can have the full list here. (more…)

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Problem Solving – The Failure Game

Problem-Solving-101-No9Last lesson I suggested being open to test out various life situations whenever we have several possible solutions. If you start thinking about it, the possibilities are almost endless. Testing is how I found a solution for how to politely deal with those self absorbed talkers you’ll meet now and then e.g. at conferences.

We don’t get many things done, despite their importance, because the little voice inside of our heads finds “good” reasons against them. Asking for favors is such an example. I absolutely hate asking for favors. A couple of years ago I needed at least five recommendation letters from people who I haven’t worked with. Asking people you know for a favor is one thing but asking absolute strangers to write something positive about you is a total different ballgame.

Since you can ask everyone only once there seems to be zero room for experiments.

What to do? (more…)

Problem Solving – The Value of Testing EVERYTHING

Problem-Solving-101-No8This post marks the eighth lesson of the Problem Solving course. So far I walked you through the UPEC process and described how this process is a cycle in which you can refine the single blocks if you don’t find the right solution in the first run.

So eventually you will get to an actually working solution. I want to emphasize that these runs involve actual action (Execute).

When you are fixing a broken lamp you won’t strategize much, you would probably immediately change something and then turn the switch on and off after each modification until you found the problem. So basically each try is one quick UPEC cycle. It is quick because it is easy for you to keep track of the different options and outcomes you tested. A game changer is realizing that you can follow the same testing strategy “in real life”.

UPEC

 

In real life?

I cannot speak for generations before me – all my working live computers already existed – but I noticed a tendency of many (including me) to treat much in life, i.e. all the things that really matter to us as if they were not real. As if was just a computer game we can play when we want, and pause it when we don’t. So often we pause and wait for some scripted magical intervention to happen. (more…)

Scientifically Proven Benefits of Being Happy

Owl200As a psychologist , if you want to be taken seriously you better not talk about happiness, you call it subjective-well-being (SWB). Well, I am not a psychologist, and I am not afraid to talk about happiness. But, I think “the pursuit of happiness” means so much more than leaving everything behind for the gold rush or just putting a smile on every morning.
Those are two extremes in which happiness seems to be perceived. People on the one end of the spectrum are only happy when they hit it big, the others see happiness as a mask that has to be put on every day, regardless of their feelings. “Just gotta be happy”…

Of course, most of us operate in the area between. We are genuinely happy about a hot cup of coffee, the first spring day, our daughter’s twentieth stick drawing of a cat or that we did not lock the keys in the car again.

And we often wonder when someone wins big in the lottery how happy they must be. We are happy for someone winning a competition or getting married; there is so much to be happy about. But what makes us happy? And what does happiness mean for our lives? (more…)

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Problem Solving – Creating Ideas

Problem-Solving-101-No7This is the magical seventh lesson of the problem solving course. You can have the best approach to problem solving, but if you fail to come up with ideas for solutions then there is not much to solve, is there? I have touched on this part before (Planning Solutions Part 1), which makes this post the unofficial Planning solutions Part–2. I, however, decided to include methods I already mentioned to make this post a more useful resource beyond this course.

The following methods are very different, because some of them originate from very different situations. As such, some will work better for your situation and some will not work at all; Some may even sound like nonsense to you. My best advice for this situation in particular, as well as in life in general, is to keep an open mind. To support this open mindset, I suppressed the urge to categorize the methods below in any way. Please also keep in mind that a thorough understanding of your problem is the foundation of the entire process. An effective problem statement can make the difference between success and failure of your problem solving process. (more…)

Problem Solving – No Checks, No Glory

Problem-Solving-101-No6The acronym of the problem solving process in this course is UPEC (Understand, Plan, Execute, and Check). In this lesson I want to talk about the last stage: “Check”.

You may wonder why I even have to write a separate post about that stage. It seems so obvious. You are done when the problem is solved, what is there to check?

Well, first of all, if you’ve done everything perfectly the check would be the point in time when you actually acknowledge that you are done. That’s a great moment worth noticing, isn’t it?

However as you may guess, again, things are often not that easy if you want to do them right. Even the simplest problem may have more to it than you think. (more…)

Problem Solving – The Big Why

Problem-Solving-101-No5After a couple of weeks, I am finally back with another lesson of my problem solving course. I hope you don’t still wonder “Why problem solving?”, but if you do, then it is more than time to eliminate these doubts.

Let me start with the following statement:
Happy and successful people are mostly good at solving problems.

These solved problems are both their own and other people’s problems. What do you think about that? You may not work in service, but unless you are living in solitude under a rock, in which case I applaud you to your internet connection, you will have some contact with other people. Any form of contact counts, phone, email, tweets, anything. People have problems, and there are different ways to deal with these problems.

(more…)