There is no such Thing as a Pure Hard Problem

From time to time I use the differentiation between hard and soft problems or difficulties vs. messes and the TROPICS test from McCalman and Paton to differentiating these two. Why? The answer is simple. My first studies were engineering disciplines. Engineering disciplines are working with hard problems, that is problems where you have a clear understanding of what constitutes the problem and where you know when you solved the problem. However, at latest when you finish your studies you realize that life is far more complex. You might realize that two opposing and mutually exclusive solutions to the same problem might be correct, which makes you think about how well defined the problem is – a “soft problem”.

This is easy to see. But there was a piece missing. I worked in teams that did a great job in solving a tricky hard problem just to see that nobody acted on our results. It took me a while until my MBA teacher Nigel hit the nail when we told me “There is no such thing as a pure hard problem”. Every relevant hard problem is embedded in a real life context. And you have to understand the full context. If you solve the underlying hard problem you might simply solve the wrong problem. And looking back, I was part of several of those activities.

As I am now working in a project portfolio management function this is an important lesson. If you solve the wrong problem you are very inefficient, regardless on how well the project proceeds. Thanks Nigel. 

Redesigning my Site

Please notice that this page is undergoing some changes. Old content will be a made available again once all the under the hood changes are complete.

I have changed from Rapidweaver to a WordPress blog. So far I am very happy about this change but it comes along with a quite some manual work. At the same time I am making some conceptional changes in order for the content to be presented in a way that I like better – and I hope you too.

Please let me know what you think so far.

[Update] Interesting enough this isn’t the first move of my site. In September 2012 I had the entry below. RapidWeaver was quite an disappointment after some years of slow updates that only costed a lot of money for no real benefit. And I just looked at my old blog. It still exists. Interesting. But here the old entry.

I started using RapidWeaver for this webpage (previously I used iWeb and Blogger) and I am in the process of transferring the content from my old blog page here. Therefore some content will be missing here for some time.

Unfortunately, this is a manual process that will take some time. In the meanwhile have a look at my old blog page: http://blackbookofthoughts.blogspot.dk

Why did I switch? Unfortunately, iWeb is no longer supported. And I wanted to make some changes that iWeb didn’t support. After some analysis I decided on RapidWeaver is the best available solution for me. One of the biggest problems that I faced during the change was that I wanted to keep the minimalistic style from my old web page. Thankfully, there is ThemeFlood. ThemeFlood showed the way and the further adoption was reasonable easy.

What do people want?

It just happened today that I realised that two very different books I am reading / processing had two related insights. 

From “The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever” by Michael Bungay Stanier, talking about the question “What do you want?”: “Here’s why the question is so difficult to answer. We often don’t know what we actually want.”

Now, combine this with “And the Mountains Echoed”  by Khaled Hosseini – “People mostly have it backward. They think they live by what they want. But really what guides them is what they’re afraid of. What they don’t want.”

What a day to find such related pearls of wisdom.

How Tesla will Change your Life

I want to make you aware of this great blog entry that is named similar as this posting. The author (Tim Urban) goes a lot deeper than many other articles that I have seen on this topic. It is a homage to Elon Musk and his Tesla company, but you get a lot more out of it. Having known most of it I am still impressed. Well researched, nicely elaborated on the context, skilfully put together. 

Why am I so impressed by this article? Because the article goes way beyond the usual superficial answers. It is the best application of the “5 Whys Model” that I have seen so far. The outset of the article is about the Tesla car company. But to provide the full understanding of the material the author goes back to evolution. 

The authors blog is worth looking at.

The Dancing Guy, Second Interpretation

I already posted this video earlier as an example course in leadership. But now I found a second interpretation around consumer adoption. 

Some background to this version: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technology_adoption_lifecycle (Moore’s Chasm version is an adoption of Rogers’s version)

Which version do you like better? And now we need to think, is the guy with the green shirt the first follower or the first customer? If he is the first customer then what did he buy? Or is there no real difference between first follower or first customer. 

Did you find a 3rd interpretation? 

Please let me know…

Aaron Swartz on Curiosity

I found the following paragraph from an email exchange of Aaron Swartz. Aaron died unfortunately recently. I hardly knew about him before his untimely death, but I recommend reading about him. The following was ringing a chord in me. I have a similar feeling about exploring the world. Once you know a bit about an area, this area is getting interesting. I worked in several industries and did different degrees and it always works for me.

E.g. when I was about to finish my computer science studies I was looking for a job, maybe Ph.D. I was never exposed to the fascination of mechanical engineerings before and I only went to talk to the people that offered a Ph.D. to computer scientists within engineering simply because I was already working as a student in the same building and I needed job hunting practice anyway. But what I saw fascinated me. My curiosity was stirred. A month later I started an Dr.-Ing. I never regretted that.

This is what Aaron wrote on curiosity. I might not have been as consequent as he was. 🙂

“When I was a kid, I thought a lot about what made me different from the other kids. I don’t think I was smarter than them and I certainly wasn’t more talented. And I definitely can’t claim I was a harder worker — I’ve never worked particularly hard, I’ve always just tried doing things I find fun. Instead, what I concluded was that I was more curious — but not because I had been born that way. If you watch little kids, they are intensely curious, always exploring and trying to figure out how things work. The problem is that school drives all that curiosity out. Instead of letting you explore things for yourself, it tells you that you have to read these particular books and answer these particular questions. And if you try to do something else instead, you’ll get in trouble. Very few people’s curiosity can survive that. But, due to some accident, mine did. I kept being curious and just followed my curiosity. First I got interested in computers, which led me to get interested in the Internet, which led me to get interested in building online news sites, which led me to get interested in standards (like RSS), which led me to get interested in copyright reform (since Creative Commons wanted to use similar standards). And on and on. Curiosity builds on itself — each new thing you learn about has all sorts of different parts and connections, which you then want to learn more about. Pretty soon you’re interested in more and more and more, until almost everything seems interesting. And when that’s the case, learning becomes really easy — you want to learn about almost everything, since it all seems really interesting. I’m convinced that the people we call smart are just people who somehow got a head start on this process. I fell like the only thing I’ve really done is followed my curiosity wherever it led, even if that meant crazy things like leaving school or not taking a “real” job. This isn’t easy — my parents are still upset with me that I dropped out of school — but it’s always worked for me.” (Aaron Swartz)

Steven Covey: The Big Rocks

Today I got an email with another great video I would like to share. This time it is Steven Covey, maybe best known for his book “7 Habits of highly effective people”. Watch, laugh and learn.

I referred already several times to the blog of JD Meier. He is a big fan of Steven Covey teaching. Have a look at his blog, e.g.