Today I’m going to lay out a case for a philosophy that I’ve believed in for a long, long time. I believe it solves a myriad of problems, so I think it’s a tool everyone should have at the ready. The philosophy is – do one thing differently.
Doing one thing differently is a way of triggering creativity.
It is a way of triggering momentum.
It is a way of triggering a jolt to the system to re-direct focus.
And, doing one thing differently can be used for yourself or for others.
When you’ve got a problem to solve and the obvious things haven’t worked, you can use “do 1 thing differently” to try and get some momentum. For example a coworker and I were trying to create a report in Power BI and we weren’t quite where we needed to be. We had tried the obvious things and none of them worked. There was that awkward silence as we both tried to think of another option. I couldn’t think of anything else, so I decided to try and solve a different problem. So, I asked, “if we can’t get the info we want in the report, let’s talk about what the work around is. How else can I get the information?”
Rather than focusing on the problem, I was drawing our attention to a different problem. And, as we tried to define the work around, we found the solution to the original problem. We had both gotten so focused in on the problem that we had tunnel vision and we couldn’t see a more creative solution.
When you are problem solving, it is easy to get into a habit about the way you approach problems. I have a coworker who, when I go to her with a problem, she immediately goes into what I call “consultant mode.” She starts asking me questions that help tease out the details of the problem. Question after question, she is helping to narrow in on a solution. But, she never directly says “here is the solution.” Her questions help lead to an obvious solution.
I have another coworker whose approach to problem solving is more what I would call ‘throw out every option you can think of’ mode. When problem solving with him, the questions are already solutions – have you tried this? Have you tried that? He comes up with a lot of great ideas for fixing the problem and will give them to you in rapid fire sequence.
And another coworker solves problems in a more internal or subtle way. If I throw out a problem, there will be a long silence. She is thinking through the problem before giving any solutions. You probably recognize someone you work with in these scenarios. You might recognize yourself even. We all seem to have landed on our preferred way of addressing a problem.
So, next time you are solving a problem, catch yourself, notice what pattern you are using, and change the pattern. If you are a quiet deliberator, instead try just throwing out every idea that comes to mind. If you are a rapid fire idea generator, try asking questions that draw out answers rather than just giving the solutions you think of.
Another scenario where doing one thing differently can help is when you are trying to change behavior. Email is a good example for this.
People get so many emails that it is easy for yours to go unnoticed. If you want to make sure it gets read – what is something you could do differently?
One trick that I use is to put something in the subject line that makes it compelling or makes it clear what I need. In the past, I’ve used a subject line that says “I need you to read this today.” That definitely isn’t a typical subject line and is very hard to mis-interpret. Of course – you can’t do something like this all the time or else it doesn’t work – because of course, if you do it all the time then it isn’t different.
Think of a behavior that someone is doing that you’d like to change. Then, think about your response to that behavior. Are you accepting of it? Do you ignore it? Do you resist it? Now you’ve identified the pattern. Now, think about options for changing your response.
If you currently ignore the behavior, think of a way that you could acknowledge it. I’m not necessarily saying that you should confront it, although that is certainly an option. By acknowledge, I mean you do something different than your current pattern. It may be simple or subtle.
One of my favorites is to simply delay my response. A typical behavior that I think most people have is to feel that they have to respond to an email or direct message immediately. One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone marks an email urgent when it clearly isn’t urgent. We are hard wired to respond to something market urgent as quickly as possible. My ‘do 1 thing differently” solution to this is to not respond instantly to urgent emails that aren’t urgent. It takes a bit of discipline, but it is my way of trying to change the behavior of the person who mis-uses “urgent.”
“Do 1 thing differently” is a good tool to use when you are trying to get attention. If someone has a certain expectation of the way you operate, the way to get their attention is to do something differently.
If you always send an email, make a call.
If you always take notes in a meeting, ask someone else to do it.
One thing I started doing differently a few years ago to try and get attention is recording video emails. Instead of writing out everything in an email, I record what I want to say and then the email is simply a sentence that says “please watch this 2 minute video about an issue with a problem we are going to need to solve. I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback about this approach and I think it is because it is different enough that people pay attention to it.
Doing one thing differently is a tool to use in lots of circumstances. It is pretty low risk because if whatever you did differently doesn’t work, you just go back to the old way. The thing that really makes ‘do 1 thing differently’ hard is that it is hard to remember to do it.
So, this week, your homework is to be deliberate about looking for places where you can use this tool to make a change, solve a problem, or get attention. Try to catch yourself in a pattern that isn’t working for you and find 1 thing you can do differently to break that pattern.
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