Seeking help across the organization can put an end to repetitive problems.

Happy New Year! Here we go again! Oh joy!

Well, it is a new year, and I do hope for all it is a good one, but equally, I hope that no one is starting the year with the pessimistic state of mind, like “Here we go again! Oh darn!”

Each new year is an opportunity. Yes, in mature industries too often the days blur to the point that each one seems like the previous – and the next. This “blur factor” has two fundamental causes: First, the perception that daily problems outnumber daily successes, and second, those daily problems seem to repeat. In short, there’s a lack of new – and dare I say, exciting – challenges. We get recharged by victories, even repeat ones, but no one likes problems, especially those that make work seem like a scene from Groundhog Day.

The higher one is in their organization, and the bigger that organization may be, the more that blur factor decreases. In fact, some at the highest levels of the largest organizations cannot understand such a phenomenon, let alone pilot their organizations’ obliviousness to the root cause, which left unchecked could cause the firm to founder. Equally, the smaller the organization and closer to the day-to-day operations one is, the more painful and numbing the blurring sensation can become, to the point that a good (or  even great) worker can deteriorate to mediocrity.

So assuming that most people are part of a small-to-moderate-sized business and/or are actively engaged in the day-to-day operations, whether sales, manufacturing or accounting, here are some thoughts on clearing the blur and refocusing on the important jobs at hand. These are all time-tested and usually work. (I say “usually” because an additional ingredient is required as a catalyst to either bring on or eradicate the blur: attitude.)

But first let’s explore just a few thoughts and ideas that some may consider radical. They include:

  1. When faced with a repeat problem, ask someone you trust in a different area of the organization what they would do – or do differently – to eliminate the problem. Those who work in different job functions often look at situations very differently. The paradigm you are used to operating within may be much of the reason for a problem to recur. Likewise, when someone from a different paradigm looks at a repeat situation, their insight may open up ideas you had not previously considered.
  2. Ask for help! So simple, so effective, rarely done!
  3. Take a tour of someone else’s department, facility, company – especially if in a different industry. You will be amazed at how many great ideas come from seeing how others do things. If you think that producing a printed circuit board is unique, visit a mid-to-high-volume printer, or a flexible packaging company, or a molding company, etc. They – we – all start with electronic data and create a wide variety of end-products – and we all do it with a wide variety of machines and skilled people!
  4. Collaborate! I know, sounds like (and is, a more polite version of) No. 2, but some people just do not like asking for help!

Equally there are some things that do not work on repetitive problems or dilemmas that cause each day to blur into one. They include, but are not limited to:

  1. “Let’s not take that order again.” Sorry to say, but despite Henry Ford’s best efforts, customers want a wide variety of colors, not just simple and repeatable “black.”
  2. “If I had better employees…” Regrettably there are no scapegoats, as everyone draws from the same talent pool. Some just know how (or make the commitment) to teach, train, develop and motivate people to do better.

Kind of basic, isn’t it? But that is where the catalyst – attitude – plays a huge part. It has been said that the difference between an ordeal and an adventure is attitude. That can be also said about the difference between success and failure, and problems and challenges, as well as a memorable day and a monotonous week. In each of these time-tested examples attitude makes the difference between overly simplistic opportunities and dumb wastes of time.

And yet so few people are willing to ask for help! Egos seem to get in the way, and the result is wasted effort, time and ultimately mediocrity. The most successful people I know are quick to ask for help, and when asked provide help themselves. Ditto for collaborating via creating improvement teams. Too many managers do not encourage their employees to work together to come up with solutions to those repetitive problems.

The same can be said for leveraging effective ideas from other departments or companies. Too many think their situation is unique. Amazing as it may seem, most manufacturing companies are remarkably similar and deal with the same types of challenges. Sharing ideas is not about comparing customer lists; it’s about looking for best practices and practical ideas that work and could be used to reduce repetitive problems and increase the probability of success. Again, whether because of ego or desire to try to learn from others, these time-tested ideas are not put to use nearly enough.

One final way to stop the blur is the downward spiral that comes from just saying “no” or seeking scapegoats when problems recur. Too many focus only on doing the easy, only to become noncompetitive and ultimately see their business fail.

So, Happy New Year, here we go again! Oh joy! Thankfully we have exciting opportunities this year!

Peter Bigelow is president and CEO of IMI (; His column appears monthly.

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