Saturday, February 26, 2011

A guide on conquering what work throws your way

Workarounds That Work: How to Conquer Anything That Stands in Your Way at Work 


Most of us look for shortcuts, "macros" or workarounds as a matter of course. "Adaptive behaviors," as the psychologists call 'em, are natural human processes we develop due to physical, intellectual or emotional limitations. Shortcuts, "tricks," mnemonic devices and the rest are popular because they work.

But the author here really isn't referring to those things. In fact, Bishop's rap is more along the lines of an analysis of systems to facilitate effective collaboration, then proposing ways to implement them. Yes, to some extent you could call them workarounds, but really, his methods involve the judicious use of logic, common sense, psychology and flattery, as needed.

If you're working with another group that seems to ignore your deadlines and issues, for example, instead of confronting them and asking what the !@#$% the problem is, Bishop decrees that you proactively try to turn things around and ask how you and your group are screwing up their lives and not the opposite. Invariably, he writes, you will find plenty of things that you can either eliminate or modify on your end. Having done that, you and your group can then focus on those anomalies and attempt to solve some of the issues affecting their end of things. Other impediments to progress like culture clash, power plays, organizational stratification, rules and more are covered by Bishop. In turn, he provides anecdotes of - and antidotes to - the obstructions.

I especially liked his bits on information overload, an affliction clogging the lines (and the productivity) of many organizations. It can take many forms but the most prevalent seems to be the unrelenting tidal waves of e-mail and carbon-copying so that every possible person will be included in the endless chain. It's not just a matter of openness, although that does occur from time to time. No, it's mostly used to cover your (anatomy) so that the sender can't be accused of not including the receiver in any and all communications - relevant or not - during a project. Bishop offers suggestions for dealing with several types of information overload, including this pandemic CC-itis.

He also adds his voice to the growing chorus opposed to constant multitasking, though the practice of doing many things at once is so ingrained in our culture that it might be a futile cry.

In addition to looking at sundry problems, Bishop also provides a number of interesting cases in which a "workaround" became a new business, such as a distributor of natural foods.

Again, I'm not sure if I'd actually call the solution to almost every problem herein a "workaround," but nomenclature aside, Bishop is an engaging writer whose clean and very readable prose makes for a pleasant reading experience. Because his ideas are interestingly presented and the examples are reasonable and realistic, they go down quite easily.

I'm also uncertain that every difficult situation has a solution; after all, some humans are far less rational than others. And other people just can't get out of their own way.
Originally published in The Miami Herald.