Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 3, Issue 32;   August 6, 2003: Finger Puzzles and "Common Sense"

Finger Puzzles and "Common Sense"

by

Last updated: August 8, 2018

Working on complex projects, we often face a choice between "just do it" and "wait, let's think this through first." Choosing to just do it can seem to be the shortest path to the goal, but it rarely is. It's an example of a Finger Puzzle.

Glen had heard enough. "So what you're saying is that you need another three weeks to finish the requirements, and work on the specifications would begin three weeks after that, right?"

Finger Puzzles

A finger puzzle. Photo courtesy Celebrate the Child.

A little disturbed by Glen's manner, Bernice held her ground. "Right. We can shorten the requirements process, but for every day we cut, we should tack on about a month to the schedule overall."

Glen was exasperated. "Well, I don't believe your 20-to-1 ratio. There must be some way to get started on something while the requirements process finishes."

Glen and Bernice are locked in a common struggle — between "getting started on real work" and "thinking about it some more." How they resolve this can determine whether the project is a success or a money pit — or somewhere in between.

Typical factions in such struggles are "technical folks" advocating thought and planning, and "business folks" advocating "action." When their influence is balanced, the organization makes fairly good decisions. When one dominates, problems arise.

Both can learn from the finger puzzle.Sometimes the way out
of a trap is counterintuitive

A finger puzzle is a braided straw tube about 2-3 inches (5-8 cm) long, and about a half-inch (2 cm) in diameter. You put one finger into each end, and when you pull your fingers apart to remove them, the tube stretches, tightening its grip. Try as you might, you can't break free.

To free yourself, you have to do something counterintuitive — you push your fingers together, shortening the tube, and increasing its diameter. Then, holding the tube with your thumbs, you can easily extract your fingers.

Life is full of Finger Puzzles — situations that call for action that's almost exactly the opposite of what our "common sense" tells us to do.

The Requirements phase of a complex project is like a Finger Puzzle. The business folks want "progress" to start, but ironically, the project will finish sooner if we wait until the requirements are clear. During the requirements phase, the way to speed things up is to wait.

Action is a Finger Puzzle, too. The technical folks want to get the design right before going "public" with customers, but, ironically, we get things right faster when we have customer input. We think more clearly when we take action to get more information.

Even the debate between these two factions — "just do it" vs. "think about it some more" — can be a finger puzzle. While the antagonists contend, they give each other energy to continue the debate. Resisting one's opponent in debate, ironically, extends the debate. We reach agreement faster by exploring each other's positions, rather than asserting our own.

Get a finger puzzle. Tack it on your wall. It will remind you to question your common sense. Go to top Top  Next issue: Beyond WIIFM  Next Issue

Rick BrennerThe article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as an individual or as an organization. You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenuQKLUMsVubCpqOpqner@ChacCCvpZbzKGsgliMGNoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Project Management:

Apollo 13 Shoulder PatchFilms Not About Project Teams: I
Here's part one of a list of films and videos about project teams that weren't necessarily meant to be about project teams. Most are available to borrow from the public library, and all are great fun.
A phoenixFilms Not About Project Teams: II
Here's Part II of a list of films and videos about project teams that weren't necessarily meant to be about project teams. Most are available to borrow from the public library, and all are great fun.
The first page of Thomas Paine's pamphlet Common SensePublish an Internal Newsletter
If you're responsible for an organizational effort with many stakeholders, communicating with them is important to success. Publishing an internal newsletter is a great way to keep them informed.
Todd Park, United States Chief Technology OfficerProjects as Proxy Targets: II
Most projects have both supporters and detractors. When a project has been approved and execution begins, some detractors don't give up. Here's Part II of a catalog of tactics detractors use to sow chaos.
An unfinished building, known as SzkieletorThe Planning Fallacy and Self-Interest
A well-known cognitive bias, the planning fallacy, accounts for many unrealistic estimates of project cost and schedule. Overruns are common. But another cognitive bias, and organizational politics, combine with the planning fallacy to make a bad situation even worse.

See also Project Management, Problem Solving and Creativity and Critical Thinking at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A red flagComing July 22: Red Flags: I
When we finally admit to ourselves that a collaborative effort is in serious trouble, we sometimes recall that we had noticed several "red flags" early enough to take action. Toxic conflict and voluntary turnover are two examples. Available here and by RSS on July 22.
A wall of stoneAnd on July 29: Red Flags: II
When we find clear evidence of serious problems in a project or other collaboration, we sometimes realize that we had overlooked several "red flags" that had foretold trouble. In this Part II of our review of red flags, we consider communication patterns that are useful indicators of future problems. Available here and by RSS on July 29.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenuQKLUMsVubCpqOpqner@ChacCCvpZbzKGsgliMGNoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around.
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.
Comprehensive collection of all e-books and e-bookletsSave a bundle and even more important save time! Order the Combo Package and download all ebooks and tips books at once.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!