Problem Solving: Go Over, Under or Around It

One characteristic that sets apart successful people is how they handle adversity. Problems inevitably arise in life, which means they happen at work. They unavoidably creep into your projects, transformations and special initiatives. Unfortunately, they trickle into our every day lives as well.

Recently my neighborhood lost running water – no water at all from the faucets for a full day. When it came back on, we were on “must boil” restrictions because the water was contaminated. (Try explaining that to your almost-seven year old triplets when they try to brush their teeth before bed at night!)

I realize hurricane Sandy victims coped with this for weeks. I also know that large parts of the developing world function this way constantly. But in the North Dallas suburbs, it’s not an everyday occurrence. From the experience, we all learned lessons about what we take for granted.

When adversity hits your project or special initiative at work, do you let it stop you? While it might slow you down, I encourage you to find ways to go Over It, Under It or Around It, rather than letting it stop you altogether. This means:

  • Over It: No water on Sunday morning? Many of us showed up at church anyway. Ladies had their hair in ponytails and the men had five o’clock shadows because they could not shave. Everyone understood. Plow through. At work, this may mean making lemonade out of lemons. Your scope may shrink, but you can still meet the deadline. Don’t let the situation get the best of you. This is an attitude!
  • Under It: Can’t go without a shower? Check into a hotel, or use the one at your gym, even if you did not work out first. At work, this may mean when your critical resource resigns at the most sensitive point in the timeline, you implement the backup plan you thought you would never need. What, no backup plan? Then leverage your network to find alternatives ASAP. Every good project and/or program manager factors in risk management. At these times you welcome those skills.
  • Around It: Bottled water quickly became a precious commodity at the local grocery stores nearby. Ever hear of dry shampoo? What similar alternatives can you use to find another way to solve the business challenge you face? For example, if your executive sponsor will not engage, perhaps you need to find an advocate or two who can get to them on your collective behalf. Non-traditional options might save the day. When you deduce that almost no one is paying attention to the normal communication channels, the time for more current options may have arrived in the form of social media.

I have worked with clients who let adversity stop them, despite my counsel otherwise. And I have worked with clients who go Over It, Under It and/or Around It because we partner together on alternatives. Which type are you?

Betsy Winkler is a Partner at People Results. She can be reached on email at or on Twitter at @BetsyWinkler1