Debrief of Problem Solving Leadership class

The PSL class was a remarkable experience different from any other class I ever attended in my life.   The following youtube clip shows how much fun it was, here when we in "The Red Team" made a "Musical Performance" which we had only one hour to invent and prepare. Remember to watch in high resolution if your bandwidth allows it.
Everyday was full of experiences and triggered strong emotions within and between us who attended.   Probably, the class will meet again many times, since we did a whole lot of bonding through the exhausting exercises.
Most of the exercises were simulations, that is they simulated situations we all where familiar with, but gave us a whole lot of different perspectives on.

In the biggest one, we simulated a whole company.  And during the simulation I found myself feeling distrust for what the "development team" where doing, myself being part of the sale-force of the company (actually, and I am proud of it, I was the first one to figure the whole sale-process, and I got the title Salesprocess manager! ūüôā ).
I have seen people outside development teams, sales people and managers expressing exactly this feeling, and now I felt exactly the same, and I even didn’t recognize that until after the simulation.
Very interesting!
Shows the importance of transparency and of trust I would say.
You might now wonder how did the simulation look like, but I will not blog about it, in case anyone reading this want to experience it themselves, I could risk ruin it for them if I would describe how the simulation worked.

So what did I learn ?   So much, and I am still processing the experience, but I will try to express some insights I got so far;

1.  "The problem is not the problem – it is coping with the problem"
Meaning, often we have a defined solution for a problem that is much more complex than needed.  Our, or better, my instinct to quickly find a solution for any "problem" I face, often leads to a bigger problem, which is implementing the solution, which might be real hard, if the solution is not appropriate, and not what others want.
If I instead try to wait with interpreting the situation too quickly and creating a solution before I actually understand what the problem is, I get much better results.

2. "Finding a zero-level solution first makes it easier to develop a good solution onward"
Faced with any problem, it seems that if I first try to figure out what is the easiest and simplest possible solution for this situation, that requires the smallest amount of work, everything will be much smoother.
With the zero-level solution I get a security, that no matter what, there is a solution.
I can then build on it with small steps.  
Which is exactly how TDD works, but this works for anything, not only programming.

3. Going with the flow is much more effective leadership than trying to lead by trying to persuade other to go for your solution.
Being smooth and going with a flow in a team is much more effective leadership than trying to enforce your own will onto the group.  A process is always better than no process, and fighting about it waste a lot of time. 
Often fighting or being in the Big Game (the powerstruggle) hides the constructive path to find a good solution. 
As important it is to be honest about my opinions, it is important that I accept and commit to decisions made by the team.  There is never only one perfect solution.
The first priority must always be to find a solution, any solution.  Then we can refine it with the time and resources we are given.

4. "Problem-solving leadership may be defined as

The ability to enhance the environment
so that everyony is empowered
to contribute creatively
to solving the problem(s).
  – excerpt from the class

I think this is so beautiful – and true.  And it goes along the same lines as Patrick Lencionis work.   Leadership is making a team work, and anyone can execute it.

5.  Leadership and management is two different things.
Well of course.   Leadership can be executed by anyone.  It is of course good if a manager is a good leader, but it is not a necessitity.  If there are good leadership skills among the team members that might suffice to make an effective team.

6.  Doing nothing can be an important act of leadership.
Sometimes when a team is struggling, the best thing might be to do nothing, or rather just observe.   Through observations you might get a better understanding of what the problem really is, which often has little to do with anything else than the people themselves in the team.

7. A lot of specification will be bad for the teams creativity and yield in a worse solution.

Letting the team use it’s creativity to find their way to a solution open up for the possibility for the team to get into a creativity flow which probably will yield a better solution than if the team has to work towards a detailed specification.
Of course there are usually boundaries for any problem that has to be specified, but let the team have as much freedom of creativity as possible if you want high productivity and neat solutions.
This I experienced several times in the class simulations as I have in my career.

8. Simulations are a very effective way to learn.
I will remember to use much more practical exercises and simulations in my own classes in the future.  Some of us attending the class are also thinking about forming a society where we can meet and try out ideas for new simulations.
Simulations are not only effective learning – they are so fun! 
Maybe because they bring about so much emotions.

9. Keeping a hand-written journal and notebook helps me organize my life and be effective.

I’ve tried to have TODO lists on my computer, and in many other digital forms (PDAs, cell phones etc..) because my handwriting sucks.
Jerry gave me a personal gift.  A Uniball pen.  It has done a miracle for my life.
With a small notebook from the class, I am now able to anytime anywhere write down ideas and todos and reflections on my own behaviour. 
My life has taken a new direction, and only this little change has made a huge impact.
Slowly my handwriting will also be better.  And it is fun!  Writing notes on paper is actually fun!  I didn’t know that!  Thank you very much Jerry!

Jerry Weinberg, for those of you who don’t know him, is one of the foremost writers, speakers and thinkers when it comes to leadership. 
You can read about him on his website
I just want to give you some small anectdotes he told me:
As a young programmer working for IBM, the computer he was in charge for was hired out to companies, and he came with the package so to speak.  At that time the computer he worked with, was 10% of the worlds total computer capacity.  Having the opportunity to program a lot before most people ever heard about programming might be one reason why he soon was ahead most the others in the business.
Beside being one of the developers of the first Operating system, and the Fortran language, Jerry also was the Chief architect for the NASA Mercury mission, sending the first american into space.
He almost missed that assignment, because he first turned it down being tired after a journey.  In the elevator down from the recruiter, someone told him about the mission of the project, and being very interested in anything concerning space and astronomy and sci-fi, he immediately went back and was able to get the assignment before anyone else took it!

For me Jerry stands out as the most impressive person in the IT business I’ve met so far. 

Johanna Rothman was the woman inspiring me to attend the class.  Watching her webcasts on InfoQ before the class, was what made me make up my mind.
She gave me such good advice on how to improve my consulting. I am very thankful to her for that.  She is a very bright woman having so much insights about effective teamwork.

Esther Derby insights about agile processes, and calm and clear leadership was also a guiding light through the week.

I bought some of their books, on the shelf now is "Becoming a technical leader" by Jerry.  "Manage IT!" by Johanna and "Agile retrospectives" by Esther.

I will surely blog about what I learn after having read these books and in connection with what I am learning from the class.

I will also attend Jerry’s class on simulation design later this spring.

If you want to attend the PSL class yourself check out

The Amplifying Your Effectivness Conference is probably also a great place to be;

If you are interested in designing and testing simulations please contact me and you can join us in  "The European Simulation Design Society".

//David :@

9 responses on “Debrief of Problem Solving Leadership class

  1. Hi David! Good post. I think you managed to sum a lot of the most important learnings most of us experienced during the week. It was great to get a little retrospective.

  2. Great summary, David, which makes useful feedback for me.

    One small correction. I was not on the FORTRAN team, but shared a computer with them as we developed the operating system. Having lots of time waiting for our turn at the computer, we became reviewers of the FORTRAN team’s work, as they became reviewers of ours.

  3. Sorry about that Jerry!
    And thank you for taking time reading my blog entry.
    This reminds me that I need more training on listening and paying attention to details, developing the S-part of my personality being an ENFP as I am.

    You must have had a great time in those days, when the whole IT business where so fresh.  Or do you think it is even more fun now?

    I’m looking forward to the Simulation Design class. I think (my lack of detail again), I forgot to ask you if there is a website up for it yet ? 
    I will find out and post it here and in the PSL group unless you are reading this and decide to post it here before me.

    Thanks again for your valuable time and contributions to my life and career, and for the uniball pen, which I now bring everywhere, and which makes a symbol for the new more effective and organized direction my life has taken after your class.

  4. Hi David,
    I appreciate you for writing this important review: It helps me to validate my own learnings from the workshop when I can see what meaning you (and other’s) associate with the lessons we have experienced.

    I’d like to explore the secret around the uniball-pen a little more: You seem to get your motivation to write a journal from the pen. What attributes of the pen are the source of your motivation? Is it a physical experience from writing with the pen? Is it the symbolic value of the gift from Jerry? Is it anything other than that?

    Regardless of what it is, I shall suggest to Jerry, Johanna, and Esther to include one of these wonderful writing devices in each students course materials (for the next PSL workshop).

  5. The pen has become to have a special meaning for me because, writing a journal does help me organize my life better, but also because I have anchored the change the PSL class has made to my perception about myself and my actions, which I try to implement, into the pen. 
    Having a physical anchor to the mental process helps me keep the change process alive and makes it a little easier to resist fall back into old habits.
    So it is not the pen in itself of course, and I know you did not think that, but the value I have put into it.
    I guess changing something in our morning habits as we were recommended would have pretty much the same purpose.

  6. David et al.

    We will try to remember to add a uniball pen for every member of the next PSL workshop. BTW, that next PSL will take place in New Mexico, USA, in late March. For more information, click here.

    As far as the simulation design workshop is concerned, we don’t have a webpage, since we haven’t scheduled it yet. Also, the workshop isn’t open to just anybody. To qualify, you have to be a graduate of at least one of our experiential events, like PSL and the AYE Conference. If you’re interested, just be sure to let Esther know, and she’ll inform you if/when a class is scheduled.

  7. hi david,

    interesting post … but i’m afraid the external links are broken? (firefox3 on osx)


  8. I agree with Johanna, Simulations works well. Everyone learns. Some ppeole learn that they don’t like simulations, and that helps them learn something about themselves.

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