The problem with that is…

By Ron Pereira Updated on January 13th, 2011

For some reason some folks seem dead against making things better.  One of the easiest ways I can tell if I am dealing with a concrete head is by simply listening to the words they use.

For example, whenever I hear someone say (after they hear a suggestion for improvement), “Yeah, I understand what you mean.  But the problem is…” I know I am in for a challenge.

Conversely, I know things will be a lot fun when I hear someone say (after they hear a suggestion for improvement), “That’s an interesting idea.  Maybe we could even try…”

The first person is looking reasons why something will fail while the second person is thinking of additional ideas to make something better.

So if you ever catch yourself in that negative mindset, and let’s face it we have all been there, do your best to snap out of it and focus your mind on ways to make progress.

  1. John Hunter

    July 19, 2007 - 8:46 pm

    But don’t turn avoiding negativity into willful ignorance of problems. So often I see “don’t be negative” as a way to shut down people that point out problems (though I know that isn’t what you are talking about). Taiichi Ohno: Having no problems is the biggest problem of all. So what we want is people that point out problems, find solutions and using pdsa implement solutions.

    I too often see people jump on the “pointing out problems” as negative and shut things down right there. I have seen that as much more of a problem than those voicing negative thoughts (giving voice to problems) holding things back – though that does happen too.

  2. Ron Pereira

    July 20, 2007 - 5:52 am

    I agree with you completely John. The point I was trying to make, and perhaps didn’t do a good job expressing, was people often times find reasons why ideas wont work and then stop without looking for ways to make it work (usually with a sour look on their face). That, I am sure, would drive Ohno up the wall.

    I used to have a boss who told us to never come to him with a problem unless we had at least two potential solutions. Even if the solutions were not feasible it forced us into the proper mindset. This mindset turned our department into a solution finding machine.

  3. Erik

    July 23, 2007 - 9:15 am

    When Lou Gerstner arrived at IBM he identified this and called it “A culture of No”. As he put it, “It is much like a skeet shoot. An idea being thrown out is like someone yelling ‘Pull!’ and the next thing you know the idea is in pieces on the ground.”

    We certainly have this at my company and I’m struggling to root it out. Any thoughts would be appreciated.

  4. Ron Pereira

    July 23, 2007 - 11:39 am

    Hi Erik,

    As others have correctly stated challenging things is OK and even necessary. If everyone always agrees little progress will be made.

    If the same 5 people always agree with one another it could be eventually argued that there are 4 too many in that meeting.

    But the problem comes when people take a “can’t do” attitude about everything without ever offering ideas for how things can be done.

    This is a serious issue as these people are not challenging with a kaizen mindset. Instead, they just like to argue and debate because they think it makes them look intelligent and full of insight.

    My personal approach is to first identify when a concrete head is present. Then I work to really involve them. I start asking them questions in a socratic manner instead of telling them things. I pose the question in such a way it is impossible to reply with a “no” or “can’t be done” response.

    Some call this questioning with constraints. It takes practice but once you get the hang of it you will be far more successful with the knuckle heads of the world.


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