Team Problem Solving
I wanna talk through the actual math of synergy. Team problem solving is about working on things together, but like I said, two heads are not usually better than one, except in some instances. So here's one of my favorite little cartoon analogies. This here is Problem Mountain. Now any problem that you're working on, any challenge that you have in your life can sort of be represented by a mountain range. It'll look different every time. The height of the mountain peaks is the quality of solution. So every mountain peak is a solution, potential solution to a problem. And how tall determines sort of how good it is. You can imagine anything you're working on, you're trying to clean a dirty dish. There's a lot of ways you can clean a dirty dish, some of them are gonna be less good than other ways, right? That's why we invented dishwashers. So any problem that you're working on looks like this. The problem is, we don't always see the whole mountain range of possibilities. Usually we're sear...
ching for solutions, we're trying to figure things out. And it's kind of like we're hiking through fog. Now your perspective basically determines where you get dropped off on this mountain range. So you get plunked down, a helicopter lands you there, and then now you have to hike around and try and find the best solution to the problem, whatever you're working on. But you can't see, so you have to hike around and then determine when you get to the top of a peak, is this the best one, or am I gonna take the time and effort and energy to go down again and see if there's something else out there? And sometimes we don't have that much time or energy, so we have to guess. So your perspective plunks you down here, you're heuristic is how you approach climbing this mountain. So say I went to mountain climbing school in Idaho where I grew up, and we have a little rule of thumb, that when it's foggy out, you just, you land on the mountain, you hike uphill, until you get to the top. And then once you're at the top, you go over the other side of the mountain range, and you go 50 paces. And if after 50 paces it's still going downhill, then you hike back up to where you were, that's probably a pretty good spot. So using that rule of thumb, I hike up here, I go down and I say nope, still going downhill, this is probably a pretty good mountain, it's a good solution to the problem. So I end up back up, my perspective and my heuristic found this solution to the problem. Following so far? Alright. So someone with a similar perspective, one of my friends, someone who I you know, grew up with, or is on my team, we work well together, they get dropped off this part of the mountain range as well, similar perspective. Now she might have a different heuristic for mountain climbing, she went to a better mountain climbing school, she's been doing this longer. And hers is you hike uphill, and then once you get to a peak you go over to the other side, and you walk all the way down until you get to the trough between two mountains. And then when you're there, you look up which way is steeper, and you go up the steeper way. Keep doing that until you can go no further. So she goes here, she heads down to the bottom of this one, further than I got, realizes hey, it's steeper this way, goes up here, goes down here, and says no, it's not as steep here, okay, I found a better solution to the problem. So her perspective plus her heuristic helped her find a better way. Now if we're a good team, then she'll say, "Hey Shane, I found a better solution." Yay, I join her at this mountain peak. This is what happens in most of our work, this is what happens in our companies when we develop best practices. We find a solution to a problem that works really well, this is a pretty good peak, and so we say this is it, this is the way you do it. And then everyone hikes up the mountain and joins us here. Now the problem with this, is you can see in this scenario, there is a better mountain peak, there's actually two better mountain peaks out there, we just don't know, and we're stuck in what's called cognitive entrenchment. Our own success has led us to thinking that this is the right way to do it, and there's nothing better out there. But we can't see it. And so sometimes what happens is there's better solutions out there, and sometimes an earthquake happens, and a new mountain rises up, but we have no idea. When we talk about disruption in business or in technology, that's what this is about. When someone else finds a new mountian peak, or a new mountain peak rises up because of an earthquake. How you beat this, and how the math of synergy works, is someone with a different perspective is like somebody who gets dropped off on the other side of the mountain range, a different spot. Because they're gonna hike whatever their heuristic is, they're gonna hike and end up in a different spot than you, potentially. And so, say this guy went to mountain climbing school with me, he does the 50 paces down thing, but he grew up different, or he is different in some ways where he encodes the mountain range, this problem, from a different perspective, whatever thing might lead him to do that. So he hikes up, and he ends up there. And then the magical thing, is when we say, "Hey, look at him over there, "he found this mountain peak that's alright, "maybe a little better, maybe almost as good as ours." "But what if we tried our heuristic, or her heuristic, "of going down to the trough and up again from his spot?" And literally in this cartoon this actually works, you go down to the steep spot, and this is how the whole group ends up on the highest part of the mountain range. So this is called cognitive diversity. Cognitive diversity is basically the mental toolkits we have, and when they combine, those diverse mental toolkits, they can lead a group to be smarter than the smartest member of the group. So in the first scenario on the left, my teammate and I, we're only as smart as she is at tackling this problem. But together with someone with a different perspective, we can be smarter than all of us. So two heads are only better than one, if those heads see things differently. So that is the secret, that is the reason, and it starts to get at, the reason the Russian army is so good at hockey together, and the red army. So a real world example of this that I really love, the story of The Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital. A very famous hospital in London, that they do amazing work to save children's lives. The creator of Peter Pan bequeathed everything he had to them when he died. Beloved hospital, do amazing work. They had a problem a few years ago, where they discovered that kids after successful surgeries were having complications or even dying in the recovery room. Which, if you think about that, is a horrible thing, right? Kids, after you did a heart surgery to save their lives, are now dying in the recovery room, not during surgery. And they determined that the reason was this process they call hand-overs, which is, basically, you have you know, this complicated, bunch of people gathered around doing the surgery, the kid is hooked up to all this equipment. In order to get the kid from the operating room to the recovery room, you have to kind of unhook stuff, put the kid on a gurney, hook stuff up, run them down the hall, up the elevator, unhook stuff, put the kid on the bed in the recovery room, hook stuff up again. And this hand-over process it turns out, had a couple of problems that recurred over, and over, and over again. The first was technical error. While you're doing this stuff, really complicated, tiny kid, and you make any little mistake, and someone could have complications later. The other thing is sort of this game of telephone that happens when you do this. there are things that are peculiar to the surgery, and peculiar to the child, that get lost in translation during this hand-over process. You have these different teams that are doing this, and try as they could, they couldn't really reduce those errors. So the first thing they did, is what most of us are taught to do in school, which is they looked at best practices. What do other hospitals do for their hand-over process? Studied other hospitals in England, went over to America, studied hospitals there. How do they do their exchange program between the OR and the ICU? And they couldn't really figure out anything to copy from these other hospitals, that made this thing better, made this error rate go down. In fact, all of the other hospitals had this problem too. So this is a really vexing problem, as you can imagine. But one day a couple of surgeons were tired after a long day of surgery, plopped down in their break room, turned on the television, and they see this. It's a race car, Formula One team, race cars driving around a track, and a race car pulls off into a pit stop. A whole bunch of people jump out, tear off the tires, refuel the tank, throw the tires back on, the flag waves, and they go onto the track again. And the surgeons looked at each other, and they said, this actually kinda looks like this. You have a relatively large amount of people gathered around a relatively small area, doing something very quickly. And in the case of any mistakes, someone's going to die. So they then looked at each other and they said, do you think our boss will pay for a trip to Italy? So they went and they went down to Italy, and they hung out with the Ferrari pit group. And they learned some things from these guys. First thing they learned, pit crew taught them, so they made this excuse, and they said you know, there's so many of us around this tiny child, it's very hard to coordinate. Pit crew said, that's no excuse, there's more of us per square foot, or meter, than you guys. Our secret for that is that we have a very highly choreographed routine. They're like, you need to bring in a dance instructor to choreograph your feet of what everyone does in this scenario. And so what they said in the hospital, is they did what they call collaborate. You're done unhooking the ventilator, so you go help Steve with whatever he's doing. And the pit crew, they said no, everyone does one thing, they have one routine, you don't stop and help someone else. So you can do it in your sleep, and you always do the same thing every time. Second thing they learned from the pit crew, there's someone here called the lollipop man. So there's a man or a woman, stands there in the helmet with the flag, doing nothing. I think it's actually this. They do nothing, and they watch, and the car cannot go back on the road until the flag waves. And in the hospital room, or operating room, there's not always the same kind of seniority of people in any scenario. If you have encyclopedic knowledge of hospitals like I do, from The Mindy Project, you'll know that there's a lot of Politics going on in hospitals. And so there will be different seniorities of doctors, different kinds of people collaborating on these surgeries, and you know, visiting administrators, and all sorts of things. It's never always the same hierarchy in this room. Third thing they learned, they observed on the racetrack, which is that during this process no one speaks. They work in complete silence. They have a little bug in their ear where their boss can yell things at them, but they don't say anything. Whereas, again, if you are a fan of Grey's Anatomy, you know doctors like to talk, they like to chat. And so they would, during this process, they would communicate. They'd say, I'm done unhooking the ventilator, Bob do you need help? Or they'd be running the gurney down the hallway, and they'd say, how was your date on Friday? So they came back from this, from learning from these pit crew people, and they implemented these three things: they hired a dance choreographer to choreograph everyone's routine doing this. They said in every major surgery, there's an anesthesiologist. Doesn't matter if she or he is the most senior or the least senior in the room, that's the lollipop man. They follow the kid all the way to the end, the wheels on the gurney do not unlock and roll, until the flag gets waved by that person. And then they said, during this process, everyone shut up, no talking during the hand-over process. Talk about your love lives in the break, in the break room. And they did this, and overnight they reduced these errors by 50%. And over the years, they've virtually eliminated these hand-over errors. So now, thousands of kids have grown up without complications after these surgeries, lives have been saved. And the coolest part of this is, Formula One caught wind of this, so they made the Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital their official charity. So now race car drivers come and hang out with sick kids in the hospital, which is super cool, heartwarming. But the thing that happened here, if you think about it, they had a mountain range, a problem that they were working on, that the hand-over process, they had a solution but it was not the best solution. And the only way that they found a better solution was by combining perspectives and heuristics from two different industries. So they went over, they didn't look at best practices, they looked at cross practices from someone else who was working on a fairly similar-looking problem, similar-looking mountain range, but they had a very different point of view on it, and they developed very different skills and rules of thumb to attack it. So this is sort of the secret, I guess, for when you're stuck in a group, or you're at a loss for creativity, and you are stuck on a problem. Just looking outside of your industry for their best practices is often a very easy way to combine different perspectives and heuristics and solve the problem. One of my favorite examples of this in my own work, where you know, a lot of times we think that the work that we're doing is solo work, you're working on your own. But where teamwork can actually happen in sort of unexpected ways. Example of this, when I was an intern, when I was 21 years old, I was at the one tech company in Idaho, southeast Idaho, and I was writing ads for Google, in the early days of Google ads. And I was writing these ads for this sort of horrible, boring software. I was kinda mad, it was pay-per-click management software. So I was writing ads in pay-per-click, for pay-per-click management. But anyway, a horrible time of my life. My boss was amazing though, he was the guy that got me into start-ups. But, I was writing these ads, and everyone's ads were all the same. And we're all kind of copying each other, the best practices were how you write these ads. And you couldn't really do meaningfully different than each other. So one day, for whatever reason, I have no idea why, but I encountered some ads for online dating, and I have no idea why. But I saw some online dating ads, and I decided to rip em off. So I ripped off these online dating ads, and I just, instead of you know, I took out the dating words so, "looking for love?" And I just put in pay-per-click management, "looking for pay-per-click management?" "You can find the solution of your dreams." Or something like that. So, I ripped off these ads, and doubled my conversion rates. And then a week later, all of our competitors were copying my ads. Sort of a simple, super nerdy example of doing exactly this. So my teammates, in this scenario, were actually these copywriters for these other kinds of ads in a different industry. So this is the way that you see over, and over, and over again, innovation happen. And this is why thinking of yourself as a solo worker is often suboptimal. If you understand the math of synergy, and perspectives and heuristics, you can find those, even if those people don't technically work for you or work with you.