Engineers are, by and large, execution oriented.  Show me the problem, I’ll devise a solution (or several solutions), I’ll execute it, problem solved.  This is a great trait to have.

  Too many people lack an execution orientation and sit idly by waiting for someone else to give them direction, to solve their problems. There is one downside to this penchant for execution that everyone has to overcome: aiming.  Execution is good, but if you’re aiming at the wrong target then it’s nothing more than a lot of wasted effort.

I call execution without aim “thrust without vector”.  This is a great phrase I picked-up while in the Air Force and it describes someone with a lot of energy but no target to aim at.  When you dive into a project with an ill-defined problem statement, you’re nothing more than all thrust with no vector.  Obviously you want to vector your thrust towards the right target.

When faced with a problem, take some tips from darts:

1. Determine what target you’re aiming at.  In short, define the problem.  If you don’t have a clearly defined problem statement, you won’t know which direction to take.

2. Determine what the target looks like.  Every problem needs to have boundaries.  If you’re solving a water break on an aged water distribution system, do you fix the break itself, or replace the entire 3,200 meter degraded system?  You need to set boundaries on the problem or you can easily get “mission creep” and never actually solve the problem.

3. Know the rules of the game.  Darts is no fun if you don’t know what the rules are or if one persons does and exploits them to their benefit.  In solving a problem, you need to understand expectations of the stakeholders, the environment in which you’re operating, and the scope/cost/time rules with which you’ll be operating.

4. Practice at hitting the bull’s eye.  Success in darts doesn’t come from not scoring points.  If you’re playing the game of “cricket” in darts, you and your teammate need to be skilled at hitting specific numbers.  This takes practice if you have any hope of doing so when needed.  So to with solving problems; practice develops in you have the skill set needed to solve problems in your own style.

Throw.  Only after you’ve identified the target, know what it looks like, know the rules, and have practiced performing do you throw.  That’s if you want to increase your likelihood of success.

Once you’ve engaged, if you determine that your approach isn’t generating the results you want you can adjust.  It’s the same process any dart player implements in the heat of the game.  Having an execution mindset is a great asset.  Just make certain you execute in the right way by aiming at the right target.

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”  Abraham Lincoln
Christian Knutson

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