OWNER'S MANUAL

12 Ways to Attack Any Challenge

Stuck in a rut? Need to accomplish the impossible? Step right up. Here's how to get started.
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Whenever I'm discussing a challenge—okay, fine, whenever I'm whining about a problem—my wife eventually interrupts and says, "Yeah, yeah. I get it. So what are you going to do differently?"

Her response would be fairly frustrating if she wasn't right. Discussing—okay, fine, whining—never helps. The only way to overcome a problem is to do something differently.

But there's no reason to wait until you're forced to make a bad situation better. There's a better approach. Why not be proactive and turn average into awesome?

Especially since it's easy: Just employ one of the Five As of Awesome. (Wait—did I just channel my inner Tony Robbins?)

All you have to do is pick one of the following things to do differently:

Accept

Be who you are. I would like to ride a motorcycle like this guy. Or climb like this guy. Or run a company like her. Or change the world like him.

I won't.

And, for the most part, I'm okay with that, since I can always be a better me. I can ride faster or climb better than I do now, and I can make a bigger difference in the lives of my family and friends.

Think about the people you admire and pick a few of their qualities to emulate, not their accomplishments.

You can't be them.

The cool thing is, they can't be you.

Let others be who they are. Your customers, your vendors, your suppliers... they aren't going to change. Don't expect them to.

Pick one source of frustration and decide what you will do differently, including, possibly, walking away.

When you stop focusing on negatives you may start to notice the positive qualities you missed. Rarely are people as bad as you make them out to be—and if they are, it's up to you to make whatever changes are necessary.

They won't.

Assist

Help an employee. Don't wait to be asked. Pick someone who is struggling and offer to help.

But don't just say, "Is there some way I can help you?" Be specific: Offer to help with a specific task, or to take over a task for a few days, or to work side-by-side.

A general offer is easy to brush aside. A specific offer not only shows you want to help, it shows you care.

Help a superstar. Counterintuitive? No way.

Compared to others, the best-performing people don't need help so they rarely get it. As a result they're often lonely, at least in a professional sense.

Offer to help with a specific task. Not only will you build a nice interpersonal bridge, some of their skills or qualities might rub off on you.

Help anyone. Few things feel better than helping a person in need. Take a quick look around; people less fortunate than you are everywhere.

For example, I conducted an interview skills seminar for prison inmates (after all, who needs to know how to deal with tough interview questions more than a convicted felon?) It only took an hour of my time and was incredibly rewarding.

Most of the prisoners were touchingly grateful that someone—that anyone—cared enough to want to help them. I got way more out of the experience than they did.

Analyze

Change measurements. Over time we all develop our own ways to measure our performance.

Maybe you focus on time to complete, or quality, or end result. Each is effective, but sticking with one or two could cause you to miss opportunities to improve.

Say you focus on meeting standards; what if you switched it up and focused on time to complete?

Measuring your performance in different ways forces you to look at what you regularly do from a new perspective.

Change benchmarks. If you develop apps it's fun to benchmark against, say, the success of Angry Birds. Setting an incredible goal is fine—if you don't aim high you won't reach high—but failing to hit a lofty goal can kill your motivation.

So choose a different benchmark. Look for companies or people with similar assets, backgrounds, etc. and try to beat their results. Then, after you do, choose another target.

Aim for the heights, but include a few steps along the way. The journey will be a lot more fun.

Approach

Go opposite. If you haven't reached a goal then what you're currently doing isn't working.

Instead of tweaking your approach, take an entirely different tack. Pick one goal you're struggling to achieve and try a completely different approach.

Sometimes small adjustments eventually pay off, but occasionally you just need to blow things up and start over.

Drop one thing. We all have goals. Often we have too many goals; it's impossible to do 10 things incredibly well.

Take a look at your goals and pick at least one that you'll set aside, at least for now. (Don't feel bad about it. You weren't reaching your goals anyway, so what's the harm in dropping a few?)

Then put the time you were spending on that goal into your highest priority. You can't have it all, but you can have a lot—especially when you narrow your focus to one or two key goals.

Change your workday. Get up earlier. Get up later. Take care of emails an hour after you start work. Eat at your desk.

Pick one thing you do on a regular basis, preferably something you do for no better reason than that's the way you always do it and therefore it's comfortable, and do that one thing in a different way or at a different time.

Familiarity doesn't always breed contempt. Sometimes familiarity breeds complacency, and complacency is a progress and improvement killer.

Adopt

Choose a new habit. Successful people are successful for a reason, and that reason is often due to the habits they create and maintain.

Take a close look at the people who are successful in your field: What do they do on a regular basis? Then adopt one of their habits and make it your own.

Never reinvent a wheel when a perfect wheel already exists.

Choose someone to mentor. I learn more when I teach than the people I'm trying to teach. (Hopefully that says more about the process of teaching than it does about my teaching abilities.)

When you mentor another person you accomplish more than just helping someone else. You build your network—and more importantly, you learn a few things about yourself.

Last updated: Apr 11, 2012

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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