Problem Management — principles

One competition for hunting-dogs provides a very important lesson for humans.

A shot is fired, a bird drops to the ground, and the competing dog is told to fetch the bird and is then released. When the dog is part way to the bird, another shot is fired and a second bird drops to the ground not far from the path to the first.

If a dog deviates from the original path, it loses. The winning dog will ignore the second bird, even though it is closer and easier to fetch, and will continue with and complete its original task.

Similarly, the next time you are at a meeting, keep track of how much time is spent talking about things that have nothing to do with the intended purpose of the meeting. Either the meeting has digressed completely off the topic or it is dealing with the fine details of a very small part of the main subject. Neither situation gets any closer to answering the original problem. It's hardly surprising then that so many meetings end up with the central issue unresolved, and either another meeting must be scheduled to continue the subject or subcommittees formed to work on it in more detail.

Start each meeting by asking the question What is the purpose of this meeting? and write it down. Then, whenever someone says something that doesn't seem to relate to this purpose, interrupt and ask How does this relate to …?. You might not be popular, especially if you aren't the person leading the meeting, but it's amazing how efficient the meeting will be and how much will be accomplished toward its intended purpose.