Daily Quote and Reflection: My thoughts about Eric Hoffer’s Approach to Problem Solving and Finding Opportunities

Daily Quote and Reflection: “In human affairs every solution serves only to sharpen the problem, to show us more clearly what we are up against. There are no final solutions.” Eric Hoffer, An American Moral and Social philosopher and Longshore man.  


Hoffer spent most of his life living on the edge of poverty and powerlessness in California, working as a longshoremen and writing his observations of American life from and moral and social sense of a blue-collar worker living in San Francisco. His first book, “The True Believer”, was an immediate classic and stamped him as a most original thinker of his generation. . “The True Believer” is Hoffer’s observations on mass movements and fanaticism. Nazism, Communism, socialism, and early religious movements were topics that this classic book examined and critiqued with scrupulous research and poignant observations. Owing to a life lived mostly in poverty; Hoffer’s comments on the dysfunction of ideology and the human condition are particularly astute. Hoffer’s life was full of obstacles: blindness, loss of his parents at an early age, growing up in a new country without access to education, a lifetime of manual labor and subsistence wages. And yet, this self-educated man has left an indelible mark on all that have read his writings and consider his brilliant thoughts on a wide range of cultural, philosophical and political topics.

I discovered Hoffer, when as a Sophomore at Michigan State University, when assigned in a Sociology class to read  “The True Believer”, I did not realize the lasting effect it would have on my life. Hoffer observed that the struggle to survive, at its most basic level, offered the best promise of a lifetime of meaning and fulfillment. The man who must work, must harvest, must create is most satisfied. Man with too much time on his hands spend most of their time in regret and criticism.

Hoffer’s most prescient observations: “It still holds true that man is most uniquely human when he turns obstacles into opportunities” and that  the actions and mind of juveniles’   is similar to the mentality of “true believers”. Both groups seem eager to throw away their identities in favor of a cause–any cause that caught their imagination and fancy for attention and immediate gratification.  For the last 45 years, I have read and re-read “The True Believer” many times .  Each time I pick up this amazing work I learn something new, fresh perspectives and concepts that I can apply today.

Self-Coaching Challenge: In what ways are you stuck or still acting like an immature adolescent? What changes are you willing to make to become more independent and responsible in your personal and professional life? How do you turn obstacles and setbacks in your life into opportunities?

Stop Making Bad or Impulsive Decisions: Use the Power of Small Dose Learning


 Often we get stuck when it comes to making decisions. We may make decisions impulsively, don’t gather enough information, data or knowledge, feel over whelmed with too many choices or don’t use a process or structure to make them.

For example, take this client of mine named Ted, an 18-year-old student who has recently made the choice to go to college and major in Forestry. What led him to reach that decision? Dad who is a rancher, a favorite Biology teacher, life experiences, childhood dreams etc. Well it probably was all of that and more, but one thing lacking was a coherent structure or approach to decision-making. Let’s explore, Ted’s case to see how many of us go about making important life decisions just like he did to select like a major in college which leads us to a certain career path and maybe disappointment or success.

Well, Ted spent one month exploring other possibilities—basketball coach, law school and psychologist—and he eventually decided on Forestry as a best fit. He’s always enjoyed the outdoors, camping and hiking were his avocation, climate change was an issue he thought was a field he could make a difference in and he likes the idea of working  with others that have the same values about the importance of nature and the environment. He feels like the lifestyle of a Forester, would provide the freedom from bosses and the authoritarian structure of big corporate organizations and yet would provide a reasonable salary and secure benefits now and in the future. And there was the plus of probably a great lifestyle in a wonderful geographic area, and if he was to marry and have children a wonderful environment to raise them in.

He thought this was pretty good information to base a career decision on.  Yet he had an unsettling feeling in the pit of his stomach about this decision. Steve is contemplating a minimum time commitment of 4 years for undergraduate and possibly two more years for graduate school, not to mention tens of thousands of dollars in loans that he would have to payback. He’s placing a huge bet on really limited personal experience. His situation makes  him a prime candidate for a “real-life” sampling through a small-dose learning experiment. Instead he moves to settle this decision by using as most of us do a pro/con decision-making process. The only tools needed are a blank piece of paper and pen or pencil. In one column he lists the positive reasons to go with this decision to become a Forest Ranger. In the other, column he list the negative things pushing for a different decision. Within about four hours of research and one night to sleep on his decision he decides to go for his dream. A high risk decision which puts at risk his future. Continue reading “Stop Making Bad or Impulsive Decisions: Use the Power of Small Dose Learning”

Want Successful Relationships with Difficult People?–Pay Attention to Situational factors not Personality Conflicts.

Quote:” If a man is brusque in his manner, others will not cooperate. If he is agitated in his words, they will awaken no echo in others. If he asks for something without having first established a proper relationship, it will not be given him.”

I Ching: Book of Changes China 600 B.C.   

Reflections and Ideas: Interpersonal conflicts can make or break a workplace project’s  success. The more difficult the relationships the more we often try to ignore or run away from them. Many times we see the relationships as secondary to the rational goals of the project or initiative. It has been observed by some management consultants that at the core relationships usually make or break our plans. The reason for this is that business has a powerful bias toward rational thinking and factual analysis in completing the task at hand. Many times in business it’s about analytics and the substance of the task– and of course it is. But very quickly, relationship issues start to affect how well we handle the substantive issues.” So if you’re having problems with a colleague, it’s important to address them head-on. But simply changing your own attitude isn’t enough. Self-help tips about how to change yourself or positive affirmations like, “I am a good person so I can fix this. With some of these suggestions we just aggravate the situation because we never understand the root cause for our interpersonal problem. But how long can you do that before your frustration causes angry outbursts and effects your other relationships and job performance.

Tools to Try.

he answer, instead, is to change your mental-mind set and the relationship structure by confronting it through active listening, empathy and caring confrontation techniques. For example, getting more of an objective view point on the conflict or just taking a pause to  evaluate your expectations and interactions – even going so far as to ask a colleague to observe and capture your conversations and provide feedback is worth the time and effort to get clarity  and capture the nuances of what you say and how you act with the other person. I believe you can’t come up with a Smart-Step plan without understanding  how each person’s behavior and body language is impacting and eliciting reactions and behavior the other person doesn’t like or agree with. Figuring out the root causes and engaging in caring confrontation discussions about how to solve the problems in a cooperative and dynamic way are ways to unlock these unproductive relationships.

For instance, you may find yourself in a pattern of forcefully advocating for a position with your colleague, which he strongly opposes. But if you step back to ask about her concerns and what she’s trying to say and accomplish – and begin to address those goals –she might not feel the need to oppose and argue you so much. We all need tools to help look at situational factors, style and relationship patterns; without trying  some new approaches it is difficult to unfreeze our self-fulling prophecy that this individual is not a team player or is just a “jerk” who doesn’t like you and likes to cause problems.

 Most research into relationships and interpersonal conflicts show that people tend to think in terms of motives, character and personalities, despite the fact it’s more often due to situational factors rather than due to character or personality conflicts. For example, your assertiveness with a less assertive and open person might be perceived as aggressiveness and bullying. To keep  relationships growing as leaders it is your responsibility to flex your style and be sensitive to the other person’s needs and concerns. No matter how well established, in order to turn relationships you can not see them as permanent and intractable. Instead – with time and practice – you can change and improve the way you listen and solve problems.

What are your strategies for dealing with difficult co-workers? How do you work to build strong relationships? In conflict situations what do you do resolve them? 

Daily Quote and Reflections: Thoreau’s take on problem solving and “root” change

Daily quote and Reflection: 

“There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” –Walden 

Reflection: Thoreau was certainly a man who march to his own drummer. Cities and towns and urban life did not inspire or ignite his curiosity and creativity. It was nature and all its beauty and wonderment that trigger his perspective on life. I wonder if most appreciate nature so as to change our perspective of what is important in life? Maybe taking 10 minuets a day with nature would slow us down and provide space for renewal and soulful serenity. His ability to observe and become aware that most of our problem solving was superficial ( a thousand hacking at the branches) vs. real critical and deep thinking (striking at the root) provides a vision and a road map for us to stop and look at real causes to climate change, health care issues and equality which are tearing at the fabric of our Democracy

Action Challenge–Are you a root cause problem solver or  a superficial traveler in life?  What ways can you influence more profound change to save our freedoms and gian more personal grounding of what is important in living a Meaningful and Constructive Life?

Learn Recovery Techniques: For Coping with Life’s Difficult Challenges

Have you ever thought that your life was out of control and you wanted to live it with more energy, less stress and at your own pace?

Difficulties and challenges are part of life, so when bad things happen it is best if you are armed with skills, a mental set and positive emotions to help you get passed and through these problems. I recently, was introduced to a Mental Health process that I think could be good for anyone any time for any of life’s challenges. This process is called WRAP® -Wellness Recovery Action Plan. It was developed by Mary Ellen Copeland as  a structured plan developed by her to help face and recover from life’s challenges.  It is a system that you devise for yourself that helps you work through stress, anxiety and other mental health challenges or life issues. It is flexible and adaptable to any situation. Through awareness and observation, you identify those things you do to help yourself feel better when you are not feeling well, and those things you do to stay well and enjoy your life. The system demonstrates how to use these tools to develop personal action plans when facing difficult challenges. This a proven system being use by many people all over the world to create more meaningful and happy life’s. Check it out and start gaining control of your life through understanding negative and positive emotions and taking action to put your daily life back on track.

Daily Quote and Reflection– What we face today looks like yesterday’s problems.

    Daily Quote and Reflection:
    “If we accept the common usage of words, nothing can be more readily disproved than the old saw, ‘You can’t keep a good man down.’ Most human societies of which we have any historical record have been beautifully organized to keep good men and women down.” John Gardner from book entitled


    “What we have before us are some breathtaking opportunities disguised as insoluble problems.” John Gardner 1965 Speech.
    Reflection: It is amazing how both of these ideas still hold true for us today. Women are still be discriminated against by doing the same jobs as men in many industries and receiving less pay. This irreprehensible.  What does Excellence mean to you? Let’s ponder together. Send me your ideas and I will post them.

Part 1: Win-Win Conflict Resolution Framework

Relationship Conflict Framework for Resolution

1. Challenge you assumptions, gather the data and information

2. Explore the Difference and Identify Problems

3.   Sharpen the Difference or Agreement–establish boundaries

4.    Identifying and Exploring  Win-Win Solutions

5. Get Commitment – Identify Action Plan – Follow-Up by using Smart-steps for change

6.  Continuous Improvement and Feedback Loops to support change and open communication.

Next blog I will breakdown the details of the framework stay tuned.

Difficult Conversations: Tips on Reducing conflict and increasing acceptance

“Give the people around you the benefit of the doubt.  Ascribe to them positive motivations, and hope they do the same for you.”  MWH

Acceptance means to listen, observe, understand, acknowledge,  and when appropriate communicating openingly and with directness. Above all try to keep the heat at lower temperature so others can be heard. Watch your tone and keep your finger on the pause button so as to assess the current situation, confront your thinking and false beliefs and then choose a response.

  • Clarify and agree to agenda and expectations for your time together
  • Monitor and edit yourself. Sincerely listen and try to meet the needs, interest,  and concerns of others; do not start by giving advice; try to listen and understand their needs and wants.  Show them that you have their best interest at heart.
  • Soften your “start up.”Be friendly and welcoming to person. Too much, too soon and too strong usually lead to resistance by audience members.
  • Accept influence. A difficult conversation succeeds to the extent that the presenter can accept influence from the other person. Be responsive to comments or concerns of the person. Ask questions to clarify misunderstandings.
  • Remember the best feedback is straightforward and simple. Don’t beat around the bush. Respect and encourage candid dialogue by trying to become a better listener, providing specific and tangible examples of behavior and its impact and confront in a caring way. Learned to turn down your volume and use your mute button when angry feelings bubble-up. Model the good communication habits you would like others to practice.
  • Focus on the optimistic “POV”. Try to understand person’s view of the world. In an open and positive communication that works for both of you. Problems and solutions are discussed in a “matter of fact” tone and comments to each other need to be in a ratio 5 to one. Meaning five times as many positive statements are communicated for every one negative statement
  • Learn to respect and appreciate differences in styles.
  • Take time-out if conversation gets heated. Set time to be continued.
  • End with small-steps for change and set next meeting to evaluate progress.

Power of “Peer to Peer” Small Groups: Change Diagnosticians

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and concerned citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”-Margaret Mead

As people watch one problem morph into several more, they start wondering what they can do. Try working in small roup ( 6-8) people team.

Some people feel helpless and just get stuck. Others try to keep the “status quo” in place by sabotaging change efforts. Some look around and try to fix blame.  Others become dependent and just wait for someone like government to tell them what to do or look for someone to safe them.  And a small number try to figure out solutions to improve their situation. Coming up with constructive ideas and programs instead of waiting for “George to do it” takes courage and structure for effective action.  One solution in community organizers toolkit is the forming of community action teams. I call these change structures ” Peer to Peer” change teams. These teams focus on ordinary citizens becoming diagnosticians. These teams focus is on dialogues which energize citzens to develop  a more trustful and productive environment for identifying and solving problems.

These problems may be in joblessness, physical or mental health, education, housing, or the environment issues. These citizen action teams must become organizations who apply knowledge and skill to diagnose both healthy and pathological conditions and relationships between peer to peer advocates and larger society.  This approach provides the opportunity for constructive team problem solving and personal action. These local “grassroots” teams are not a social club, therapy or venting forum; their purpose is to put in place an effective political advocacy organization that can design and implement change initiatives at the community, family and individual level.

The positive trend toward activism by citizen groups must be met with a corresponding  education and skill preparation for developing impactful intiatives for change. A Peer to Peer change team leader  must understand interpersonal relationships and skillfully utilize the dynamics of group processes to facilitate an adequate and effective performance of the members of the team and of yourself.

What mentalset, skillset and toolset do teams need to be effective change organizations.

1. Your team must learn to look directly without defensiveness at the nature of services that agencies are offering citizens and ask how it meets and responds to the needs of the public. Your team must have the skills to gather data and and translate it into relevant knowledge and concepts that will describe the functioning state of agencies in relation to their stated goals and objectives.

2. Your team must learn to understand local agencies as human organizations –do you have the relationships necessary to influence policy; is the team able to identify and remedy friction points between goals and  actions; and locate pressure points where there is the greatest potential for accomplishing new and better delivery of services.

3.  Your team will need an expert diagnostician who can deal effectively with elected officials,agency public administrators and bureaucrats. Who many times are satisfied with the status quo.

I never cease to be impressed with how great an impact a small group, like Habitat for Humanity, Sierra Club, National Alliance for Mental Illness Illness,  and other “Peer to Peer”change teams can have. And yet, I am equally impressed with how little impact most people think they can have. What are you doing to make a difference?

The Leader-Coach has a Problem: How to gain Agreement

Leader-Coach has a Problem Steps for Resolution


1.        Gather the data and information


2.        Explore the Difference and Identify Problems


3.         Sharpen the Difference or Agreement


4.         Identifying and Exploring Solutions


5.        Get Commitment – Identify Action Plan – Follow-Up Steps




Behavioral scientists today strongly advocate the use of a counseling and participatory communication model that minimize emotional elements (defensiveness, fear, anger, etc.) of conflict.  The PlusOne Performance Participatory Problem Solving approach forces the employee to look at weaknesses, areas in need of improvement, or manager’s problems or suggestions for change in more productive, objective and non-defensive manner.  This application of a more directive and problem-solving coaching model is used to arrive at collaborative solutions and agreements for communication, productivity and interpersonal issues.


In such cases, the goal is to find the best solution not a win/lose response, not a compromise, but a win/win solution – so that both parties leave the discussion with commitment to change because a possible solution has been found to their disagreement. Continue reading “The Leader-Coach has a Problem: How to gain Agreement”