what my kids’ homework taught me about the technical arts

One of the joys of being the parent of teenagers is homework.  Nothing could have prepared me for the joys associated with getting my kids to care, and the thrills of helping them figure out how to even do the stuff.

I consider myself a patient man, but homework can send me spinning out of control.  And one of the most patience-sucking activities is when my kids are frustrated and they ask for help.  As I start sharing my ideas on how to tackle the work, they proceed to tell me how my ideas won’t work or that they’ve tried that, or that I’m a stupid person for even suggesting such ridiculous things.  Usually, at this point, I say something like “I’m trying to help you, but if you don’t want my help, good luck.”, and I walk away.

After I’ve had a chance to cool down, and they realize that I might not be as stupid as it seems, we buckle down and start working through solutions.

My kids want homework to be a different experience and even ask for help at a certain point, but they short circuit possible solutions by criticizing, complaining about, and then rejecting help making things better.

This got me thinking about how I can sometimes respond when someone presents an idea that needs a solution.  Instead of engaging together with how to solve the dilemma, I can tend to just focus on why something won’t work, or that we’ve tried that once before and it didn’t work or to make someone feel stupid for suggesting such a ridiculous thing.  This is starting to feel like homework time.

Engage with solutions

Most technical people I know are designed to troubleshoot, to figure out how to make stuff work.  Often times our first reaction is to start figuring out what is wrong with an idea, or why it can’t be done.  This might eventually lead to a workable solution, but by first poking holes in someone’s ideas, you are putting the burden of the solution on the other person’s shoulders.

I have been in more meetings than I can remember where an idea comes up and people just focus on what’s wrong with the idea and not dig into coming up with solutions.  In reality, not every idea is good or even possible.  I’m not suggesting that we just say yes to everything, but that instead of just saying “your idea won’t work”, that we engage with “what about this?” or “if we did it this way, we could…”.

Being solution-oriented is key to not only being seen as a team player but actually being one.

As the technical artist, you are there to figure out how to implement ideas.  Use your technical creativity to shape ideas into things that can be done and will actually work, not just shoot them down.

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