In this episode, we uncover hard truths about what holds engineering leaders back with Founder of JFlinch, Jamie Flinchbaugh.
You probably pride yourself on your problem solving skills as an engineer. But are you as good as you think you are?
Jamie has helped purpose-driven leaders craft effective, resilient organizations at over 300 companies including Harley-Davidson, Intel, Amazon, Crayola, Fidelity, Whirlpool, and many others you would recognize.
We will help you understand what it takes to level up your value at work, and be an influential leader using concepts from his latest book, “People Solve Problems, The Power of Every Person, Every Day, Every Problem.”
Discover what makes your organization Lean, and what doesn’t.
So press play and let’s chat… you’ve probably got a problem, and you’re the person!
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The Happy Engineer Podcast
Watch on YouTube 118: Are You Really as Good at Solving Problems as You Think You Are? with Jamie Flinchbaugh
TIMESTAMPED VIDEO OVERVIEW
[00:01:03] Meditative, surreal experience working on offshore platform.
[00:04:20] High stakes, strict regulations, safety prioritized.
[00:08:41] Trinidad and Tobago: oldest oil province. ChemE overcame obstacles to succeed.
[00:13:55] Developing deep technical skills, moving into project management
[00:18:06] Independence in figuring out unique individual perspectives.
[00:23:08] Global competition in engineering, diversity, and coaching.
[00:27:06] Fear is everywhere, recognize it and move on.
[00:30:23] Transformation, legacy, fear—often disguised. Recognize.
[00:34:43] Acknowledging Ryan as beacon of hope in energy transition, encouraging others to get involved and celebrating his passion. Interested in discussing technology and energy landscape.
[00:37:39] Chemical and mechanical engineering are valuable. Pair with practical skills and growth mindset.
[00:39:19] “Remembering Purdue, learning mechanics, and finding purpose.”
LINKS MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE
- Visit Jamie Flinchbaugh’s website
- Do you need help in transforming yourself to a successful career and a balanced life? Book a FREE Career Clarity Call now!
LISTEN TO EPISODE 118: Are You Really as Good at Solving Problems as You Think You Are? with Jamie Flinchbaugh
Embracing Curiosity and Deliberate Practice for Engineer’s Personal and Professional Growth
During this episode, we dove into Jamie’s experience using LEGO simulations at Chrysler to teach important lessons of lean engineering design and manufacturing. I share my personal experience of the effectiveness of KNEX for an even more dynamic training simulation. But it’s not just about the tools! The real key is nurturing curiosity and challenging established practices.
🌟 Here are my 3 key takeaways from this enlightening conversation:
- Embrace curiosity: Be open to questioning the status quo and exploring new approaches. Curiosity is crucial for personal growth and effective problem-solving.
- Step out of your comfort zone: Don’t shy away from challenges or be content with the same old solutions. Growth happens when we push ourselves beyond our comfort zones.
- Focus on capabilities, not just templates: While templates and training may provide a foundation, they are not enough to truly improve problem-solving. Leveraging capabilities and continuously developing skills are the real drivers of successful problem-solving.
Remember, problem-solving capabilities are essential in every step of the process. It’s not about finding the “perfect” solution, but rather fostering a mindset of constant improvement. Together, let’s unlock the power of curiosity and drive impactful change as engineering leaders.
Enjoy this one! 💪
ABOUT JAMIE FLINCHBAUGH
As Founder of JFlinch, Jamie Flinchbaugh has helped purpose-driven leaders craft effective, resilient organizations at over 300 companies. Leveraging more than 30-years of experience and helping build over 20 companies, Jamie collaborates with leaders and their teams to bridge capability, strategic, cultural, and systems gaps so that they can safely span potential pitfalls and have a purposeful impact on their organizations.
Jamie has helped leaders across a wide spectrum of industries including healthcare, utilities, technology, consumer products, and professional services, including Harley-Davidson, Intel, Mars, Amazon, Crayola, Fidelity, Whirlpool, among many others.
Jamie is the author of People Solve Problems, The Power of Every Person, Every Day, Every Problem and co-author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean, Lessons from the Road and is the co-host of the podcasts Lean Whiskey and Happy Heuristics. He currently lives in Bucks County, PA with his wife of 24 years, Jill Triani. Together they have three children, Emma, Jack, and Ben.
FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:
Please note the full transcript is 90-95% accuracy. Reference the podcast audio to confirm exact quotations.
[00:00:00] Zach White: Jamie, what’s up man? Welcome to the Happy Engineer Podcast. Glad you’re here.
[00:00:06] Jamie Flinchbaugh: I’m, I’m glad to be here myself. Uh, happy to,
[00:00:09] Zach White: happy to see you again. Yeah, and again, we were reminiscing before we hit record back in. I, I couldn’t decide if it’s 2011 or 2012 when we met, but, I think actually that
Expand to Read Full Transcript
[00:00:20] Serendipitous encounter would be a really fun place to begin. And I didn’t warn you we were gonna go here, Jamie, but I wanna tell you a story and you’ll know where this is going way before any of my Okay. Listeners would. But when I was a kid, one of my absolute favorite things to play with was Connects.
[00:00:38] Hmm. I had a huge bin of connects and my favorite thing ever, the big ball factory. It was like this monstrous thing where you had a motor on it, drop the balls and go through this rollercoaster and all that stuff. I never expected when I became a mechanical engineer and started working full-time at Whirlpool Corporation, that I would walk into a week-long training event, and there in the front of the room would be a giant.
[00:01:03] Sorted bin of Connects toys, which for those who don’t know con connects these colored plastic toys kind of in the family of Legos. And I was like, in, in heaven. It was the best week of training of my life. But would you explain what the heck was going on with those connects? And I’m actually really curious.
[00:01:23] Where did you get the idea for what ultimately became, I would say, one of the most impactful trainings I ever did in my career. But how did you come up with that and why Connects?
[00:01:36] Jamie Flinchbaugh: Well, you know, I had been using as a change management tool training for, for quite a while, and, and I always liked training to be experiential back way, way back in my Chrysler days.
[00:01:47] We had built simulations. Using Legos to build Jeeps. And we taught, very specific lessons like pull, like, uh, in control, uh, capable and robust processes and things like that. And most of those simulations are sort of before and after sort of experience one way experience the other. And so when we went to put together, a week long training, I wanted something that was more like real life, a little closer to real life with lots of nuance and complexity and, stuff that quite frankly, doesn’t go together as straightforward as Lego does.
[00:02:22] Um, And so I, I wanted to create a simulation where there was no right answer. There was no predetermined answer. It was really just a chance to practice the capabilities and mindset of continuous improvement. And so we, we came up with this. we use Conex because, It was so dynamic. There were so many different things you could do with it, from a construction standpoint.
[00:02:45] And so we, we designed this aircraft with variations around it and then added all sorts of other, you know, chaotic stuff to it so that throughout a week people could go back to it and back to it and back to it, and sort of practice real, real continuous improvement And so teams would get to work together.
[00:03:03] They design solutions and, you know, everybody got better, but they all got better differently, which I think is important. Yeah. Because they, they all follow the same principles, but there wasn’t like one right answer to, to making those improvements. And, I’ve been out of, I’ll say the training game for quite a while, making learning experiential was always.
[00:03:22] Core and it just happened, to relate to that, those connects and that
[00:03:27] Zach White: simulation. Yeah. Super fun. , and so contextually, this is when you were still, I. One of the co-founders and running the Lean Learning Center, out of the east side of Michigan here. Not far from where I’m at. Are you, by the way, you still in Michigan?
[00:03:42] Where are you these days? No, I, I
[00:03:43] Jamie Flinchbaugh: live in Pennsylvania, actually. Okay. Moved to Pennsylvania, 2008, 2009. I forget actually now, which year, but I, I, I still had the training center there in Michigan. I. And, Andy Carlino, uh, didn’t live there either. Okay. We okay. we would just travel in for training, cuz most of the time we were on the road to clients
[00:04:03] Zach White: all over the place.
[00:04:03] Yeah. Got
[00:04:04] Jamie Flinchbaugh: it. And it, and it really didn’t matter. uh, so, uh, yeah, we, we, we sold that organization back in 2015, but, we, we were actually trying to decide where to put it and, you know, it’s, it’s easy to get to. Detroit. Rent is cheaper. I lived there at the time when we founded the company and, seemed
[00:04:20] Zach White: like a good place to put up a training.
[00:04:21] Yeah, yeah. Well, and plenty of, automotive engineers need these principles and that type of training. It makes a lot of sense. So, This exercise, this, I love the simulation experiential learning concept, and maybe we’ll connect back to that later in our chat here, but I.
[00:04:38] For me it was super engaging. I mean, I mean it, when I say the most impactful training I did in my entire engineering career, outside of maybe the Whirlpool Opex, six Sigma training. Mm-hmm. And the only reason I put that in com comparison is more the magnitude of that was significant.
[00:04:54] Sure, yeah, absolutely. But in terms of a single week experience, the best and so many of these lean principles, the continuous improvement mindsets, and then how to put it into practice, They’re easy to read and until you actually experience it, you don’t really get It was, mm-hmm. Was what I found. Yeah.
[00:05:12] I’d read the books, I’d done the training in college and in my master’s degree, et cetera, as far as the, the IQ side of this, but until you actually experience it, it’s not the same. And so I’m curious for you, can you back us up, Jamie, you mentioned you were at Chrysler and like when did. A lean as a area, you know, continuous improvement really enter your world as a focus, but also how did you come to that discovery or the passion around creating these simulations and mastery and that type of learning.
[00:05:43] Jamie Flinchbaugh: So my, my lean, backgrounds, is probably a bunch of stories I could tell, but I’ll, I’ll start from an engineering standpoint. I’ll start when I was, uh, uh, really just doing sort of intern type work and so I, I had an internship. I was doing side work for my father who ran a machine tool company.
[00:06:02] They designed and built and sold machine tools. I was designing software, I was writing software to go along with the machine and the software, which took, some of the stuff I wrote took, took like all day to compile. Right. But, uh, this one particular
[00:06:19] Zach White: program, uh, what, what year would it be right now?
[00:06:22] Jamie, can you put us in context? Uh, early nineties. Early nineties. Okay. Early nineties.
[00:06:27] Jamie Flinchbaugh: So, uh, very early nineties. but, uh, I was working on stuff that would, for a prototype part, the, the prototype drawings would go to another engineer, which the, the drawings would sit on their desk, they’d write code, and then it would go out to the machine tool to run, run the part.
[00:06:44] And so I wrote code to automate that and, okay. so two things happened when I did that. First I was coming up with the wrong answers. so I thought, right, that’s what they told us. I was coming up with the wrong answers, but in fact, I went back to the right datums and built up the right program in the way it was actually supposed to be done.
[00:07:06] They had the wrong answers, and apparently they had had them for quite a long time. that taught me to be curious. Don’t just kind of go, oh, we know how to do this as, as, as fact. And then the second part of this is we took what essentially took six weeks to happen because it sat mostly times sitting on an engineer’s desk waiting in queue.
[00:07:28] We took it from six weeks down to six minutes. And that just sort of taught me how much time can be saved in organizations. And so I didn’t know lean from nothing at that point, but I, I got curious about how to make organizations better. and so I had that fortuitous opportunity early on.
[00:07:46] I learned a lot about Lean at my first, role at Harley Davidson, which, wrote about in a chapter, in Mark Raven’s practicing lien book. Kind of my, my first. about with lean. And then when I got to Chrysler, I was in product development. We were doing a lot of cool stuff in product development, but really beginning this sort of massive lean transformation hadn’t even kicked off yet at Chrysler.
[00:08:09] Okay. And manufacturing and supply chain. And so my mentor introduced me to the right folks. And I jumped right into design content and design simulations, and we had a big consulting firm helping with that. So I wasn’t sitting down with a blank sheet of paper, but Okay. Yeah, I got to contribute boatload of stuff to the content to design.
[00:08:33] Like I said earlier, we’re doing stuff with Legos, so running around at like Kmarts to pick up the Legos that we needed cuz they wouldn’t sell to us directly. And all, all these quite, quite challenges. And so I’ll, I’ll say that was when I started getting curious about how people learn As well as what they learned, cuz we were challenging fundamental assumptions in, how the company was run at that point.
[00:08:57] fortunately was, was blessed with a lot of curiosity that set me on both paths.
[00:09:01] Zach White: Hmm. It’s funny you mentioned driving around to Kmarts. One of my fondest Whirlpool memories was being in Cleveland, Tennessee, where we have a factory built cooking products and. We were doing a prototype build and there was a screw that we had left the box in Michigan, and it was just a off the shelf type of screw.
[00:09:21] And I literally spent the whole afternoon and evening driving to every hardware store within 50 miles of the factory, buying every single screw they had for that build. Oh, not, not my shining star moment, in my career. So, Tell us then, and I want to move into how this evolved to your current or the most recent book, but if you were gonna summarize of all the years doing lean training and going into organizations from, you know, the Fortune 200 all the way down, I know to smaller organizations and everything in between, what would you say are the, the biggest Aha.
[00:10:00] Type of takeaways, those light bulb transformational moments that you would see individual leaders or organizations then wrap their head around and actually then turn into meaningful results. If, is there one or two things that you would say this is the thing I’m always waiting for them to sink their teeth into, and as soon as that happens, you know it’s gonna go somewhere good.
[00:10:20] What? What’s that reflection on your years in training, what would you say? Yeah,
[00:10:25] Jamie Flinchbaugh: I’d say one is, is just that the idea that, a good lean organization is also a learning organization. the idea that we don’t know the answer cuz, you kind of go, if, if I, if I knew the answer, it’s just an execution problem.
[00:10:37] Just do what you’re supposed to do. if that doesn’t work, if what we know how to, what to do doesn’t work, then it’s a learning problem we have learning to do. Even if it’s relearning what we already knew or it’s learning what somebody else figured out, or it’s learning something brand new, doesn’t matter.
[00:10:54] It’s learning. Right? O otherwise, we should just execute what we already know. So I think that fundamental just shift in mindset is, is, is super important. and it sort of relates to the fact that it’s all problem solving, right? Whatever you want to call it. the other, the other lesson which, which, you know, fortunately I believe I learned early on, and hold even more, dear today, is that there is no one right way.
[00:11:18] that you have to make it your journey, your transformation get from. Your version of your current state to your version of what good looks like. and so nobody cares if you do lean or don’t do lean. They care if you deliver value and Yeah. Uh, do so consistently and effectively and it costs and all those sorts of things.
[00:11:38] So how do you get there? It’s just a pathway to get there, and there’s no one right way. There’s a lot of people that will sell you the right way. there’s probably some wrong ways. there’s probably some faster ways, but there’s no right way and I, I think that’s, gives people license to maybe just get started and move forward.
[00:11:55] Zach White: it out from there. Jamie, this is something I experienced as a coach where, I’ll give you one example. We, we have a concept or a principle in our coaching program, the lifestyle engineering blueprint that we call the playbook. And the playbook is this idea of pulling all the strategies and actions and tools together into a, a rhythm of, you know, in engineering terms, you might have PDCA or Lambda, you know, a cycle.
[00:12:21] Say, you know, what’s your daily rhythm? What’s your weekly rhythm? What’s your quarterly rhythm? What questions are you asking yourself? What actions and plans are you making? Are you executing, following through? Just, just a really basic concept to say there’s no point learning new things in all of the mindsets and strategies we do in coaching, if we don’t execute on a regular basis, well, a lot of times an engineering leader going through the program, we’ll say, Give me the exact recipe of how to do the playbook.
[00:12:49] do I ask this question? Should I do it in the morning? Do I need to do it here? Should I use an app? Is it a journal? Like, and I don’t want to give them that answer. you need to own it, or you’ll never do it if I tell you exactly the way. two weeks after you finish this program, you’re gonna stop mm-hmm.
[00:13:06] Doing that. And so let’s talk about what’s gonna work for you, your version of good, how can we integrate that into, and some people really get it and they sink their teeth into that. Other people really resist that. It’s no, just give it to me. Exactly. tell me exactly what to do. So what’s your experience as a trainer, as a coach, as an instructor, when somebody.
[00:13:28] Honestly just sits back. It’s like, please just give me the answer. Tell me the recipe. How do you help somebody to get off of that posture and say, no, you need to own the recipe. You need to step in and, take this, or it’s not gonna last. How would you help somebody do that? Yeah,
[00:13:44] Jamie Flinchbaugh: I’ll say for starters, and this’ll be my cop out answer, is I don’t, I, I’m at the fortunate place where most of the work I do is one-on-one work.
[00:13:53] Deep, long relationships and I kind of only work with people that will do, wanna roll up their sleeves and Got
[00:13:59] Zach White: it. Yeah. Choose choose great clients. That’s a great answer. So,
[00:14:03] Jamie Flinchbaugh: so that’s, that’s my cop out answer is I pick people that, that won’t give me that answer or won’t ask that question, but, you know, yeah.
[00:14:11] I, I still get it at, at, different times. And, even my last book, I mean, You know, a lot of times in the past I’d be like, well, you can do it any way you want, but here’s one way you could do it. And the more often that was the way people do it, um, is the one way I showed them. And so, especially when I’m in sort of coach mode, if, if I were for doing that, I’d always try to give people more than one answer, right?
[00:14:35] Well, here’s an option, here’s another option, here’s another option. Or. I give them an extreme option, which they probably can’t actually pull off, and they have to sort of subtract to get to an answer rather than start with zero, start with infinity and then, and then trim and back off until we get an answer.
[00:14:56] But I, I do it in a way that tries to unlock them from their stuckedness, and get them moving, but still really require that they own the answer at the end. Yeah,
[00:15:07] Zach White: stuckedness is a technical term from cognitive behavioral therapy, right? So everybody, it’s a, oh man. Uh, I love that. I think that’s really wise, and in some ways that’s a similar thing to what I do say, well, look, here’s kind of the, the ultimate package that’s, you could do all of this.
[00:15:26] You know, this would be the most I could imagine anybody ever needing. But the reality is you probably only need some subset of that. Go choose, go start, go implement, and then iterate and learn as we go. one other thing before I move on, that stuck out to me. I wanted to ask you about, you mentioned how a lean organization is a learning organization, but then there’s also the problem of the, well, if we know what to do and we’re not doing it, it’s just an execution problem.
[00:15:52] Mm-hmm. How often would you say. Is the problem actually an execution problem where, look, you actually already have a great answer here. This will work, this will get you results, but you are simply not doing what you already said you need to do versus a learning problem. We, we are far from an answer that’s gonna get us the result we want and we need to focus there.
[00:16:15] what’s your perspective on. Is there one or the other that stands out as the main culprit or totally situational? And then how would you decide, do I have an execution problem or a learning problem? Well,
[00:16:27] Jamie Flinchbaugh: so, uh, yes, as far as which one’s the main culprit, I’ll, I’ll, I’ll sort of frame it this way.
[00:16:31] I’m gonna make up some numbers just to, just to make the point if you look at the number of problems you have, It’s probably 70% execution and 30% learning. Okay. Um, if you, you know, I have 101 problems, what? Okay. 70% of those are, I, I know what to do. I just need to do it. Right. Okay. and when it comes to impact, right, because you, you kind of go, well, not all those problems have the same impact.
[00:16:54] Some of them are pretty trivial. When it comes to impact, I’d say it’s probably 70% of learning problem. The other way, meaning the, the stuff that’s impacting you more is the stuff that you really don’t know. How to get, you know, again, somebody might know, but you don’t, just don’t know what you need to know.
[00:17:10] how do I sort that out? for starters, one of my favorite questions, in problem solving, it’s really two questions, but, , is put it in terms of asking this when we get to some analysis, but really you can ask this at any point in a conversation about a problem is what do we not know about this problem?
[00:17:29] What’s the best way to go, Lauren, what we need to, and. Quite frankly, if, if, you know, those are questions that are geared towards assuming that we have some learning to do and then we have a, a knowledge gap we have to close. Yeah. But quite frankly, if, if the answer is, well, we know what we need to know.
[00:17:47] Right? Then that becomes, I immediately clear. It’s like, what do we not know? Well, we know, we know what we need to know. We, we, we know what we need to know, so let’s go do what we need, go do, need to do. I think that question can. Often make, that situation more, more visible about Yeah.
[00:18:03] Whether we have
[00:18:03] Zach White: a fork in the road or not. Yeah. Would you repeat those two questions really quick? Yeah. Yeah. So
[00:18:08] Jamie Flinchbaugh: it’s what do we not know about this problem and what’s the best method, uh, which could be tool, approach, whatever. What’s the best method? Sure. To go learn
[00:18:18] Zach White: what we need to learn. Yeah. I love that.
[00:18:21] I love that. So putting those questions in at the right moment. To help quickly, dissect or separate, is this purely an execution thing or it’s evident there’s a big knowledge gap here to go start doing the work. Absolutely. I love that. So, Jamie, your, newest book, which, You’ve got multiple books.
[00:18:41] I encourage everybody to go read. I loved the Hitchhiker’s, guide to Lean. That book is super fun. Definitely want encourage people to get a copy of that as well. But your newest book, people Solve Problems and the subtitle, the Power of Every Person, every Day, every Problem. I love that. Just this all-encompassing, every problem.
[00:19:01] It’s kind of in one of those titles that got me thinking at first. It’s like, huh, okay, this is really interesting. And then I went through the mode of like, what’s this? Kind of like, duh, obvious. And, but then, you know, we’re in this AI revolution right now and everybody’s like, oh, you know what’s gonna happen with computers solving the problems for us?
[00:19:18] And I got into like, oh, it’s, maybe it’s a really much deeper thing than I thought and got excited as I went through some of the content. And there’s so much we can unpack here, but I wanted you to first. Just tell us a little bit about this idea that we all know it’s important to improve the people in our organization’s ability to solve problems.
[00:19:41] Like nobody’s gonna argue that that’s an important thing to do. Mm-hmm. But our default reaction of how to go do that, tools, templates, you know, training, all the things, that’s not where the leverage is at. And when I saw that in, you know, just your description of the book, I was just like, okay, the. I’ve got some things to learn here.
[00:20:01] So tell us about how you stumbled into this gap between our default setting of how to help people solve problems versus where the leverage really is, and maybe make an argument for why this is not going anywhere. It’s still important no matter what happens with computers or technology or anything else.
[00:20:22] Jamie Flinchbaugh: for starters, I watch organizations, recognize problem, solving’s important and try to go solve that problem over and over and over and over again. And, everyone’s throws the same solutions at it. They throw templates and training at it. And I’m not against either one of those things.
[00:20:41] they’re not inherently bad, but they’re far from the solution. I notice organizations fail at that and then essentially, fail to do the hard stuff that they need to do to actually make that effectively better. So you see organizations, start retrain and retrain and then jump to a different template and then retrain and retrain, and at what point are you really getting better?
[00:21:04] the other realization is that we are inherently, we lack curiosity. About our problem solving as human beings, right? It’s kind of like we, we lack curiosity about how we breathe because we’ve been, you know, we haven’t been problem solving as long as we’ve been breathing, but almost, right?
[00:21:23] so when you, work with a high performance athlete and you actually learn, oh wait, there is actually more to learn about how you breathe. You’re surprised. but if you’re working with a high performance athlete, there’s actually a lot more to learn Yes. About how to breathe effectively. you know, the fact is we’re not curious about how we breathe.
[00:21:41] We’re not curious about how we solve problems because we’ve been doing it for, for so long. We grew up solving problems. Uh, and then depending on our, training or educational background, I mean, I have three engineering degrees. You just kind of assume, well, you know, they taught us how to solve problems so I know what I’m doing.
[00:21:59] Yeah. And then you just cease to be curious about it, which means you stagnate most of us stagnate for quite a long period of time. And that’s, that’s a problem when it’s such a powerful force for, for making improvement.
[00:22:12] Zach White: Okay. I’m deeply convicted by this because the breathing example strikes me.
[00:22:18] Right to the heart. Cuz as a coach now, I’ve been participating in a lot more personal development than ever before in my life. Mm-hmm. Just started back in 2017, 18 and still I invest a huge amount of energy and time and money into my own growth and stumbled into this I of breath work. Mm-hmm. As a whole area of, of, you know, the coaching world.
[00:22:39] It’s not every coach’s thing, but. It’s like I had never done breath work before. It’s like, what are they even talking about? You know, I did this right hour long Wim Hof breath work thing with guided practice and had this tremendous experience and it opened this floodgate of curiosity to your point, like, what happened to my body?
[00:22:56] What was going on in my mind? Why does this work? What? What’s the deal with the alkalinity of blood like a whole? It’s ti, like probably at least one quarter of my life was dedicated to nothing more than Googling breath work and all these techniques. There’s hundreds of different techniques. Is this crazy?
[00:23:12] So now I’m asking myself the question, well, how much or when was the last time I actually had this natural curiosity like you’re talking about for my own problem solving ability? I think the truth is, Jamie, I haven’t really explored that at all since. The early days of learning how to be an engineer, to your point.
[00:23:34] Mm-hmm. It’s just something I take for granted, so I’m, anyway, just saying that like I think you’re absolutely right. So what do I do, Jamie? I’m stuck, man. Like I haven’t even thought about my problem solving ability for a decade plus. Where does somebody go to start learning how to breathe?
[00:23:50] Jamie Flinchbaugh: there’s a few different options.
[00:23:52] one is get a coach to your point around, getting a breathing coach or going through an experience to learn more is get somebody to help you. be more curious. also just, just like, any self-improvement, the basic idea of, of reflection and experimentation on your own work.
[00:24:11] Can make a big difference. I actually recently, uh, there was a decision, it wasn’t that important a decision, but it was also one I was, uh, strangely stuck on. I used three different techniques. Just out of experimentation, just see how those different techniques would help with this particular decision.
[00:24:30] And, and just experiment, right? And so I think reflection, experimentation can make us curious again, make us experiment and iterate. and I’d also say, you know, you gotta, you know, as part of that, you gotta be outside your comfort zone. And that’s where the experimentation. Gets, you know, gets really healthy.
[00:24:49] And then the third thing is, uh, I, that I think really helps is, I’ll call it deliberate practice, which you could say is the same thing as experimentation. Reflection. But what I’m really headed at is work on hard problems, collaboratively with others, Learn their problem solving techniques, learn how they see problems, uh, and, and a complex, difficult problem.
[00:25:12] you all approach it differently. You get to learn not just about a hard problem, but you get to learn how they think about it differently. And, it’s one of the reasons I enjoy working on boards of directors because, when I’m a coach, it’s kind of like, well, two of us are working on a problem together.
[00:25:27] But when you’re on a board, many, several of you kind of. You know, coming at this problem and some just throw sort of analogy mapping at matching at it. Some are just throwing experiences at it, some are going into research and you just get to see everyone thinks about a problem differently and, and, and pulling that all together.
[00:25:48] Again, if you’re practicing deliberately. can help you be more aware of your own, your own efforts to,
[00:25:54] Zach White: uh, that’s really good problem solving. So this tendency towards, Hey, let’s just update the template or throw a tool at this. Get a new app, get a new piece of software that supposedly solves this thing or whatever.
[00:26:09] One driver is a lack of just genuine intellectual curiosity around our problem solving as individuals. I’m curious, as you were writing the book, are there any other root causes of why we default so heavily to that? And I’ll share with you my hypothesis. Tell me if you think I’m right or wrong, and maybe what you found out is actually true.
[00:26:30] But it seems like my memory of being at Whirlpool, and this is no discredit to the organization, but just companies in general, there was. A more direct reward to like, Hey, I created this tangible template thing that everybody can use. It’s easy to distribute among the team, and I can stamp my name on it that I created the template and I might get credit on my performance review for being the guy who made the template for X problem.
[00:26:59] And something that’s more of a cultural shift or a mindset shift or a leadership transformation is a lot harder to. Put your stamp on, so to speak. And it’s also a longer game than just throwing together a template. So it felt like just that’s the natural way to get the win. And maybe that’s part of why we, we go that direction, but is that true?
[00:27:19] And then what else would you say? Like, why are we so tool hungry or template hungry in our companies?
[00:27:25] Jamie Flinchbaugh: Yeah. I, I, so I think it is true, and I, I think it’s, you know, you’ve kind of described that from the creator side or the sider side who’s trying to make a change. But it’s also true of the user side, right?
[00:27:37] Hey, my organization wants me to perform better. how are they looking for me to signal that I’m invested in doing better? Well, they want you to use this template. Great. I’ll use the template. It’s the easiest, fastest way to signal. You’re a good team player, you’re a good sport. You’re doing what you’re asked to do, and Good point.
[00:27:57] And, and so you just assume that that’s the, uh, that’s the expectation. the other side is, you know, capabilities. they’re harder to measure behaviors, they’re harder to observe. And so the real stuff, it’s harder for me, you know, from an individual standpoint, if I want to get credit.
[00:28:13] For doing well, it’s easy to show somebody my template. It’s hard to show somebody my behaviors. so both, both sides of that relationship, the sort of deciders trying to make an impact and the users trying to demonstrate they’re on board Sure. Moving forward. Yeah. it’s just an easier path. and it’s not a bad path.
[00:28:31] I wanna be clear about that. There’s nothing wrong with having a template. Right to say this is the best manifestation of what good practice looks like. Now, are you gonna practice with that well or are you not? there’s all sorts of, Things that people are responsible for.
[00:28:48] One of my, one of my kids is, has his driver’s permit and you’re supposed to drive for 60 hours of practice before you take your driver’s exam. Well, that’s a self, you know, that’s a self-reported measure. Uh, did you do it? Did you do it as intended or not? You just drive around the block a few times.
[00:29:06] Mm-hmm. It’s all, whether you put. your energy into, into it. Which is why I think, you know, direct leadership at every level becomes such an important ingredient to make this happen. So I think those are ingredients, as far as causes. Yeah. I also think just, you know, the real work, the culture change is hard, right?
[00:29:26] Yeah. It’s, it is hard and most people don’t have, not to take it back to a template, they don’t have the tools to do culture change, It’s one of the reasons a lot of my collaborative, uh, advising and, and thought partner work with leaders is on culture change because, they know it’s important.
[00:29:44] They just never sat down to think about how are they gonna shape their culture. I mean, yeah, they learned how to budget. They learned how to do performance reviews. They learn how to engineer, but they. Nobody ever taught ’em how to change the culture. So, yeah, they
[00:29:57] Zach White: shy away from it. One of my past guests on this podcast, Jamie, made a statement that in life we get to choose our hard, you know, you, you can either do the hard work of culture change here, or you’re gonna deal with the hard consequences of never getting to the improvement and the learning and the place you, you’re just constantly fighting deadlines or fighting the friction of a process and a culture that doesn’t work.
[00:30:21] So, yep. Um, Choose your hard. So in the book you talk through at, you know, these four big areas where there is actually leverage to improve in our own problem solving as people and in leading people in solving problems. I just wanna unpack maybe the one that you think is the easiest for us to sink our teeth into or get our head wrapped around today.
[00:30:45] If you were gonna say, look, This is the one I’d really love everybody to understand and take away as a key principle of why people solve problems. Every person, every day, every problem. Which one do you think is, is the one that people connect to and resonate with first, or the easiest of the four?
[00:31:03] Jamie Flinchbaugh: I think it’s the capabilities, And so to compare it to the other four quickly. I mean, behaviors harder, that takes more both self-work and leadership work coaching, hard to learn to be a coach. And you have to kind of like, well, is everybody on board with me being a coach or coaching?
[00:31:22] Changing the role of a leader is a lot, there’s a lot in that, right? It’s like, what is my job as a leader? It’s, it’s a big, it’s a big unpacked. So, so I think capabilities is the most direct that, they’re doing problem solving anyway, so it’s just a matter of how well they do it. again, you can take your template.
[00:31:40] You, you can, you don’t have to throw away your template. Take it, take whatever template you were given. I don’t wanna say, it doesn’t even have to be a good one. Probably shouldn’t be a pattern, but, uh, doesn’t have to be the best one. Take whatever, take whatever template you’re using and just be more curious about the capabilities around how you do each step.
[00:31:58] or just start with one. Right? Just start with how you test to learn. Start with how you, you know, ideate different solutions, right? Instead of the three you come up with, come up with 20, and just practice that, right? So back when I was, uh, doing more, I’ll say entrepreneurial work, I would practice being an entrepreneur.
[00:32:18] I would come up with a new business idea, every single month, flush it out. you know, some, I, I test a little bit. Some I’d just be, eh, that’s dumb and throw it away. But I’d practice, right? Because cuz coming up with ideas to build a new business is not easy. So why not practice that skill? So I, I, I think it’s the easiest cuz people already doing the work, they already have a platform to do the work in, in really, in any case, whether they have a template or not.
[00:32:45] So just start being more curious about what, capability you bring to that problem solving work.
[00:32:52] Zach White: Super thousand percent agree. Exclamation point on this idea of practicing, and I love the entrepreneur example cuz most people would say, what do you mean practice being an entrepreneur? Like you either are one or you aren’t one, right?
[00:33:06] You’re either doing entrepreneurship or you’re not. But to say, well, no, what do entrepreneurs do? They create. Ideas that create value and they create systems to capture that value. And that’s something that exists in thought before it exists in the real world. So let’s go practice that, that discipline. I think as, as a coach, my equivalent of this is when I do.
[00:33:28] You know, coaching drills or practice For myself, it’s like I think about a situation a client might be in. I imagine them sharing with me like where they’re stuck and then just go to the whiteboard and list every powerful question I could think of to ask in that moment to help them unlock or get what was the, uh, stuckedness get out of their stuckedness, uh, that we found from earlier.
[00:33:50] And yeah, we do take for granted that. I’ve done it once, so I can do it a thousand times. But what is really the capability of yourself and then your organization to just execute what we have and idea what we have. Right. So capabilities and the other three that are are harder. Jamie, do you think that’s because individually it is in fact harder for me to develop that?
[00:34:16] Mindset or, you know, skill or whatever it is, or is it more because of the organizational inertia and, and sort of the challenges that come in the context of community or the whole team that make them harder? Yeah,
[00:34:31] Jamie Flinchbaugh: I’d say, I’d say both. Um, but I, I think as you go through those topics, they become more of an organizational barrier than just an individual barrier.
[00:34:41] So you can change your own behavior. But if you change it so much out of alignment with the rest of the organization, it’s you’re gonna have a hard time. You have to be really confident to stand out that much. you can start to develop as a coach, but if the organization doesn’t value that, then, you might be wasting some time, not real wasting, but not get sort of credit for the time you’re invested in being a coach.
[00:35:06] And then the role of a leader, it comes down to what do you spend time on and how you build your systems. And so there’s certainly a lot you can do as an individual leader, but, but there’s also things you can’t do as an individual leader. there are individual barriers to each of these, but as you go through those sort of sections, I think it’s an increasingly has to be more and more of an organizational solution.
[00:35:28] Yeah. Rather than just
[00:35:29] Zach White: an individual. And so I get this question a lot from young engineers where it’s like, Zach, I really want to be a part of. Changing the culture in whatever way in this case, you know, helping everybody solve problems better. But in my role, at my level, I don’t have that influence or that impact to shape these things.
[00:35:48] I’m not the VP of engineering. I’m not the cto. I’m fill in the blank. What would you say to someone who is at a, a lower level in the org chart, so to speak, who might pick up your book and read it and be really excited about these ideas, but is in a way. Less able to influence the big decisions in the direction that that organization’s going.
[00:36:10] Jamie Flinchbaugh: I’ll say maybe three things. One is you can always make yourself better, so make yourself better, right? Yeah. Somebody pays you to do your work, do it better. that’s one, two build up, because you’re doing things better. Use that as a pathway towards promotion, where you get more influence and more control.
[00:36:29] so, do things better. Do things more visibly. Get the next promotion, have a greater impact, play the long game. and then the third thing I’ll, I’ll say is I always like to say that I don’t think, I don’t believe in organizational change. I believe individuals change and it’s a one heart, one mind at a time game.
[00:36:47] So pick one person to influence. And help them change. And then maybe the, whether it’s the two of you separately or together, you change three more minds. those five change 10 more. And, and so just start with one person. Just start trying to impact one person. Could be your boss, could be a peer, could be your mentor.
[00:37:05] That’s three levels up and not in your. Anywhere, just try to have, try and have an impact. you know, even CEOs, they sit there and they’re supposed to be in control of the organization, but they’re not. They’re like, I, I can’t tell 8,000 people, 10,000 people, exactly. 500 people what to do, whatever the number is.
[00:37:23] instead they’re like, who do I really influence? Yeah. And how does that then impact the rest of the organization? So they have to pick. Where are their influences gonna be? Uh, even though they’re accountable for organization, they really only influence. A handful of individuals in the, company.
[00:37:40] So they’re faced with the same challenge. Right. It’s not like they just make up their mind one random Thursday and everybody does stuff. Yeah. They’ve
[00:37:48] Zach White: gotta figure out how to influence one email. The whole company’s gotta shift. Yeah. Not, not quite. Uh, I love that, Jamie. It’s a great reminder for everyone that mastering that skill of influencing one person at a time and just believing in the bigger vision, even when it’s a long way off.
[00:38:04] Is no different if you’re a senior engineer than when you’re the senior director or senior vice president. Exactly. You’re still gonna be doing that same thing. You are just influencing people who might have higher leverage to then go influence others. To influence others, but. Your basic job doesn’t change.
[00:38:21] So start now. Start now. Yeah. And,
[00:38:23] Jamie Flinchbaugh: and it has, you might have different tools in your tool belt. I mean, you might have performance appraisals and setting some goals, and there’s tools you have available, degrees of freedom you have available than an individual contributor won’t. again, those are just tools, right?
[00:38:36] and none are as important as the power of conversation.
[00:38:39] Zach White: Yeah. Uh, to have that impact. Amazing. Jamie, if someone. Once to get connected to your work. Understand how to take curiosity about problem solving. Maybe that fire’s been lit today, and actually go put this into practice and start getting some information.
[00:38:57] Where’s the best place? How can people connect with you? Get the book and learn more.
[00:39:02] Jamie Flinchbaugh: Yeah, so j flinch.com is the easiest place they can find, links to buy the book, audio, kindle, whatever, paperback hard back, they can find, my blog, I mean, YouTube channel, all of that stuff. So j flinch.com is the best place to, to find me.
[00:39:19] Zach White: Awesome. Flinch is F L I N C H, so j flinch.com. Of course, we’ll put that link in the show notes, the direct link to the book on Amazon in the show notes and all the ways to follow Jamie and his work. Definitely encourage everybody to go do that, and if you want a copy of people solve problems, if you know this is an area you wanna focus, then shoot me an email the first.
[00:39:45] Three people who do listening to this. So happy engineer talking to you. If you want a copy of people solve problems, email zack oasis of courage.com. Put that in the subject line and include of course, your mailing address in the email so I know where to send it. The first three people who do that, I’ll get you a copy for free of Jamie’s book as a thank you for sticking with us in this, uh, awesome conversation, Jamie.
[00:40:08] Let’s wrap it up. I got a hundred more questions, but uh, we’ll have to do it in a round two sometime. And Sounds good. You know, as well as anybody, as a trainer, as a coach, as a mentor. Questions lead, answers follow. So if we wanna get better answers in our work, in our lives, in our careers, we need to ask better questions.
[00:40:27] Get that curiosity going. So what would be the question that she would lead the happy engineer with today? So I think
[00:40:34] Jamie Flinchbaugh: it’s particularly relevant for, for engineers. So I’ll, choose this one. And it’s, what happens if I’m wrong there’s two reasons for that question. One, to be more curious about risk.
[00:40:45] Um, what’s the downside, right? What if I am wrong and. how do I go, fix that, figure that out, whatever that might be. On the other side, there’s a lot of cases we overestimate risk and so let’s be confident and move forward. Um, you know, as a simple analogy or exam example, like I, I would look at a, a, a good, a restaurant.
[00:41:05] I go out for dinner, I look at a menu, and I’m like, this is my only time I’m at this restaurant. I have to make the right choice. Right, and like a year from now, I won’t remember what choice I made, so that’s right. you know, what happens if I’m wrong? Nothing. I still had a good meal, right? Nothing happens if I’m wrong.
[00:41:22] So sometimes a lot happens If I’m wrong, sometimes nothing happens if I’m wrong. And so both sides of that equation, I think it’s a useful question to sort of check yourself before you take the next step.
[00:41:34] Zach White: I love it. What happens if I’m wrong? Well, it was not wrong to bring you on the show, Jamie. This was a fantastic conversation.
[00:41:42] I’m, I’m, again, truly feeling this for myself. It’s like deep curiosity to go after. How do I approach solving problems in every area of my life? Uh, business, just being one part of that. So thank you so much for what you’re doing, your work, and appreciate your time being here today, man. Thanks for
[00:42:01] Jamie Flinchbaugh: having me.
[00:42:01] I loved it.