Framing the Dialogue

Are Your Lights On?

I was sitting at one of the many meetings that I attend as part of my job.  Few are interesting and fewer are productive.  I was sitting next to Bill.  Bill is unique as he chairs a coalition of environmental groups (one of which he also serves as the president), municipalities, NGOs, and other government agencies.  Bill is an environmentalist that works as a consultant for industry.  He “walks the walk.”

The monthly meetings can be lively and even heated at times, but the coalition has been meeting for many years and has accomplished many things.  A lot of that has to do with Bill’s leadership.  He doesn’t do everything, but he is a great natural facilitator. 

After one meeting we were talking and he recommended a book.  I didn’t write the book title down so I promptly forgot the title.  It’s tough being old(er).  I remembered to ask him before the next meeting and bought it on Amazon that evening (shameless plug).

It may sound trite to say that this book “changed my life,” but it did make me look at problems a different way.  The subtitle; How to Figure Out What the Problem REALLY Is gives a good indication of the focus of the book. 

Are Your Lights On? by Donald C. Gause and Gerald M. Weinberg provides examples and insights into spending more time identifying the problem before trying to fix it.  Often when you encounter a problem and try to solve it, you don’t recognize that the others trying to solve the same problem have a different perspective.  Your solution may not help them.  

The authors quote an old problem-solving adage; “We never have enough time to do it right, but we always have enough time to do it over.”  They put it another way; “We never have enough time to consider whether we want it, but we always have enough time to regret it.”  Are Your Lights On is not a “how to” book as much as it opened my mind to look at problems in a different way.

This is a very entertaining book and I have read it several times (so far).  I actually searched Amazon (another shameless plug) to buy an out-of-print hardcover edition for my library.  It looks great on my shelf.

Several months after reading the book Bill and I happened to be sitting next to each other at our monthly meeting.  We were listening to some of the others discussing a problem.  The group was discussing numerous solutions until we heard one of our colleagues say, “Whoa, we need to go back and look at the problem.”  Bill looked at me and I said, “It sounds like Tom read the book.”

You should read it too.

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