An Unnatural Switch

February 17, 2009



By John Munce, Deployment Executive, The Tatham Group

I’m a solution-ing hero from way back.  Even when I didn’t have a solution I was the first to hop up and lead the group to one – quickly.  My theory for why this was the right thing to do was simple:  (a) the solution couldn’t be that hard and (b) if it didn’t work we’d just do this again.  This way was successful – some of the time.  When I was asked to abandon this solution-ing method and replace it with a systematic problem solving method I had a very difficult time adjusting to the discipline and pace.

 A very smart client compares the switch from jumping to solutions to using a disciplined method for fixing problems to using your left hand for everyday things (for a right-handed person, of course).  He says it feels unnatural, takes concentration and that he didn’t like it.  But he couldn’t argue with the results.  After years of consulting and managing, he was converted by the way the Systematic Method finds the root cause not just another solution that could end up making matters worse.

 It wasn’t until recently that I fully understood what he meant.  I had some surgery that clipped a nerve, which makes it very hard for me to raise my right arm to get the fork to my mouth. As a life-long right-hander, and North American, I’ve not had to learn to use my left hand to eat.  Since my wife forbade me to take my mouth down to the plate and scoop my food into the pie hole I was forced to adapt to a new way.  I learned to eat with my left hand.  From that experience I’ve taken three lessons:

 Lesson One: If we can persevere past the first desire to throw in the towel we are more adept than we think we are.

It doesn’t feel awkward for as long as you would expect it to.  I eat three times a day so I got plenty of practice and only the first few days felt really odd. 

 Lesson Two: Even a convert will need support to keep from slipping from time to time.

My brain still follows the habits of years so I frequently pick up the fork with my right hand.  I’ve been at this a year now but old responses die hard.

 Lesson Three: If we stick with it we’ll create a new habit that comes to feel very comfortable.

Regular use keeps the skill fresh.  I find that even when I reach with my right hand, after a few bites, it feels better to use my left hand.

 A final confession…I still have to use chopsticks in my right hand.  There’s an extra level of dexterity that I have yet to develop. However, the accepted etiquette of holding up a traditional rice bowl makes that work and keeps my wife happy.  Maybe I’ll learn a new lesson working those left-handed chopsticks.