Can you solve these three cases?

(Originally sent to all our subscribers via Edition 10 of our weekly smartletter.)


The Practice of Practice

Most of our projects tend to be interesting, but among the most interesting was something we built for Harvard Business Review a year or so ago, for their HBR Ascend site. 

We made little 'cases' - situations that would pop up on the site as one browsed it. Each caselet was based on an HBR article. So it gave us a chance to read and turn our reading into an interesting artifact.

What we slowly realised, after producing some 100-odd cases, was how this could be a form of practice within any team. If you could capture little, everyday work situations and turn them into a story or question, you could use them as a form of 'net practice'. 

Here are three of the caselets we built - try them out! Answers at the end.

Q. A fellow manager needs to deliver some negative feedback to a young team-member. You advise him to use the 'sandwich method': start with some positive feedback, then give the criticism, and end with some more positive feedback. Is this the right approach?

Your Options
a. Yes - it makes the situation less anxious for everyone involved
b. No - it undermines the negative feedback
c. No - it's good to begin with positive feedback and then give the negative feedback, but don't bother with giving positive feedback at the end
d. Yes - the recipient will see you more favourably

Q. You have decided to use a to-do list every day to better organize your day. What's the best approach to get the work done in the to-do list?

Your Options
a. Decide the order based on what time best matches that type of work
b. Take up work in the same order as it appears in your list
c. Take up work in the order of importance    
d. Finish off the quick wins first

Q. One way to allow new ideas to come to you is to emulate what Steve Jobs routinely did to boost his creativity. Which of these are we alluding to?

Your Options
a. Listening to heavy metal music
b. Play a video game
c. Watching martial arts
d. Taking a long walk

Take some time to reflect upon these questions and come up with your choices. Scroll down for the answers.









Answers to the cases

Q1. Preferred answer: "No, it undermines the negative feedback". Contrary to conventional wisdom, the 'sandwich method' doesn't work well because it only reduces anxiety for the giver, not the recipient. It makes the positive feedback feel less authentic. It's always best to get to the negative feedback as soon as possible, and talk about how to avoid or mitigate such situations in future. Keep the conversation transparent!

Q2. Suggested answer: "Decide the order based on what time best matches that type of work" .The time of the day affects your performance and decisions. Cognitive fatigue increases through the day and you should plan your work based on how much you expect to think for that work item. You must decide the order of work based on how motivated you will be and how well will be able to process information at different times in the day.

Q3: Steve Jobs often used long walks to mull over ideas. Walking seems to help free the mind from its usual environment and allowing it to day-dream. This unlocks creative impulses and new ideas. If heavy metal does that for you, go for it!

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