A Bit of This, a Bit of That: The Method of Multiple Working Perspectives

“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”Marcus Aurelius, ancient Roman philosopher.

A Bit of This, a Bit of That: The Method of Multiple Working Perspectives by Laura Stack #productivityIn many sciences, including fields as varied as archaeology, psychology, and geology, scientists conducting research use a perspective called “the method of multiple working hypotheses.” In other words, they don’t test just one idea at a time; they test several. They begin with multiple hypotheses that may explain the results they experience or have experienced in the past. Then they narrow down the field as they proceed. Sometimes they narrow it down so well they eliminate all their original hypotheses and have to generate more.

As you tackle new tasks for your team, you can use a similar approach that I think of as “the method of multiple working perspectives.” Now, this doesn’t mean you have to believe six impossible things before breakfast, as the Red Queen advised Alice, but you can approach a task or project with an open mind about how to achieve it, rather than make assumptions about it from the beginning and proceed only on that single path. When you can, consider multiple perspectives before you begin a task; someone else may offer an easier way to achieve it. ( ←CLICK TO TWEET)

Easy for You to Say…

How you approach a task may determine whether or not you succeed, making the use of multiple perspectives valuable, at least at the beginning. This is why something like crowdsourcing (a popular approach in computing) can produce a solution surprisingly quickly.

Here’s an example of the value of different perspectives that may be apocryphal, though it illustrates the concept well. A number of individuals are working on the engine of a ship, and they have to get a large gear off a shaft. Several do their best to hold down the shaft and work the gear loose; but it’s an awkward task, and for some reason, the gear won’t budge. Finally, a quiet fellow in the back offers to lend a hand.

Rather than remove the gear from the shaft, he takes a completely opposite tactic. He puts one side of the gear in a vise, secures it tightly, picks up a sledgehammer, and carefully but solidly smacks one end of the shaft. The shaft flies out of the hole in the middle of the gear, allowing the workers to proceed with their work.

The quiet fellow’s perspective worked, whereas everyone else ran up against a brick wall because of the way they viewed the relationship between gear and shaft. They thought they needed to get the gear off the shaft; the other man realized they needed to get the shaft out of the gear.

So how does this approach work for you? Assuming you can’t easily hold several perspectives in your head at once, and you can’t find a standard documented way to accomplish something, restate the boundaries of the problem. Visualize it from a different angle or perspective. If necessary, bring other people in to provide their own perspectives, assuming they can afford the time to help. This is one of the benefits of working as part of a team; everyone has different skillsets, and someone may have run into something like what you’re working on before.

Deciding to Bring in Others

When using the method of multiple working perspectives, your toughest decisions may be whether or not to bring in other people for their perspectives, and when. When you’re not the team leader, you can’t just grab someone and put them to work. You can, however, ask them a few probing questions during a scheduled meeting, ask if they’ll brainstorm over lunch, or tap their expertise in some other informal manner. If you think you can use their help in a more long-term sense, arrange a meeting with your team leader to request that person’s aid, and argue for it as necessary.

The greatest value of multiple perspectives lies in the fact that it doesn’t lock you into one way of looking at the world. As an extreme example (deliberately chosen to exaggerate the effect), if you’ve never used or heard of a screwdriver, would you be able to easily remove a screw from a machine without causing damage, or even think of using a screwdriver? Possibly for the first question, but definitely no for the second. On the other hand, a colleague who knows of the existence of screwdrivers could help you remove the screw in seconds.

Embracing Versatility

Limited perspectives can stop you in your tracks, causing you to see some problems as unsolvable. Another perspective may prove it quite possible. When faced with something you’re unsure how to approach or simply can’t handle, seek out multiple perspectives from others, which dramatically increases your return on investment of time.


© 2015 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored seven books, including her newest work, Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time (Jan. 2016). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and in 2015 was inducted into its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at your next event, call 303-471-7401 or visit her website.