After graduation I worked for the other mobile phone company. That time, in Europe at least, there were only two big companies Nokia and Ericsson.
I got my first lesson in troubleshooting from Sture. Sture was well-respected specialist, who was able to solve all problems in phone exchanges. Whenever there was a problem that needed to be solved, he was the right man for the job. He was little bit older, or at least I felt like it, and he had big moustaches. Very quiet, but likeable person.
I had a problem while I was learning the phone exchange. As young wannabe technician, I had no choice than to request Sture to help me.
I showed and explained him the problem. He looked my computer screen for a while silently. Then he instructed me to try again after ten minutes.
That’s it? Try again after ten minutes?
After ten minutes I did try again. Same error and same problem appeared. Nothing had changed.
Sture came back after I called him. He did sit down and looked the problem for a while. Then he left without saying anything.
I was troubled and started to doubt if he is going to help me at all.
I did not know where he went, so I tried searching him and I found him. He was sitting in the middle of smoking room, alone, in a chair. It looked a bit funny, since we had smoking room made out of glass. It was a giant glass cube, with tube on top of it. He was indeed alone there and right exactly in the middle of it. He was leaning forward and anyone without knowing him could tell that he was thinking.
I did sneak back to my cubicle, sit down and felt desperate.
All of a sudden Sture appeared. He looked calm and confident, but he had weird sparkle in his eyes. “I know what is the problem”, he did sit down and entered few commands and everything was fine again. He disappeared before I was able to open my mouth and say thank you.
After that experience I have been troubleshooter most of my career. I have been fixing technical problems last 16 years and gained a lot of respect and trust. I believe there are a solutions to all problems and I know already that they can be solved.
Today Stures behaviour makes perfect sense and I use similar approach all the time. Usually when you have technical problem, you are badly stuck with it and you don’t have the idea how to proceed. Taking distance and completely different view and approach helps you to solve it.
Stures instruction to wait ten minutes doing nothing, did come from experience, which I have learned since then.
It is not uncommon that problems just disappear. It is not one or two times that it has happened.
Sometimes when I am asked something through IM or email, I don’t reply immediately and after short period I will receive another message. “Never mind. I have found the solution already.” While they wrote the message to me, they without knowing took the distance to the problem, and did find a way to solve it.
Different view and approach can literally be repositioning yourself. Leave the room, go out, walk around the block or like I sometimes joke – turn around two times and then try again. There is something odd in your brains that causes you to get stuck in your problems and try same things again and again.
When troubleshooting, I find it effective not to let yourself spend much time on problems. Take a look, think about it, try something and then move away. Then after 10 minutes take another attack with different idea. Every time you come back to the problem, try to collect more information and limit out possible causes, but never get stuck.
When someone curses and says that “I have spent hours to solve this problem”, I know that he is not doing it right. I know that he was stuck. You won’t curse, if you know what you do and if you have “troubleshooter attitude”.
Functional fixedness is a term in psychology. Shortly described it is a term for limitation that limits us to use object only like it is traditionally used. It is a “mental block that limits us to use object in a new way that allows us to solve a problem”. (Wikipedia)
In other words. We build our reality, how we believe things are, how objects are used, and that limits our thinking.
Interestingly five-year old kids don’t have it, but seven-year olds have.
When term was defined in psychology objects meant real physical objects, but since then I would connect it to software problems or any other problem in life. Same pattern applies. We have set our own reality, which we believe is truth and somehow we need to break out from the self-made reality to find new solutions.
I believe, just disconnecting, even for a short while from the problem, you break some variation of functional fixedness.
The problem does not need to be a technical thing, it can be a business, process or anything. Taking completely opposite approach can be the solution. Different view can be a solution also in your life. If you feel stuck, take a break, think about it and then try something completely different.
Doing same thing again and again and then cursing on top of it, does not move you forward.