Motherhood is the most intense experiential workshop I have ever participated in! There is really not much out there to compare it with. Expect, perhaps, Troubleshooting!
Troubleshooting, is considered a core tech activity, and I’ve always had a soft spot for all things IT. I like to keep up with the trends and get savvy in the digital world. I am not ashamed to admit that I indulge in geeky sitcoms like The IT Crowd, and there’s this weird equilibrium of introversion and extroversion thriving in technical staff, that makes me passionate about coaching them. Even though I am not (and have never been) a software person myself, you could say I am the closest thing. So close, that I find Troubleshooting to be a core ability in my life as a Mom. But, firstly, some much-needed context.
Troubleshooting is a strategy towards problem-solving, found in all sorts of technology-related fields. Whether it’s software development or IT operations, all digital technicians practice it to some extent on a daily basis. It sharpens their problem-solving skills, which are pivotal to increasing their (and the world’s) technological literacy. (Tafur et.al, 2012)
However vague it may initially sound, Troubleshooting is actually pretty systematized. When you “troubleshoot”, you follow specific steps that (you hope) will lead you to the source of the problem in order to repair a failed product, process, machine, or system. The next picture I borrow from problem-solving, which is the core ability any Troubleshooting strategy relies on. Each step in Troubleshooting comes with its own skill requirements too! It’s no wonder competent troubleshooters are a rare breed nowadays…
As Alison Doyle nicely puts it (and I am hereinafter summarizing):
In order to remediate a problem, you must first figure out what caused it. This requires that you gather and evaluate data, isolate possible contributing circumstances, and pinpoint the chief causal factors that need to be addressed in order to resolve the problem. Active Listening, Data Gathering, Data Analysis, Fact Finding, Historical Analysis, Causal Analysis, Process Analysis, and Needs Identification are only some of the skills you need just for the first step in the troubleshooting process!
Once you’ve determined what is causing the problem, it’s time to come up with possible alternative solutions. Sometimes this involves teamwork, since two (or more) minds are often better than one. It’s rare that a single strategy is the obvious route to solving a complex problem; devising a set of alternatives helps you to cover your bases and reduce your risk exposure should the first strategy you implement fail. This is where Brainstorming, Creative Thinking, Prediction, Forecasting, Project Design, and Project Planning come to play!
Depending upon the nature of the problem and your chain of command, evaluating best solutions may be performed by assigned teams, team leads, or forwarded upward to major corporate decision makers. Whoever makes the decision must evaluate potential costs, required resources, and possible barriers to successful solution implementation. So you need Analysis, Discussion, Corroboration, Teamwork, Test Development, Mediation, and Prioritizing!
Once a course of action has been decided upon, it must be implemented, along with benchmarks that can quickly and accurately determine whether it’s working to solve a problem. Plan implementation also typically involves alerting personnel to changes in their standard operating procedures (SOPs). Project Management, Project Implementation, Collaboration, Time Management, and Benchmark Development are your go-to skills now!
After a solution has been implemented, the best problem-solvers have systems in place to ascertain if and how quickly it’s working. This way, they know as soon as possible whether the issue has been resolved or, alternatively, whether they’ll have to change their response to the problem mid-stream. Communication, Data Analysis, Managing Customer Feedback, and Following Through will come about to wrap up the Troubleshooting process.
If you haven’t done the math already, please let me add those skills up for you. It’s twenty-nine! Cited just now, supporting a person’s ability to “troubleshoot”, 29 distinct skills are required and practiced (to some extent) in every Troubleshooting attempt! Now taking off the geeky glasses, and returning to my good old Motherhood hat, I bet you can guess where this discussion is heading at, right?
Mothers get to “troubleshoot” from day one. Whether it was that fourth trimester few have the courage to talk about or those “terrible twos” that everyone seems to fret about, Moms thrive thanks to their natural inclination towards Troubleshooting. (On a side note: let’s all go with “boundary stage” from now on, as Jessica Alexander and Ivan Sandahl suggest in their Danish Way of Parenting book and ditch the “terrible” references: it’s just a developmental phase – don’t allow it to label your kid!)
Every supporting step towards your child’s growth goes hand in hand with hours of Troubleshooting. Take any unwanted situation lurking to mess you all up, as your child practices new skills. Like your kid’s first serious fall from a high spot to the ground, while he learns to climb or walk. It’s not too hard to imagine the set: you take your eyes off the munchkin for no more than 2 minutes to tidy up that piling laundry, and next thing you know there’s the sound of a bump followed by incessant heartbreaking crying. Not cool, right? What now? Well, Troubleshooting, of course!
- You assess the situation carefully but swiftly, trying to figure out what may have caused it all. Your kid fell on his head, on uncovered marble floor: damn! It’s that bloody staircase you put too close to the dining table. The kid tried to climb, balance was off and things went south. You hug your child with a comforting disposition, while trying to check his head and body for wounds. Nothing there. No bruises either. Still, he is crying his heart out, and you can’t ignore that. Congratulations, here’s Step 1 of your Troubleshooting strategy: figuring out the cause of your child’s distress.
- You keep your baby trying to ease him out, as you speed-dial your strategic partner for all things health: the pediatrician! You explain the situation, how the kid fell on the head, etc. As you exchange information you respond to the doctor’s questions who is actively trying to generate more details. Did he cry immediately? Did he throw up? Does he look dizzy? Depending on your answers the doctor explains your three alternatives: Visit him at the clinic for a quick evaluation of the kid, wait a bit at home to see if any of the symptoms who are absent suddenly emerges, or take him to the hospital immediately for a check up. And there’s your second step in Troubleshooting, gal: coming up with alternative solutions!
- You are a new mom. Stress and guilt have gotten the best of you this time around. You haven’t had your kid fall down like this before, and your little one is still crying despite your best efforts to comfort him. No vomiting or apparent bruises still, but the pediatrician suggests for a quick check-up at his clinic just to be on the safe side. Oh, and you just went through evaluating your options with the help of the health expert, and picked what felt like best one for you! Cheers!
- You get your kid ready in a jiffy, and drive carefully to the pediatrician’s place. Thankfully it’s only a 5-minute drive. The doctor checks your kid, who has stopped crying by now, reevaluates the situation and comes up with a plan: he clears you to return home, but asks you to monitor him closely for a couple of days and avoid having him sleep for more than an hour in naps. He prescribes an ointment to have around the house for bruises, and should any change in the kid’s behavior come about, you are to take him to the hospital immediately. So there your plan, Momma! You take deep breaths as you go home and start implementing it!
- You spend the next 48 hours monitoring your kid. His mood is calm, he is playing with his toys as if nothing had happened. You see a bruise on his left arm, and out on some ointment. No sudden sleepiness emerged, nothing. You feel relieved as if you dodged a bullet. You feel everything has worked out, and keep notes on everything that happened and how it was resolved, to know what to do in case something like this happens again in the future. And this successfully concludes your Troubleshooting strategy!
I had a brief chat recently with a friend who is a software developer and, at the same time, an awesome pastry chef. I’m no great cook myself, and it was my first attempt of making strawberry jam. I admit it wasn’t going all that well, so I took his expert opinion. He gave me quick and useful tips, and I managed to end up with the best jam I had ever tasted! He was telling me how he uses troubleshooting in both his work as a software developer and his hobby as a pastry chef, and I couldn’t stop thinking how skilled chefs are the ones who can effectively troubleshoot to save any recipe gone bad. Same goes with competent Mothers, me thinks, whether they realize it or not.
So, dear Momma, ever since the dawn of time, you have been Troubleshooting your motherly heart out. You courageously dive into complex-looking problematic situations, and somehow consistently manage to shine though. You are a synonym for strength and an inspiration of courage because, when the going gets tough, the Moms are the ones to always get going. You are multi-competent in more ways than you can explain, even when you don’t seem to recognize some (or any!) of the 29 skills cited as requirements for efficient Troubleshooting. Their names don’t really matter. All that matters is that you own them all, and handle them like a pro. Daily.
As for you my dear Recruiter or Hiring Manager, if all you are looking for is a gifted strategic problem-solver, go straight for the Mom in your candidate list. She has unearthed solutions no problem-solving book can teach, survived situations that heavily rely on her smooth multi-competence, and she is naturally inclined to Troubleshoot. And if you are short on interviewing ideas, just ask her how she handles flu season each year!
Shooting Troubles Daily, Don’tcha? You got this, Momma!