Charles Conn Show Notes Page
Charles Conn used a really simple tool to solve the problems for a company with thousands of employees. It was this humble beginning which now finds Charles on a quest to solve the problems of the world.
Charles Conn was born in Phoenix Arizona to half Canadian, half American parents, more naturally based in Massachusetts where his dad had done his college education at MIT, and to which they returned when Charles was only 6 months old.
Charles was raised in Cambridge and Concord and a little town up on the New Hampshire border called Dunstable. Charles has a brother born 2 years after him. His parents divorced at 10, after which Charles’s mother went to art school and married her professor…which ensured a strange mix of engineering problem solving and artistic creativity as fundamental influences on his young life.
With an MIT engineer as a father and art professor mother and step father, Charles had dueling influences of analytic problem solving and more creative approaches as a backdrop to learning. This eventually led to a career as a partner of McKinsey, the consulting firm, but always with a focus on creative problem solving.
Charles then caught the internet bug early and moved like some erstwhile Beverley Hillbilly from Sydney to Los Angeles to lead a tech startup, Ticketmaster-Citysearch, that eventually successfully IPO’ed. After that he returned to an early love of biology working with Intel-founder Gordon Moore in starting his new foundation dedicated to science-based conservation, where he learned that the problem solving technologies he helped develop at McKinsey scaled to environment level problems.
After this he led a turnaround at the Rhodes Trust in Oxford (returning him to his graduate school roots), where he developed a novel approach to leadership development for Rhodes Scholars and raised funds to right the Trust financially. While at the Rhodes Trust he and his former McKinsey colleague Rob McLean finally put pen to paper and wrote up their lives’ work, Bulletproof Problem Solving: The One Skill that Changes Everything.
And finally, Charles is now applying his problem-solving models to deep science, working as CEO of Oxford Sciences Innovation, the £600m venture firm founded in partnership with Oxford to develop its advanced technology ideas.
Charles is most proud to have helped develop the problem solving and leadership capabilities of hundreds of incredibly talented young people across many spheres who will no doubt do a better job than his generation at saving the planet.
Charles lives in lots of places: His day job has him based in Oxford England, but he commutes to Stockholm part of the year where his partner Camilla Borg lives. He keeps a foot hold in Sun Valley Idaho, where he owns a ranch, and Los Angeles. Charles’s partner is Camilla Borg, a Swede with skills in design and marketing. He has three grown children from a previous marriage.
Quotes and Mentions
“The great lesson of problem solving is, you can use a single technique for taking apart almost any kind of problem.” – Click to Tweet
“Our industries are being transformed in ways that would entirely foreign to our parents’ generation.” – Click to Tweet
“Traditional industries are being transformed at faster rates than has ever been true before.” – Click to Tweet
“The most critical thing now is, can you learn new things and can you solve problems in any sphere.” – Click to Tweet
“People need to be good at fluidly addressing problems in the workforce with small teams.” – Click to Tweet
“What we’re going to be rewarded for in the future is not some old body of knowledge you learned in the past.” – Click to Tweet
“It’s not what you knew before, it’s your ability to quickly mobilize with colleagues to solve problems as they arise.” – Click to Tweet
“People often surge of into problem solving without really thinking about what problem they’re trying to solve.” – Click to Tweet
“Most people don’t think hard about the problems before they run off and start building models.” – Click to Tweet
“People leave problems that are too lumpy and therefore they look unsolvable.” – Click to Tweet
“Even the most brilliant people fail to link their analytic findings to a really compelling story for why someone would change what they’re doing.” – Click to Tweet
“Problem Solving is always the answer to the question, what should I do?” – Click to Tweet
“How do you connect people’s brains with their feet in a way that’s compelling, that’s storytelling.” – Click to Tweet
“The more open problems are the more creative we can be.” – Click to Tweet
“There’s so much debate in the public square where people are just speaking past each other.” – Click to Tweet
“How do you show problems in a way where the solution becomes visual.” – Click to Tweet
“Don’t get it right, just get started.” – Click to Tweet
“You should make each incremental decision as a new decision.” – Click to Tweet
“Our human cognitive biases trip us up when we try to problem solve.” – Click to Tweet
Hump to Get Over
Charles Conn used a really simple tool to solve the problems for a company with thousands of employees. It was this humble beginning which now finds Charles on a quest to solve the problems of the world.
Advice for others
Be entirely present instead of being focused on the future.
Holding him back from being an even better leader
Negative images of self
Best Leadership Advice
Secret to Success
I wake up early and get to interact with myself before anybody else.
Best tools in business or life
I dis-aggregate every problem using logic trees.
Contacting Charles Conn
Resources and Show Mentions
[expand title=”Click to access edited transcript”]
Jim Rembach: 00:00 Okay, Fast Leader Legion today I’m excited because I have somebody on the show today who’s going to help us be protected from some of the things that we really need to address today. Charles Conn was born in Phoenix, Arizona to half Canadian and half American parents, and he ended up growing up in Massachusetts near where his father had done his college education at MIT. Charles was raised in Cambridge and Concord and a little town up on the New Hampshire border called Dunstable. Charles has a brother born two years after him. His parents divorced at 10 after Charles, his mother went to art school and married her professor, which ensured a strange mix of engineering, problem solving and artistic creativity as fundamental influences on his young life with an MIT engineer as a father and an art professor, mother and stepfather, Charles had dueling influences of analytic problem solving and more creative approaches as a backdrop to learning.
Jim Rembach: 00:56 This eventually led to a career as a partner of McKinsey, the consulting firm, but always with a focus on creative problem solving. Charles then caught the internet bug early and moved some erstwhile Beverly hillbilly from Sydney to Los Angeles to lead a tech startup ticket master city search that eventually successfully IPO. After that, he returned to an early love of biology working with Intel founder Gordon Moore and starting his new foundation dedicated to science-based conversation where he learned that the problem solving technologies, he helped develop a McKinsey scale two environment level problems. After this, he led a turnaround at the Rhodes trust in Oxford where he developed a novel approach to leadership development for road scholars and raise funds to the right to write the trust financially. While at the Rhodes trust, he and his former McKinsey colleague Rob McClain finally put pen to paper and wrote up their life’s work.
Jim Rembach: 01:59 Bulletproof Problem Solving, the one skill that changes everything. And finally, Charles is now applying his problem solving models to deep science, working as a CEO of Oxford sciences, which is an innovation group and venture firm that was founded in partnership with Oxford to develop its advanced technology ideas. Charles is most proud to have helped develop the problem solving leadership capabilities of hundreds of incredibly talented young people across many spheres who will no doubt do a better job than his generation at saving the planet. Charles lives in lots of places. His day job has him based in Oxford, England, but he commutes to Stockholm part of the year where his partner Camilla Borg. He keeps a foothold in sun Valley, Idaho, where he owns a ranch and Los Angeles. Charles, his partner is Camilla Borg, a Swede with skills and design and marketing. He has three grown children from a previous marriage. Charles Conn, are you ready to help us get over the hump? I am. I’m ready, man. I am glad you’re here and I’m looking forward to a fantastic. Now I’ve given my Legion a little bit about you, but can you tell us what your current passion is so that we can get to know you even better?
Charles Conn: 03:09 Yeah. The thing that I’m really excited about at the moment is deep science. And one of the really amazing things about my new job is I get to invest in and learn about, incredible new technologies, new cures for cancer, new diagnoses, techniques using epigenetics, uh, nuclear fusion, quantum computing, advanced materials. Every single day I get to learn something new. And that’s what really turns me on.
Jim Rembach: 03:35 Well, you know, even as you’re saying that and me having the opportunity to go through and learn more about your work on problem solving, you know, in the book Bulletproof problem solving where you actually share 30 case studies and tools that people can use to help with problem solving. I started thinking about all kinds of different problems with all of those different new technologies. And even when you start talking about, you know, people using those, um, accepting those, I mean, there’s a whole slew of problems that have to be addressed. However, I see that the system that you’ve created can work in every single one of those.
Charles Conn: 04:08 That’s exactly right. And what did this, the great lesson of this problem solving is, um, you can use a single technique for taking apart almost any kind of problem, whether it’s a simple problem like should I put solar panels on my roof or an incredibly complex problem? Like how do we make progress on climate change? Or how do we end homelessness and all the problems in between? Like should I increase the price on my product? All those things are amenable to the same kind of approach.
Jim Rembach: 04:38 Well, and this approach and this system and this learning and you know, you having the case study so that people can practice and get better at it. Because I think that’s vitally important. It’s just not a situation where you know about it. You have to actually do it. Is that you, these skills that people really need these days are in such great demand. I think for me, when I start looking at the book and, and the things that you’re teaching in here and your systems and stuff, I’m like, what better time than now for certain. But tell us about a little bit about that transformation and how what was needed yesterday is nowhere near close to what we need today.
Charles Conn: 05:20 Yeah. I think the biggest thing is the pace, and I think we all feel it, don’t we? Which is everything’s getting faster and faster and faster, and our industries are being transformed in ways that would be entirely foreign foreign to our parents’ generation. So whether we’re talking about automation or artificial intelligence and machine learning, traditional industries are being transformed at faster rates than has ever been true before. There was a time when you could go to university and learn a particular skill, you know, accounting or law or even medicine, or then you could practice that over the course of a 40 year that’s over. None of the next generation will be able to work in jobs like that. The most critical thing now is can you learn new things and can you solve problems in any sphere? Because most people born today will have five or six different careers in their lives and many more jobs than that. And what they need to be good at is fluidly addressing problems in the workforce with small teams.
Jim Rembach: 06:24 Well, and specifically you talk about the top skills. I mean it’s seems to me like everybody uses the 20, 20 years a marker. It’s like a, you know, that’s only a few months old, but you talk about these tops can’t 10 skills that are needed. I and for me there, they’re very complimentary to one another and you need to have skills and many of them. Um, but I want to read this list because I think it’s vitally important for everybody who’s listening to really pay attention to this. Uh, cause also you have a quote in here by Andreas Scott Scheidler. Uh, he basically says he is the actually director of education and skills and special advisor to the secretary general of the OEC D when he says put simply the world no longer rewards people just for what they know. Google knows everything but what they can’t, but we what for what they can do with what they know. And so those skills that are needed are problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management, coordinating with others, emotional intelligence, judgment and decision making, service orientation, negotiation and cognitive flexibility. So even when you started talking about people having multiple careers, not jobs. And I think that’s also vital distinction. I mean we’re talking about people doing a lot of different things that require deep knowledge and understanding is that it all comes down to these elements which are more people based.
Charles Conn: 07:57 That’s exactly right. What we’re going to be rewarded for in the future is not some old body of language that you, a body of knowledge you learned in the past, but your ability to work with your colleagues to crack the problems of the company at the day. And those are changing really quickly. So even if you work for a big media company or a big technology company, it’s not what you knew before. It’s your ability to quickly mobilize with colleagues to solve problems as they arise.
Jim Rembach: 08:25 Well, and with that, with that you have talk about, you know, the pitfalls people often run into when we start talking and mistakes. When we start talking about trying to problem solve, and I think it’s really important for us to walk through those before we get into the problem solving system. So could kind of run through those a little bit.
Charles Conn: 08:43 I’ll go through quickly. I mean what we find is that people often surge off into problem solving without really thinking about what problem they’re trying to solve. I know that sounds crazy, but a lot of times people won’t ask the question like how quickly do I need an answer? What areas are ruled out of bounds by my boss? For example? Um, how precise does the answer need to be? How big is the scope for creativity in this? Or do I need a very precise kind of answer that’s narrowly bounded? Most people don’t think hard about the problem before they run off and start building models, right? Second thing we often find is that especially your boss will assert an answer as opposed to really doing the problem solve thing. They’ll just sort of jump to the end point without actually doing the dis-aggregation that’s required to take a problem, a part into its constituents.
Charles Conn: 09:33 A fourth thing that we see all the time is neglecting. Or third thing is neglecting team structures and norms. And so people don’t, when they’re constructing a team, they don’t think about all the different kinds of people who can help contribute to an answer or ways that you can structure your problem solving to get better answers. So for example, in our teams we always make, make sure that the most senior person speaks last that way they don’t shade the problem. There’s something we call the sunflower effect where as soon as a senior person says something, everyone shifts their thinking to whatever they just said, which is absurd. A fourth thing is failure to desegregate problems. So people leave problems that are too lumpy and therefore they look unsolvable. And if you take problems into their parts, you can see the solution start from emerge. Last two things is that people often don’t imply a complete analytic tool set.
Charles Conn: 10:30 They’re afraid to use modern tools of statistics or game theory, artificial intelligence, all of which are now much more accessible than they used to be with quite good tools. And then finally, and this is the classic for even the most brilliant people, is they fail to link their analytic findings to a really compelling story for why someone would change what they’re doing. So for us, problem solving’s always the answer to the question, what should I do? And if you can’t tell the decision maker a compelling story about what to do, where you mobilize evidence against that, then you’re, you’re nowhere, you, we’ve all seen analysts, you know, who come in with a brilliant model but no story, why should I change?
Jim Rembach: 11:17 I think that’s a really important point because when we start thinking about a lot of these strategic decisions that need to be made and execution is we do have to tie in, you know, all of the numbers, all the analytics, you know, with the emotional aspect. Because even when we started talking about those skills that are required, they’re human based and we’re all human. When we think about where everybody commits, where everybody, you know, engages, where everybody moves in concert with one another. And I have this discussion a lot about the head and the feet not moving in concert. Because people do certain things at the very high level and they’re unable to connect with their feet. And so they’re going in all kinds of different directions.
Charles Conn: 11:57 I love that description. One way thinking about it is humans are naturally resistant to change. And whenever we’re solving problems, we’re saying you should do something different. How do you connect people’s brains to their feet in a way that’s compelling? That’s storytelling. Evidence-based.
Jim Rembach: 12:15 Absolutely. And, and I think for me, we, one of the things that we have to absolutely address and all of that and to connect those two is that there’s a significant amount of vulnerability and change. Something really we can say that I think, well you said it so I’m gonna actually challenge you on it. Um, I think it’s too easy for us to say people are resistant to change. Well, if that was the case, we wouldn’t be driving some of the motor vehicles that we have driven where we wouldn’t be using smart devices. We wouldn’t. So people do want change. It’s how we can actually, for me, you also use this kind of like decompile yeah, the actual change actions and activities so that we can do a better job of solving for and making decisions and taking actions.
Charles Conn: 12:57 I liked that and I think that’s important to say, which is when you say to someone you need to change your whole life, they are going to be resistant to change. But if instead I give you a step by step solution where I say, first do this, then do that, then do this, and you’ll get a better result than today. That’s problem solving. That’s actionable. Right? And what we need for modern teams in the workplace today is make it actionable. Don’t just say it’s all wrong. Give me a plan. And that’s what this book’s about.
Jim Rembach: 13:29 Absolutely. So I mean for me, I see a whole lot of, as you go through some of these tools, what I would refer to as chunking, you’re chunking things. Exactly. That. It’s easier to be able to consume them.
Charles Conn: 13:40 Exactly. We call it buckets. An exam. It’s exactly that. How do we separate out things into buckets so that we can begin to see the structure of the problem and begin to see the solutions and begin to be able to tell that story in a way that causes organizations to change.
Jim Rembach: 13:55 And I think that’s the only way that any of us can wrap our heads around, you know, how to make our way through the maze.
Charles Conn: 14:01 Exactly. Exactly.
Jim Rembach: 14:02 Okay. So that leaves us to talking about these seven critical steps. And I love the system, by the way. I mean for me, I start seeing a whole lot of applications that go well beyond the workplace, that’s for sure. And then you even kind of approached this. So to me it’s, it’s really having this be top of mind whenever we approach just about any conversation. Exactly. It’d be their direct report or a colleague or you know, someone who we’re reporting to. But if you can walk through these seven steps and kind of explain two things, first of all, what it is of course, and then how, how it fits and then maybe level of importance.
Charles Conn: 14:40 Yeah. So, as I mentioned earlier when we were talking about places people fall down, the first place we start and spend more time than sometimes feels comfortable is actually stating the, and as you know from reading the book, we even use a little worksheet and that worksheet says, can you state in one sentence what the problem is? But then who are the decision makers? All the decision makers, what are the barriers in their thinking or boundaries which they wouldn’t like you to cross? How quickly do they need a decision? How precise does their answer need to be? And that helps us understand what’s the scope for problem solving. The more open problems are the more creative we can be. But lots of times decision makers need us, need us to be quite constrained. The second step, and I think you know, you, you asked for level of importance.
Charles Conn: 15:30 This is the most important one for me, which is how do we desegregate the problem? Even big and difficult problems sometimes called wicked problems into their constituent parts. So we can see the structure and begin to determine where the solution lies. I like to use logic trees. That’s what works for me and different types of logic trees, the heel, different types of solutions and um, the third step which is when you take that logic tree and you can begin to ask the question which branches on the logic tree are more important and which ones are less important, which ones can I change and what ones can I not change? So I often use a little two by two matrix. How big is it and can I change it or not? Obviously we want to work on the levers that are big that we can change.
Charles Conn: 16:19 That’s where your problem solving should focus. I often call that the critical path. The fourth step is once I’ve got a prioritized set of the elements of the problem, then I build a little work plan and work plan sound boring but they’re not. I like to have little punchy work plans, little chunky work plans to use your term where I plan just a few days out and where I know exactly what I’m trying to work on and I know what my end products would look like. People often use Microsoft project or crazy things to do these big long work plans. We all remember earlier in our career where you do the three month work plan, never works, never works. Keep your work plans. Focus less than two weeks in length and where you know exactly what the end product is, not just what the analysis is that helps you work better with your teams and avoid disappointment.
Charles Conn: 17:11 Hey Larry, I thought you were going to do that X by Y, right? When you have good little chunky work plans and Gantt charts to keep you on track for the longer period, you’ll produce great results. Then the next step for us is how to do the analytic work, how to do the analysis. Many people, especially clever people jump right to the analysis. If you’ve set yourself well up with those first four steps, your analysis is much more likely to be focused and use appropriate tools rather than just the fancy tools and people you know, they love to run off with their linear regression programs or nowadays with their machine learning algorithms without really thinking of the structure of the problem. First, and they often miss the Mark in their problem solving by picking the wrong analytic tools and then as you were just saying a moment ago, the last two steps are how do I synthesize that analytic work and then structure it using and we use journalists tools, that inverted pyramid that journalists use to structure those analytic steps into a synthesis that tells a story, why should I change?
Charles Conn: 18:19 And again, the cleverest people are often the worst at these last two steps. How do I tell everybody else the cool things that I discovered in a way that compels action? Sometimes you have to be sneaky if people don’t want to hear what the answer is, where you unveil the answer like a dance of seven veils. Do we do we agree this problem is important? Yes. Here’s the evidence. Okay, yes, let’s move onto the next section and you move people down until they have to accept your conclusions. Other times it’s best to lead with the answer. You should change because of this, this and this. The structure of your problem solving, storytelling depends on your audience. Those are the seven steps, neat and tidy based in the scientific method, based in engineering decision making and based in the same kind of design thinking that’s used in product design today.
Jim Rembach: 19:13 Well, and as you’re talking, I started thinking about really that last step where you see, you know, where, where you had mentioned a lot of people struggle with and oftentimes I will meant is I also start thinking about, you know, the, the impact, because I had this discussion not even 30 minutes ago with somebody about the watering down of messaging. Yeah. And that what happens is when you send something around that has an impact that you know, you have, have created, when you start running it by other people, they start DC making it really neutral. Yeah. And so therefore the impact that you are trying to go for, it just actually loses that ability. But people don’t engage. They’re like, Oh yeah, whatever. It’s a nice to know. So how do you prevent people from actually, you know, going down that path and watering down their message? Because the fact is, is if you’re asking people to change, it has to be a polar impact. I need people to have strong emotion. And because like you said, it’s a fast paced world. We have a lot of things competing against us. And you know what, if you don’t grab me and shake me, I’m not going to do anything.
Charles Conn: 20:25 Yeah. Well, and that’s where we use these structures and particularly that inverted pyramid that journalists use where we use logical structures to our arguments that say you should change because of this. And we provide evidence because of this and we provide the evidence and because of this and we provide the evidence that makes it very difficult to water down or mealy mouth, um, the messages that come out of your problem solving and makes it more compelling for people to actually choose a path and change than just keeping the business going as, as whatever your business is as it was before. Um, we use a structure where each statement bold statements, right, are supported by the evidence in a way that makes it really clear to the decision maker why they need to change.
Jim Rembach: 21:11 Well, and I think even, um, you know, you had mentioned something about the uh, you know, the, the saving and the impact of the world and that, you know, the younger generation, unfortunately he’s inheriting a few things that yes, they’re going to have to do that. Otherwise extinction is going to be a threat. Well, that’s where we are right now with a lot of organizations.
Charles Conn: 21:31 Sure. Is the threat part of the beauty of this, what you’re saying? I mean, I agree with it so strongly. There’s so much debate in the public square where people are just speaking past each other and we actually know a lot about what the right answers are to tackle things like homelessness or climate change or problems with addiction. But we often speak past each other rather than using these logical structures to our arguments. Oftentimes I find when we follow a seven steps approach like this, even people who thought they would disagree ahead of time can actually come to common ground. Right. And you see this all the time, should we have, should it, should marijuana be illegal or should the death penalty exists? Those sound like impossible problems that only would rely on values based decisions. I bet if you and I sat down together when we wrote out some criteria for solving those problems, we could find more common ground than you’d think
Jim Rembach: 22:28 and I’m sure we would and all. But that, I think that also goes back to those skills that we’re talking about is that we need more and more people to improve their competencies and skills with being able to do that in a collaborative type of work.
Charles Conn: 22:42 Yeah, exactly. State the problem carefully dis-aggregate the problem, agree on what the criteria are for the solution of the problem. And I bet we’re halfway to a common solution.
Jim Rembach: 22:52 Well, when I start thinking about everything that we’ve talked about in association with problem solving and even some of those, you know, technologies you say as part of your passion that you’re getting exposed to. I mean there’s a whole lot of emotion that gets wrapped up into that and one of the things that we look at on the show in order to help give us focus drive in that area, are quotes. Yeah. is there a quote or two that you like that you can share?
Charles Conn: 23:15 You know, one of the ones that I really love was a quote by the, the Nobel prize winner, amazing Nobel prize winner, Herb Simon. I don’t know if you remember her assignment, what he said. I just think it’s sort of a, a beautiful comment, which is he said, problem solving is making the is is, is helping people visualize the solution. And I just, I thought that was just a beautiful, so I’m going to say the actual quote, but you get the sense of it. He said solving a problem simply means representing it so as to make the solution transparent. I think that’s amazing. It’s just one sentence. Makes the solution transparent and that’s what allows everybody to see it. And to compel action. A Nobel prize winner in economics and decision theory. And how do you show problems in a way where the solution becomes visual?
Jim Rembach: 24:10 Well, I would dare to say when we start talking about, you know, the skills that are part of this book, um, that you had to go down a couple of different paths in order to get to where you are now. And we talk about getting over the humps. There are things that we learned and that we should share with others so that hopefully they don’t repeat them. Yeah. But is there a time where you’ve gotten over the hump that you can share?
Charles Conn: 24:31 Boy, have I ever got many, many, many of those kinds of things? Um, and uh, you know, when I was, um, very, at the very beginning of my career as a management consultant starting right out at the beginning, feeling like I didn’t know anything. Um, I was helping this uh, hardware home center company that’s actually described in the book. And I had no idea how to begin to take apart a problem as big as, you know, a business that employed six or 10,000 people. And uh, I used a really simple tool, you know, we’re trying w and I was taught this tool by my, my, my older colleagues that helped take a part of business. It’s called a profit lever tree or return on net assets tree. That allowed me to see what the structure of this business was and both where the strengths were and were the negatives for.
Charles Conn: 25:18 And it was like being in the dark and then someone turning on the light and it was, you know, it was a panic situation where a simple bit of logic helped clarify everything about a business that I was supposed to be adding value to. And I’ve used that same structure, which is w which we talk about in the book and which you saw like return on assets tree two to take apart almost any kind of business. One of my friends right now, I was running a business that makes truck accessories and he came to me one day and he said, Charles, I’m on cotton. A quandary. Our costs have drifted up in these couple of places and I’m, I’m afraid to raise prices. Should I raise prices. So he was caught in your same kind of hump and we built a little lever, rebuilt a little profit lever tree for his business. And we calculated that if, if sales dropped by less than 4%, he could raise his prices by 7% and still be ahead. And he had gave him the confidence when he was caught in a bind to make it a complex decision in his business. It turns out they raised prices 7% and volumes continued going up at 50% a year. But so we use just that little same tree that I use right at the beginning of my career to help answer a really difficult problem about as business.
Jim Rembach: 26:34 So when I started thinking about, you know, that learning, um, and you going through that. So help me understand when you start talking about approaching the problem, I mean, was it something that you were just given the tools right then and there and then therefore you used it or were you searching for the solution and then had the opportunity to be guided by somebody who is a senior level leader?
Charles Conn: 26:55 Yeah, like most real problem solving. At first it seemed really muddled and uh, you know, I knew we had a problem, which is how do you help this client make their business work better? But I didn’t have a precise idea about how to do that and I had no idea about the tools. And what I know now, after all these years of experience is every single time I find myself on that solution, I start with a great problem statement. And I do my best with my tools at that moment to take apart the problem using a logic tree. Oftentimes the first time I do it, it’s wrong. Almost always. In fact, I usually start with a whiteboard. Probably you do too. And I write little yellow sticky notes about what I know. And a lot of times there’s not a whole lot on the board at the beginning, but I start to orient those on the board in the shape, in the shape of a logic tree, and that I can start to fill in gaps where there’s something that I need to know and I need to do a bit more research before I can build that tree out.
Charles Conn: 27:50 Usually I’d try three or different three or four different structures before the solution starts to drop out in front of me. And I’d be, what I’ve just found over time is you can start with almost nothing and in the space of a few hours have enough of a high quality rough cut that you can do the next level of analysis that makes you ask better questions. You’ll remember from the book when I first was asked by Gordon Moore, can you help save salmon? You know, wild salmon. How would you begin to think about a problem as complex as that? Right? And what I discovered is I just sat down with a team of people who are, you know, just people who knew about biology and they said, well, probably has something to do with the environment that salmon live in, what salmon EA and how people, you know, whether people catch salmon in ways that help their populations or hurt their populations. That’s the crudest tree of all you could say for how you’d affect salmon. But starting with that crew tree, it was only days later that we began to become much more sophisticated. And so I always say, don’t get it right. Just get started. And I like the idea of what we’ve talked about in the book is a one day answer, right? Almost any problem you and I could sit down and in one day we could come up with a pretty good answer starting with that problem statement, working toward this, this aggregation and then prioritization.
Jim Rembach: 29:10 So what I see you saying is that all of us, you know, have a system in order to go about problem solving. And the fact is, is that the majority of us don’t use a structured, repeatable and scalable method to be able to do that. We, we fall on our defaults. Yup. So if I have thinking through that, you know, you’ve had this opportunities, experiences, you have these 30 case studies, you worked with a lot of different clients is when I think about the default system that you most commonly see, what does that the fault system? Boy,
Charles Conn: 29:39 you are right onto the right thing, Jim, because this is where our human cognitive biases trip us up, right? Whenever we’re falling back on D, you may remember ganja economists’ book thinking fast and slow. And what he shows us is that type one system that humans have, which is that fallback default system is usually incredibly, uh, fraught with bias. The most common biases are availability bias. I think I’ve seen this problem before. So you apply the wrong solution because it happens to be right available to you or sunk cost bias. This is another one of our most human things. I’ve already spent money on that I better keep doing it. Right? Which is, you know, economists tell us it’s just wrong. That money’s sunk. You should make each decision, each incremental decision as, as a brand new decision. Right. And then I described earlier, one of the other kinds of biases that are really common with humans is look to the most senior person, look to the boss. And the bosses usually are less likely to have a fresh answer to our problem than some bright young thing. And what I find is default mode puts you in one of those three or four biases almost guaranteed.
Jim Rembach: 30:47 Well, when I started thinking about this work that you’re doing and even, you know, working with the, uh, the fund, uh, gosh, I started thinking about a lot of different competing and compelling, uh, goals. Um, yeah. When I start thinking about one of them and your most important, what is,
Charles Conn: 31:05 Yeah. So in what I’m currently doing right now, our big goal is how do we change the world and make it better. And what we know is, in the science-based world that we’re in here at Oxford university, the only way we can move the dial on how to make the world better is to build great companies one by one based on great science. And so for me at the moment, my goal is really simple. How do I take these amazing scientific discoveries in medicine and materials and physics and engineering and make great companies? And so it’s, in a way, it’s quite simple. Right now I can make the world better by building great science-based companies. And that’s what I think about everyday when I wake up.
Jim Rembach: 31:48 And the Fast Leader Legion wishes you the very best. Now before we move on, let’s get a quick word from our sponsor.
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Jim Rembach: 32:14 Alright, here we go. Fast Leader Legion. It’s time for the Hump Day Hoedown. Okay Charles, the Hump Day Hoedown is the part of our show where you give us good insights fast. So I’m going to ask you several questions and your job is to give us robust yet rapid responses that are going to help us move onward and upward faster. Charles Conn, are you ready to hoedown?
Charles Conn: 32:36 I’m sure hope so.
Jim Rembach: 32:37 Alright, so what is holding you back from being an even better leader today?
Charles Conn: 32:43 I think our, our, um, the, the biggest thing that holds us back is our, our negative images of self. And I’ll leave it right there.
Jim Rembach: 32:53 What is the best leadership advice you’ve ever received?
Charles Conn: 32:58 Uh, the best leadership I advice, advice I’ve ever received. I can answer in one word. Listen.
Jim Rembach: 33:04 What is one of your secrets that you believe contributes to your success?
Charles Conn: 33:08 I wake up really early in the morning every day and I got time to myself before I interact with anybody else getting squared away.
Jim Rembach: 33:16 What do you feel is one of your best tools that helps you lead in business or life?
Charles Conn: 33:20 I dis-aggregate every problem using logic. Trees helps other people see the answer too.
Jim Rembach: 33:26 And what would be one book that you’d recommend to our Legion and it could be from any genre. Of course, we’re going to put a link to Bulletproof problem solving on your show notes page as well.
Charles Conn: 33:35 I think the book that were written by Richard Dawkins called the Selfish Gene helped me understand humans better than any other book. My top pick.
Jim Rembach: 33:44 Okay. Fast leader Legion. You can find links to that in other bonus information from today’s show or go on a fast leader.net/charlesconn. Okay, Charles, this is my last Humpday hold on question. Imagine you were given the opportunity to go back to the age of 25, you can take the knowledge and skills that you have now back with you, but you can’t take it all. You can only choose one. So what skill or piece of knowledge would you take back with you and why?
Charles Conn: 34:07 Uh, that’s an easy one. I think I would, if I could go back to age 25 I would be entirely present as opposed to being always thinking about the future. And I think at age 58 I’ve learned how to be in the minute. I wish I’d had boys in a minute at 25.
Jim Rembach: 34:24 Charles, I had a great time chatting with you today, but can you please share at the fast leader Legion how they can connect with you?
Charles Conn: 34:29 Sure. Um, I’m easy to find it. www.Bulletproofproblemsolving.com and I’d love to engage with the readers.
Jim Rembach: 34:38 Charles Conn, thank you for sharing her knowledge and wisdom and the fast leader Legion honors you and thanks you for helping us get over the hump.