Monthly Archives: October 2011

The 5 Eyed Method of Problem Solving

It isn’t that they can’t see the solution. It’s that they can’t see the problem -G. K. Chesterton 

There are a number of systematic ways of solving problems. Some are useful in very specific situations, while others are powerful but very complicated. One of the ways we teach people to solve problems at Totem is using the 5 eyed method.

IDENTIFY what success looks like

You can only really solve a problem when you know exactly what outcome you are after.  When the problem is solved, what situation will you be in. Step one is to sort out what it is you are trying to achieve.

ISOLATE the real problem

If you have ‘flu which has given you a headache, you can stop the headache with an aspirin but while it might make you feel better, you will still have the ‘flu. You have tackled the symptom not the cause. The key to problem solving is to be able to look at all the symptoms and decide what the underlying problem that is causing them is.

INNOVATE multiple solutions to the problem

Once you have isolated the problem, you should come up with multiple solutions to the problem. It is unlikely that your first idea will be the best so produce as many as you feel necessary before committing to one course of action. This is known as ‘divergent thinking

IMPLEMENT the chosen solution

You then must chose a solution from the many that you came up with. Consider the merits of each and the drawbacks, eliminate one at a time if you need to until you have your chosen path of action. This process is known as ‘convergent thinking‘.

Once you have chosen a solution you must implement it to the best of your abilities.

INVESTIGATE whether the solution solves the problem

Finally, it’s important not to assume that because you chose the best solution from the ones you thought up, it will automatically work. Put a system in place for investigating whether your problem has really been solved. Make sure that all of the symptoms have gone away and the underlying issue has really been resolved.


Five Top Tips for Assessment Centres

We’ve just finished running a mock assessment centre for the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Nottingham. It’s aim was to give students a chance to experience what an assessment centre is like before they have to do so for real, and a chance to reflect on their performance in teams with feedback from peers and our Development Guides.

More than eighty students signed up for the day and spent it building contraptions that Heath Robinson would be proud of. Machines that sorted coins, threw table tennis balls and climbed ropes, along with a few puzzles, codes and a research paper. There were some extremely inventive solutions to some of the challenges but ultimately victory went to the team that was organised, managed their resources, knew when to give up on a project, used the strengths of team members and kept track of time. These are all the behaviours that major employers are looking for today.

It was such a success that the University in-house magazine ran an article on it and asked for our top tips for students who have to attend assessment centres. Here is our advice for those who find themselves applying for a job where a centre is part of the process.

Five Top Tips for Assessment Centres


  • 1. Get involved. You don’t have to be the leader of the group, or even the loudest, but we are assessing your contribution, if you don’t contribute, we don’t have anything to assess.
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“Here’s to the crazy ones” – Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

We are a Mac based workplace here at Totem. I could bore you with why we made that decision, ease of use, low support costs, etc, but you probably don’t care. We like them and we like the customer focus that Apple has.

It was for that reason that we were very sad to hear of the the death of Steve Jobs. Aside from the human tragedy of someone dying so young,  the world has lost a maverick, a visionary and an incredible business man. He probably wasn’t easy to work with but people wanted to work with him. He stood on the shoulder of giants, in the form of his team of engineers and designers, but he assembled that team in the first place. He gave them their goal and ensured they stayed focused. He defined one clear model of leadership in the tech industry.

Fuller obituaries are elsewhere, everywhere really, a measure of the impact he and his team had. If we can have 1/100 of the impact on the world that they have, we’ll be a pretty happy team.

Hidden in one of Apple’s core products is something that I think sums him, and Apple, up well.

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