Tim Hobbs: AME Keynote Speaker and Passionate Problem Solver

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My guest for Episode #506 of the Lean Blog Interviews Podcast is Tim Hobbs, the founder and president of Hobbs Technical Consulting. He is an author and an in-demand international keynote speaker, trainer and business consultant. He is currently working in the semiconductor industry as a director of digital transformation. 

Tim served nine years in the U.S. Navy, managing and maintaining advanced electronic navigational, alarm, combat, telecommunication and power systems. After his military service, he worked for Intel Corporation for 14 years. 

He received a B.S. in business information systems and an M.B.A. in technology management and earned his Lean Six Sigma Blackbelt Certification.Tim is author of the book The Anatomy of Problem-Solving.

He'll also be one of the featured keynote speakers at the 40th anniversary of the AME International Conference (the Association for Manufacturing Excellence), being held in Atlanta, Georgia, from October 28 – October 31, 2024.

Enter a contest to win a free book and online course from Tim!

In this episode, Tim shares insights from his extensive career in the semiconductor industry, his journey through the US Navy, and his expertise in problem-solving. We discuss Tim's background, including his roles in digital transformation and Lean Six Sigma, and delve into his philosophy on critical thinking and structured problem-solving methods. Tim also previews his upcoming keynote at the conference, highlighting the importance of leveraging problem-solving for career success and organizational improvement. The conversation touches on his book, “The Anatomy of Problem Solving,” and an exciting book giveaway contest for our listeners. Tune in to gain valuable insights into effective problem-solving and strategic career advancement from an industry expert.

Questions, Notes, and Highlights:

  • Tell us about the start of your lean journey?
  • Preview of your keynote talk?
  • A Method and frameworks PLUS critical thinking?
  • Organizational and political problem solving
  • Tim's online training program

The podcast is brought to you by Stiles Associates, the premier executive search firm specializing in the placement of Lean Transformation executives. With a track record of success spanning over 30 years, it's been the trusted partner for the manufacturing, private equity, and healthcare sectors. Learn more.

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Episode Summary & Article

Unveiling the Anatomy of Problem Solving: Insights from a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt

In the ever-evolving landscape of business process improvement, the principles of Lean Six Sigma have carved a niche for themselves, offering a structured approach to eliminating waste and reducing variation in manufacturing processes. Among the key voices amplifying the understanding and application of these principles stands Tim Hobbs, a veteran in the field, who brings a wealth of experience from his military background and his tenure in the semiconductor industry to the forefront of digital transformation and problem-solving strategies.

The Journey of a Problem Solver

The story of Tim Hobbs is a testament to the power of critical thinking and problem-solving skills honed over years of rigorous training and real-life applications. His journey from a curious child dismantling objects to understand their workings to a respected professional navigating the complex challenges in the semiconductor industry encapsulates the essence of a natural problem solver. With a career that transitioned smoothly from the precision and discipline required in the U.S. Navy to the innovation-driven environment of Intel Corporation, Hobbs has showcased the pivotal role of problem-solving in achieving operational excellence.

The Role of Experience and Knowledge in Problem Solving

One of the key takeaways from Hobbs' approach is the integration of experience and structured knowledge in tackling problems. The methodology that Lean Six Sigma offers, when complemented by experience and situational awareness, empowers professionals to choose the right tools from their proverbial toolkit. It's not just about following a framework but understanding the nuances of a problem and applying critical thinking to navigate towards a solution.

Melding Methodologies with Critical Thinking

The distinction between tools and methods in problem-solving is crucial, as highlighted by Hobbs. Tools like the 5 Whys or Fishbone Diagrams serve specific purposes within the broader context of a structured methodology like DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) in Six Sigma or Kaizen in Lean. Hobbs elucidates the significance of discipline and choosing the appropriate method and tools based on the situational demand, which is a skill honed over time and with experience.

Teaching and Promoting Effective Problem Solving

Educating the next generation of professionals in the art and science of problem solving is another area where Hobbs has contributed significantly. Through his book, “The Anatomy of Problem Solving,” he not only shares his journey and insights but also demystifies the process itself. The book and his engagements, such as the keynote speeches, aim to inspire others to view problem-solving not as a daunting task but as an opportunity to innovate and drive success.

Beyond Frameworks: A Holistic View on Problem Solving

Frameworks provide a necessary scaffold for addressing problems, but the essence of effective problem solving lies in the amalgamation of these structured approaches with the inherent critical thinking abilities of the solver. Tim Hobbs' narrative emphasizes the importance of flexibility, situational awareness, and the disciplined application of both knowledge and intuition to navigate through challenges.

In conclusion, the insights from Tim Hobbs' career and approach shed light on the transformative power of problem solving. By blending structured methodologies like Lean Six Sigma with critical thinking and experience, professionals can elevate their skill sets to tackle challenges more efficiently and pave the way for operational excellence and innovation.

Refining Problem-Solving Skills for Professional Growth

Tim Hobbs emphasizes the critical importance of problem solving in both personal and professional growth. This skill transcends beyond merely addressing technical challenges; it involves navigating the intricate dynamics of team collaboration and organizational politics. Hobbs' insights into problem solving extend into elaborate strategies on dealing with various workplace personalities, including those who resist change or sabotage efforts. Understanding and effectively managing these dynamics can significantly impact the success of problem-solving endeavors.

The Triple Phases of Problem Solving

Hobbs introduces a tripartite framework that encompasses the essentials of effective problem solving:

  • Understanding the Importance: Before diving into methodologies and frameworks, Hobbs stresses the importance of recognizing why problem solving is a critical skill within the workforce. Drawing upon extensive research, he makes a compelling case for problem solving as a fundamental competency that can lead to significant advancements in efficiency and innovation.
  • The Methodology: Hobbs delineates a clear, accessible framework for problem solving that doesn't lean heavily on technical tools but rather on structured thinking processes. This approach demystifies problem solving, making it more approachable and applicable across various scenarios, regardless of one's familiarity with specific problem-solving tools.
  • Navigating Team Dynamics: Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of Hobbs' approach is his focus on the team dynamic in problem solving. The transition from military to corporate life brought him face-to-face with the complex interplay of personalities and politics within teams. Hobbs provides concrete strategies for engaging with different team members, from those openly resistant to change to the more passive but obstructive ‘quiet storms.' His approach emphasizes empathy, strategic engagement, and the importance of private dialogues in overcoming barriers to collaborative problem solving.

Empowering Through Education and Tools

Beyond his book, “The Anatomy of Problem Solving,” Hobbs has also ventured into developing an online course. This digital platform aims to extend the reach of his teaching, making the principles of problem solving accessible to a broader audience. The course is designed to complement the book, providing a more interactive and immersive learning experience. By integrating video tutorials, animations, and live demonstrations, Hobbs brings to life the theories and practices of effective problem solving.

Performance, Image, and Exposure: A New Paradigm

A profound lesson from Hobbs' experience is encapsulated in the concept of PIE (Performance, Image, and Exposure), which he positions as a framework not just for career advancement but for personal development and effective leadership. He challenges traditional notions of career progression, advocating for a balanced approach where performance is paramount, but image and exposure are also critical components. By flipping the conventional PIE model, Hobbs argues for a meritocracy-based system where genuine skill, effective presentation, and strategic visibility are harmoniously aligned for career development.

Implementing PIE in Problem Solving

In practice, this means problem solvers should not only focus on delivering results but also on how they present themselves and communicate their achievements. Success in problem solving, thus, becomes a function of one's ability to perform, project a competent image, and gain the right exposure by sharing successes with the right audience.

Conclusion

Tim Hobbs' story and his insights into problem solving offer a multifaceted toolkit for professionals aiming to enhance their competency in this critical area. From understanding the intrinsic value of problem-solving skills to mastering the art of navigating team dynamics and the strategic application of PIE, Hobbs provides a comprehensive guide for those seeking to excel in their careers. Through his book, online course, and continued advocacy for effective problem solving, Hobbs is shaping the future of how professionals approach and solve problems, ensuring they are not only technically adept but also proficient in managing the human element of business.

Developing Strategic Leadership Through Problem-Solving

Tim Hobbs' profound discussion on navigating the complex landscape of professional growth through problem-solving highlights several layers beyond traditional concepts of solving workplace issues. One standout aspect is the strategic positioning within an organization, a theme that resonates with professionals striving for advancement in their careers.

Understanding Organizational Dynamics

A critical pivot in Hobbs' narrative is the recognition of different organizational structures – the Good Old Boy system versus Meritocracy. Identifying which environment one is operating in is crucial for devising an effective strategy for career advancement. This distinction is not about evaluating the organizational culture in simplistic terms but understanding the nuanced mechanisms of recognition and promotion within a company.

  • Meritocracy Systems: Here, performance, results, and problem-solving skills are recognized and rewarded. Individuals can somewhat rely on the quality of their work to propel their careers forward.
  • Good Old Boy Systems: These systems might require a different strategic approach, where relationships, visibility, and, critically, sponsorship play a significant role in professional advancement.

The Role of Sponsorship in Career Advancement

Hobbs sheds light on the significance of sponsorship in an individual's career trajectory, especially in environments where meritocracy might not be the sole criterion for advancement. A sponsor is more than a mentor or a coach; they are power-holders within an organization who can unlock opportunities based on their endorsement and support.

  • Finding a Sponsor: Unlike mentors or coaches that one can seek out, sponsorship often requires alignment of interests. Hobbs emphasizes that being strategically positioned – by solving critical problems and showcasing one's capabilities – can attract the attention of potential sponsors.
  • Earning Sponsorship: It is about delivering exceptional results, especially on initiatives that matter to potential sponsors. Solving a problem that keeps a sponsor up at night not only showcases your problem-solving skills but also aligns your success with their interests.

Strategies for Engaging with Potential Sponsors

Engaging with potential sponsors requires a thoughtful approach, centered around showcasing problem-solving capabilities and aligning with the sponsor's goals.

  • Identify Key Challenges: Understanding what challenges are paramount for the sponsor and the organization. By focusing efforts on these areas, one can demonstrate their value beyond routine contributions.
  • Deliver Exceptional Results: Excellence in performance remains the bedrock of gaining visibility and attracting sponsorship. Tackling significant problems effectively can serve as a testament to your capabilities.
  • Communicate Effectively: While it's critical to solve problems, it's equally important to communicate these solutions and their impact effectively. Narrating your success story in a manner that highlights your contribution and aligns with organizational goals can resonate with potential sponsors.

Shaping the Next Generation of Problem Solvers

As Hobbs moves forward, his passion evolves towards inspiring a new generation of problem solvers. This transition from being a practitioner to a mentor and sponsor is indicative of the cyclical nature of knowledge and skills transfer in professional settings. By educating and mentoring, Hobbs aims to instill not only the technical aspects of problem solving but also the strategic thinking necessary for navigating organizational complexities and career advancement.

Engaging with Emerging Technologies

While Hobbs firmly believes in the irreplaceable value of human ingenuity in problem-solving, he acknowledges the role of emerging technologies like AI. Integrating these technologies with human skills can enhance problem-solving capabilities, opening new avenues for innovation and efficiency.

Mentoring for Impact

For Hobbs, the real success lies not just in solving problems but in enabling others to do so. By mentoring aspiring problem solvers, he aims to equip them with the skills and mindset needed to tackle future challenges, ensuring a legacy of problem-solving excellence.

Building Legacy Through Teaching

Hobbs' dedication to sharing his knowledge through online programs and personal interactions reflects a broader goal of leaving a lasting impact. Through these platforms, he provides access to decades of experience and insights, empowering professionals to enhance their problem-solving skills and strategic thinking. By fostering a community of skilled problem solvers, Hobbs contributes to the development of capable leaders prepared to face the complexities of the modern workplace and beyond.

Fostering a Culture of Continuous Learning

Tim Hobbs' insights extend into the critical realm of fostering a continuous learning culture within organizations. This approach not only cultivates a workforce adept at solving problems but also ensures that employees are consistently developing skills that align with both current and future organizational needs. Continuous learning environments encourage innovation, adaptability, and resilience, crucial traits for navigating the volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world businesses operate in today.

Leveraging Online Learning Platforms

One of the transformative strategies Hobbs emphasizes is the utilization of online learning platforms to democratize access to knowledge and skill development. These platforms offer a diverse range of courses that cater to varying levels of expertise and sectors, enabling professionals to refine their problem-solving skills, understand emerging trends, and apply strategic thinking to real-world challenges. The integration of structured online courses, as noted with the online course giveaway linked to Hobbs' keynote, underscores the value placed on accessible, impactful education.

Building a Community of Practice

Beyond individual learning, Hobbs advocates for the creation of communities of practice. These communities enable professionals to share insights, challenges, and solutions, enriching the learning experience through collective wisdom. Networking within these communities also opens doors to mentorship opportunities, collaborative projects, and potential sponsorship, reinforcing the ecosystem of mentorship and sponsorship highlighted in Hobbs' teachings.

Emphasizing Ethical Problem-Solving

As problem solvers advance in their ability to tackle increasingly complex challenges, Hobbs stresses the importance of grounding their approaches in ethical considerations. This focus ensures that solutions not only address immediate issues but also align with broader societal values and long-term organizational goals. Ethical problem-solving emphasizes transparency, accountability, and fairness, principles that are especially significant in navigating dilemmas that involve multiple stakeholders and potential conflicts of interest.

The Role of Ethical Leadership

Hobbs' perspective on ethical problem-solving is intertwined with the concept of ethical leadership. Leaders play a pivotal role in setting the tone for organizational behavior and decision-making processes. By modeling ethical conduct and encouraging open dialogue about ethical dilemmas, leaders can foster an environment where ethical problem-solving becomes a foundational element of the organizational culture.

The Impact of Emerging Technologies on Problem-Solving

Lastly, the role of emerging technologies, as briefly mentioned earlier, cannot be understated. Technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and blockchain are redefining the landscape of problem-solving by offering new tools and methodologies. These technologies can enhance decision-making processes, automate routine tasks, and uncover insights from data that were previously inaccessible. However, Hobbs cautions that while embracing these technologies, professionals must also be mindful of the ethical implications and potential biases inherent in technological solutions. Balancing technological advancement with human judgment and ethical considerations is key to developing sustainable, innovative solutions that stand the test of time.

Conclusion

As the fields of strategic leadership and problem-solving continue to evolve, the teachings of experts like Tim Hobbs provide a crucial roadmap for professionals. By understanding organizational dynamics, engaging with sponsors, fostering continuous learning, and navigating the ethical dimensions of problem-solving, leaders can position themselves–and their organizations–for lasting success in an ever-changing world.


Automated Transcript (Not Guaranteed to be Defect Free)

Mark Graban:

Hi, welcome back to Lean Blog Interviews. I'm Mark Graban and today we are joined by Tim Hobbs. He is one of the keynote speakers this year at the AME International Conference, AMe being of course the association for Manufacturing Excellence. It's going to be held in Atlanta October 28 through the 31st. Look for a link in the show notes or you can go to Amex to learn more and hopefully register and join us. 

Mark Graban:

So again we're joined by Tim Hobbs. He is the founder and president of Hobbs Technical Consulting. He is an author, he is author of the book The Anatomy of Problem Solving. He is an in demand international keynote speaker, trainer and business consultant and he currently works in the semiconductor industry as a director of digital transformation. Tim served nine years in the US Navy. 

Mark Graban:

So Tim, thank you. Thank you of course for that. Managing and maintaining advanced electronic navigational, alarm, combat, telecommunication and power systems. And after his military service, he worked for Intel Corporation for 14 years. Tim has a BS in business information systems and an MBA and technology management. 

Mark Graban:

He's also a Lean Six Sigma black belt. So Tim, welcome to the podcast today. How are you? 

Tim Hobbs:

I'm doing good, Mark. Thank you for inviting me. 

Mark Graban:

Well, yeah, it's great to have you here. I'm looking forward to what you're going to be able to share at the AME conference. We're going to do a little preview today, maybe get to know you a little better than you might share about on stage. Somebody will of course introduce you and read your bio, but in your own words, Tim, tell us a little bit about yourself and your lean, or your lean six sigma journey. 

Tim Hobbs:

Well, good, Mark. I actually was looking forward to have this conversation just because it's not scripted. Actually, I'm really excited about speaking at the conference this year. There's a couple of good reasons. One, because my kids, my oldest son just moved to Atlanta, Georgia area, and I just found out January that we got another grandbaby on the way. 

Tim Hobbs:

It just happened to be at the right time. So the answer was yes. So good. 

Mark Graban:

Congratulations. 

Tim Hobbs:

Yeah, so I'm really excited for a number of reasons to be back in Atlanta area, but a little bit about me. Like I said, I kind of started my journey when I was, you know, just like most kids growing up, trying to figure out how things work. I would take things apart, couldn't put it back together and, but I was always, always curious about how things was working. What's the theory behind stuff? Before I even knew what theory was. 

Tim Hobbs:

So I was always curious. That curiosity led me into the US Navy, where it was basically my first experience outside of little town in South Carolina. South Carolina. The little town was actually called Blackville, if you can believe it. So basically, I went to the Navy, went to San Diego, went through the Navy electronics training, where my eyes were just open to how things work. 

Tim Hobbs:

We went through theory, we went through system operations, and we went through one of the things that really triggered me was problem-solving. It was like a two-week course in problem-solving, unlike anything I'd experienced at that point. And I remember the instructor said, he said, you know, if you learn this philosophy of critical thinking, there'd be no problem you will not be able to solve. And that was it for me. I was like, I am all ears. 

Tim Hobbs:

Tell me. And by the time I was through with that program, I felt like there was no problem I couldn't solve. And then we, you know, you go into the real navy, and you 306 degrees in the middle of nowhere. When the poop hit the fan, what are you gonna do? Situation awareness. 

Tim Hobbs:

You got all these things kicking the theories and how things work, and, like, what if it don't work? And all these different things you need to figure out. And it all clicked. Everything just clicked. My training, my experience, theory of operation, how systems work, and there's very critical thinking on problem solving. 

Tim Hobbs:

And from there, I have just had probably one of the most successful careers that I could imagine. And it really was just based on problem-solving, as simple as it is. But at the conference, my goal is to inspire people to use problem-solving, not only to know how to solve problems, but how to leverage it to position themselves for success? And so that's what I'm really excited about. I got so many stories to tell because I was in the navy, and then from the Navy, I went to the semiconductor industry. 

Tim Hobbs:

Like I said, I started working at intel, and people were just like, what are you doing? And I'm just like, I'm troubleshooting. That's what we should call it, but you're doing something different, and what's the method? And I was like, what do you mean a method? What's the name of it? 

Tim Hobbs:

I'm like, problem-solving. Got a name. I was just that naive. And that basically started me to really think about. I started to tap into the industry of professional problem solving, and then I was getting to understand all the buzzwords, you know,8D, seven stuff, troubleshooting, Malabase, problem-solving, all these different things about problem-solving. 

Tim Hobbs:

Then that led me to eventually lean, and then lean six sigma, which was an opportunity for me to just learn all things problem solving, what techniques, what methods that they use, and I've just always been a student to learn. That's when I went, got my lean six sigma certification as a whole nother story, because I didn't want to do it, to be honest. But you said, why? I was like, gosh, I mean, have we complicated it? I mean, you mean solving problems with data is now Six Sigma? 

Tim Hobbs:

I'm going, what is that? You know? 

Mark Graban:

Right. 

Tim Hobbs:

Organizing your workspace to be effective is now lean. So. So to me is conceptually, I always knew what it was, and so that kind of. But when I went into the whole thing of getting a certification, that really opened up a lot more doors for my career, so. But that's kind of a long and short of who I am. 

Mark Graban:

Would you say, as a professional problem solver, somebody who's got a passion around problem solving, how do you combine, let's say, frameworks? You mentioned a couple of them there, of course, methodologies with critical thinking. Because in my experience, having a framework doesn't mean solving a problem is easy. 

Tim Hobbs:

No, no. And it's actually kind of interesting you said that, because when I started to really get into problem solving, and I've seen three different things, especially when I was training and teaching a lot, I heard, I would ask the question to my class and say, hey, how many people heard of what problem solving techniques or methods that you guys are used to and tools and stuff? And I hear people say, oh, yeah, five y. I'm like, yeah, but five y is really not a method. It's a tool that you use to help you, you know, get down to the lowest level. 

Tim Hobbs:

You can actually start your investigation, and then somebody will say, 8D I say, oh, yeah, 8D is a method. It's a structured approach that starts here and it ends there. Then they go, oh, yeah, fishbone. I say, yeah, Fishbone's kind of a tool that's used to do this. And so for me, I started to realize that I try to put some context in problem solving, and I start to see concepts such as lean. 

Tim Hobbs:

It's more of a concept. The method behind which lean practitioners use is typically around kaizens. And then you think about Six Sigma. What is the six sigma? Is it. 

Tim Hobbs:

It's a concept, but the method by which we implement a Six Sigma project is called DMAIC. And then the tools are fish bones, and, you know, all these different things. So I started to see a connection to try to simplify what problem solving is and try to make sure people understand that, to your point, the framework is important, but that framework is really just a guide to get you from beginning to end. Whether you're doing seven step troubleshooting, ad motto based problem solving, it's all conceptually the same. And if you follow any one of these methods, you will get to the end. 

Tim Hobbs:

The key, which I used to talk about in 8D, I said, what does the d stand for? And nobody really know it. I said, the D stands for discipline. You got to follow the method or the framework and right, use the right techniques and tools, because problem solving is more situational. Right. 

Tim Hobbs:

You don't use the whole toolkit. You just use the right tools that you need for the use case that you're trying to address. So for me, I got very, you know, from a teacher perspective, really trying to make sure we understand what we're talking about. Frameworks are great because it guides us. But to your point, the discipline and to be able to apply the critical thinking process, deductive reasoning, all these things that go to problem solving is important. 

Tim Hobbs:

But how do you teach that? How do you teach people? Do you teach people to follow frameworks or you teach them the, the whole enchilada of problem solving and situational awareness? 

Mark Graban:

Yeah. And with that education and experience, we get better at knowing which tool to grab out of the proverbial toolbox. 

Tim Hobbs:

Yes, yes. 

Mark Graban:

Within frameworks or within methods. 

Tim Hobbs:

Exactly, exactly. Yeah. 

Mark Graban:

Well, so I'd love to hear a little bit more. So one way you probably teach people these approaches and what you've learned. I haven't had a chance to check out your book yet, but I will. The anatomy of problem solving, you know, the AME conference, they might not want you to promote your book, but we don't have rules against that here on the podcast. So not just in a promotional way, but tell us about, you know, the book. 

Mark Graban:

Like, I always love to hear the story of the book, how it could be, how your book on problem solving is something people should check out. 

Tim Hobbs:

Yeah. So, so the good thing is aome actually is going to promote books. They're actually going to do like a bookstore thing. And so they, yeah, they kind of low key trying to, giving us a chance to do that. But the book actually, as I transitioned from the Navy to my first job outside of the Navy in the semiconductor industry, intel, it started there, right? 

Tim Hobbs:

Because, you know, we was working shift works, and you, you know, three days on, four days off, it was great for me because I was going to school trying to, you know, build my family, you know, from being in the navy. So when I was off, I was off. I was going to school. I was doing everything else, and then I went in for my three, my shift. I was like, oh, man, we got all these problems, and they go, oh, yeah, it's so terrible. 

Tim Hobbs:

We got to call everybody. And I was like, hold on a second. Where's the book? Where's the theory of operation? How does this system work? 

Tim Hobbs:

You know? And so I will read the book. I would go to the cafeteria and at work, and I'd read the theory of operation and how the system was designed to work, just like I learned in the Navy. And I go, okay, cool. Then I would go back to the problem, what's really happening? 

Tim Hobbs:

And then I would go back. So, okay, this is not happening. Then I go back to the book, and probably here, before I even know what a fish bone was. Like, it's probably in this area. Then I would just troubleshoot the way I've always learned. 

Tim Hobbs:

And I was constantly solving major problems where we have to shut down the vendor that was coming from Japan or something to work on the system. I'm like, you got a vendor? What are you talking about? Just give me the book. And so, and so what was happening was people, to be honest, and I talked about this in a book. 

Tim Hobbs:

It was people that kind of accusing me of sabotage. There was no way this guy can be outside of our industry and solving these highly complicated problems with the accuracy that was. And that's when people was like. So I remember going, I got called in through from my engineers. They called me in a room that's like, hey, Tim, can you explain me how this problem work? 

Tim Hobbs:

I said, oh, you know, come on. To us. We archive problems, you know, because we like that, right? And I was like, oh, that problem. I went to the whiteboard, and I wrote it all up on the whiteboard, and this is what happened. 

Tim Hobbs:

And they did this, and I took this out, and they put in the bad partner this back out. And then I was like, and there you go. And that's how I solved the problem. And they was like, man, that just makes sense. I'm like, what do you mean that makes sense? 

Tim Hobbs:

I mean, y'all should be clapping. This is a great project. And they closed the door, and they said, hey, man, your team is kidding. You're sabotage. I said. 

Tim Hobbs:

They said, but we see what you're doing. They literally was accusing me of. Before I got off shift, I broke something, went away for three or four days, came back and undid it. 

Mark Graban:

That's you only knew how to fix it because you had broken it with. 

Tim Hobbs:

The act, which is a whole other story, right. Because I'm like, what? I did, right. And so. So that's when it really hit me that this is really interesting. 

Tim Hobbs:

So. So what happened was they were starting to ask me, well, what method are you using? I'm like, really? Like, say it was an 8d. I'm like, no, I don't even know what this stuff is. 

Tim Hobbs:

And so I began to interview myself to really figure out, what am I really doing, and how do I write it down? So I started to write it down. I created a PowerPoint training, and then it eventually led to a book, because then I tell the stories of the method that I kind of grew up doing. I kind of learned it from the military. I got in corporate America, and I had to tweak different things. 

Tim Hobbs:

Like, one part of the book was. So the book has three different phases. One, why problem solving is important, okay? And I go through the statistics, the labor bureau, all the stuff that I was in grad school and I was writing. So I'm just doing all the research, and I'm like, wow, this is really happening. 

Tim Hobbs:

And then the second part of the book is basically says, but here's a method, in your words, a framework by which, if you use this framework, you'll be able to solve problems. And these are all the tools. I didn't even go that much in tools and techniques, to be honest. It was really just this thinking process. Cause I didn't know what the tools were yet. 

Tim Hobbs:

I didn't know the names. And then the third part of the book, which I learned in corporate America, was what to do when your team becomes a problem. I didn't have to worry about that in the Navy, because we was all on the same boat. Do your job, get it done. Right. 

Tim Hobbs:

But when I got in corporate America, it was kind of like, hey, this guy's resisted me. You know, these same people accuse me of sabotaging. I'm like, they're kind of resisting me. I'm like, wow, man, this guy's a real player here. How do I get this guy to work with me? 

Tim Hobbs:

I'm like, why is this guy spinning so much? I mean, you know, you say, hey, it's all over here. So I had to learn creatively how to work with these individuals, because they really did know the industry more than I did. But I can apply that critical thinking to their theories that they knew, and I can connect the dots real quick. So, for me, the book started like that. 

Tim Hobbs:

And that one section of the book, which is what to do when a team becomes a problem, became probably one of the best sections of the book that people would love to read. But it was always about dealing with the people factor of problem solving that we typically overlook. But it's a reality. Right. When you're dealing with teams and you deal with these personalities, and those personalities can be very toxic to overall effort, especially when you solving problems and cutting edge technology. 

Tim Hobbs:

Right. How do you solve a problem that you've never seen before? You have to follow a structured approach. 

Mark Graban:

Well, and it sounds like you were faced with some situations that called for, if you will, organizational problem solving or corporate politics. Political problem solving. Because, I mean, we talk about player haters. You know, you think of don't hate the player, hate the game. 

Tim Hobbs:

That's right. 

Mark Graban:

If I may say that. 

Tim Hobbs:

Right. 

Mark Graban:

I mean, part of the game, if you will. I mean, there's, there's silos and there's measures. And as you've probably, I'm sure, seen in different big companies, if everyone's not on the same boat with the same mission, that that's. Yeah, that's, that's a common organizational challenge. 

Tim Hobbs:

Right, right. And. But what I learned when I was doing my research in this issue, it really, it really brought the people component to problem solving. I realized that we all get offended for different reasons, and sometimes our offense manifests in different ways. Some people get angry, they get very protective. 

Tim Hobbs:

Some people get very. I don't know. I don't know. I don't know. And you're like, come on, man. 

Tim Hobbs:

So some things we do know why you keep saying you don't know. We do know that. Like, for me, my one character that I wrote about myself is I'm a quiet storm. When I get offended, I'm gonna get really quiet on you. It's not because I have nothing to say. 

Tim Hobbs:

It's just because I'm trying to control what I'm feeling right now. And if I'm a facilitator and I'm leading a team through this effort, and I've had a sense I have a chance to see a player. A quiet storm. This guy was really smart. I knew this guy was smart. 

Tim Hobbs:

Everybody said this guy really smart, but he was too quiet in a meeting. He had no opinion. I said, hey, what do you think about this? I was kind of, like setting him up to say anything, but I. He would not say anything. 

Tim Hobbs:

Then I realized the player hater who just shut this guy down, and I noticed that. So just like I recommend in the book, sometimes you have to deal with people in public, sometimes people in private for the player hater, for you have to deal with them in private because they're waiting. They're waiting to explode on you. So you cannot address them in a meeting. Don't do it. 

Tim Hobbs:

But for the quiet storm, I also had to deal with him in private. I wanted to figure out, dude, you really understand this stuff. Why do you have nothing to say? Then they'll tell you why. And there's typically something happen, some personnel in the room who's shutting them down, nobody's listening to them, blah, blah, blah. 

Tim Hobbs:

But they actually hold the key to the answer. So. So, yeah, that people part of problem solver really got me to think. And then I got very strategic on how to manage those personalities because it was critical, because we are. The technical problem is already tough. 

Tim Hobbs:

The business problem is already complicated. But dealing with those people problems, I think that is really the edge that really gave me the opportunity to work through very difficult situation work, to work through people, to get them on board or to get them off the team, whichever came first. 

Mark Graban:

So I'm going to order two copies of the book because I'm going to do a book giveaway contest. So invite the listeners to look for a link in the show notes. I'll keep the contest open, I think, for two weeks after the launch of the episode. So if you're hearing the episode shortly after its release, go take a look or otherwise go check out Tim's book again. That's the Anatomy of problem solving by Tim Hobbs, who's joining us here today. 

Mark Graban:

You also have been building an online program, another way of helping people learn. Tell us a little bit about that. 

Tim Hobbs:

Yeah, you know, and it's really the continuation of the book, right? And because I wrote the book and published in, like, 2007, you know, Reverend, I was, had enough experience, understood what was going on then I wrote the book because I was like, I need to document this. Everything was documented, but I just wrote it. But what happened was, right when Covid happened, because I was doing just like most people, consulting. We was traveling around doing all kind of stuff, and then boom, Covid happened, right? 

Tim Hobbs:

And I finally had the time, just like, you know what you're going to do, right? People like, oh, man, you can't really travel that much. And I also still work in the semiconductor industry. And I was like, oh, man, this is perfect. I just transitioned from a my traditional, lean six sigma job where you just jet setting around the world solving crazy problem which was great. 

Tim Hobbs:

I loved it for about eight years, and then I took a new role, and then soon as I took this role in 2020, boom, hit some coping, and it's like, oh, no, you can't travel. I'm like, man, everybody was kind of bummed out except for me. I said, I finally got time to develop this online course based on all the years of training, like we were talking about before. Let's talk about concept versus method versus tools, situation awareness, you know, situational problem solving. And then I got a chance to be creative again. 

Tim Hobbs:

That's my second book that I got to write, but I said, you know what? Let me just go ahead and do this. So I created the online program, built the studio, video studio in my home, in my basement. This is great. My wife's like, what are you doing? 

Tim Hobbs:

I'm like, I'm finally going to build this course I've been wanting to do. And I did it my way. I took my time where I got a chance to. To really take the book to the whole next level. Well, now I'm training people on the video so they can. 

Tim Hobbs:

They can learn at their own pace. And I did the same type of strategy. Right? This is why problem solving is important. These are all the areas and different things about problem solving. 

Tim Hobbs:

And then I got into the methodology of teaching of problem solving, but now it's animated. I'm live. I can speak. I can do demonstrations to show you how things work, and theory of operation. Now it's not just a concept, but now you see what I'm doing. 

Tim Hobbs:

And then I had got back into my. What happens when your team becomes a problem? So all of these different things. But I had a chance to research really bringing some, bring some things to surface, to really go into why people go into this. This different type of thinking, some areas that I probably would not have done had I not had time to really think about. 

Tim Hobbs:

I mean, I wrote one section called cognitive dissonance and problem solving. Who does that? I'm just like, where's this coming from? So I research. I'm like, man, this is really good. 

Tim Hobbs:

But. But one of the last things I did in the. In the course, online course, because it's kind of what I'm doing at the conference is. But how do you position problem solving for upward mobility? And there was a concept that I learned, and I've been talking about it for years, but I never wrote it. 

Tim Hobbs:

And my colleagues were like, Tim, you got to tell the story about pie. P I e. And the. The acronym stands for performance. The I stands for image, and the e stands for exposure. 

Tim Hobbs:

And it really came from a book that one of my mentors gave me, and it was called empowering yourself. I think the guy name is Harvey Coleman. And he was a black manager executive back in the day, and he wanted to. He was trying to figure out, why can I be successful? And I have all this stuff going for myself, but I keep seeing other people who are doing less get promoted. 

Tim Hobbs:

And that was really the premise that we all come to. And so my manager, my mentor, told me I was telling him a story, and I said, I said, yeah, I just started working intel, and I had a manager pull me aside, and he was like, hey, Tim, you know, you should come to our meetings, and, you know, you should kind of, like, look like us and dress like us. And I was like, but I'm me. What are you saying? And I remember this conversation. 

Tim Hobbs:

I told my mentor about it. It was kind of awkward. And he said, oh, he was trying to tell you about pie. I said, pie? What are you talking about? 

Tim Hobbs:

He explained it to me, but he said, go read the book, and then come back. We'll talk about it. So, ideally, the whole pie thing is about, we all hear it's not what you know, it's who you know. Right? But if you look at the percentage, this guy literally did, his research is really deep. 

Tim Hobbs:

The book goes way beyond what I'm talking about. But he talked about your. To get promoted, there's three things you need to know. Your performance, image, and exposure. And it blows your way. 

Tim Hobbs:

He said, 10% of your promotion comes from your performance. That just blows your way. If you was just traditional thinking, 30% comes from your image, how you look looking apart. And then here's the mind blowing part. 60% of your promotion comes from your exposure, and that stays. 

Tim Hobbs:

Not what you know is who you know. And. And it really messed with me when I was, you know, young and think like, God, this makes no sense. But then I thought about it. I'm like, you know, this is what I see, okay? 

Tim Hobbs:

I see people who are in positions that they did not work to get there and they can't perform. And they. What literally happens is you're going to promote yourself to your highest level of incompetency. You'll get into a position where you cannot perform, and that's. Right. 

Tim Hobbs:

Okay? So I coined this new face called the new pie. Okay? And I said, okay, it's right. But new pie should be this way. 

Tim Hobbs:

Right? You should be. 6% of your promotion should come from your performance, you got to be a doer. Okay. 30% should come from your image. 

Tim Hobbs:

You still have to look the part to the next level, and 10% should come from exposure. But that exposure is not like, hey, look at me. That exposure, because you doing the job and you looking apart and people start to see you at these right areas. 

Mark Graban:

Yeah. Is that exposure the result of performance? It's funny you flip that because I was thinking my engineer brain, especially earlier in my career, I would say, well, it should be at least 60% based on performance. That's the logical. That's engineer brain. 

Tim Hobbs:

Yeah, yeah. 

Mark Graban:

And there are other factors. 

Tim Hobbs:

Yeah, yeah. And so, but the, but the key is it's really about now that you know this truth, what do you do with that? Right. How do you. How do you really position yourself strategically now? 

Tim Hobbs:

Because when you get the book empowering yourself, I read the comments, and it said the first time you read the book, you're going to be mad because you like, no. And then it said the second time you read the book, you're going to strategize. And that's what I did. Right. And so the key to that is that if you like, in the books and program, and what all of us do as consultants, is we really position you to solve problems and to solve it in a team environment. 

Tim Hobbs:

Right. And then that's going to be good. That's going to be rewarding of itself, but that don't necessarily get you where you need to go. Okay. And. 

Tim Hobbs:

But if you want to be strategic about that, then there's a new game you have to play. Are you in the. And I recommend this. This is like a bonus part of the book, right. In the program, I recommend that the first thing you do, you assess your organization and you want to ask the question, am I in a good old boy program, which I call the Opie, or am I in a meritocracy program where if you do the work, the system takes care of you? 

Tim Hobbs:

I've had the privilege of being both. You know, when I was in the military, due to work, you get promoted. Why? You only want to promote the best people. That's just the way it is. 

Tim Hobbs:

Same thing when I got to intel, very meritocracy. It was, you know, you get the work done. I didn't have to do anything. I did the work. Boom, I get promoted. 

Tim Hobbs:

I do the work. I get promoted. I get work, I get promoted. I'm like, I didn't even know who was pulling the strings. All I was doing was solving problems and the system was promoting, but you can get in, whether it's at a company level or organizational levels. 

Tim Hobbs:

And I've experienced both where you like, hey, I'm doing the work, but you just promote this guy. For creating a PowerPoint presentation, I'm like, that is unacceptable. And so what you need to understand is that, you know, there's a manager, which person who's just doing their manager or job, right. That's the HR person, who's just making sure you get your. Leave your reviews and stuff like that. 

Tim Hobbs:

And then you have mentors. Right? Mentor is that strategic person that's going to look at the bigger picture and say, hey, Mark, where are you going to be in the next 510 years? That's kind of a mentor. Then you have a coach, right. 

Tim Hobbs:

And the coach is basically kind of more tactical. Okay, Mark, what you got? Okay, what's going on? Okay, cool. Okay. 

Tim Hobbs:

I think we need to write that at that. So now you got your coach, but there's one piece that's missing. It's a sponsor. Okay. The sponsor is the person who sits in the organization, who has the power or influence to get you exposed. 

Tim Hobbs:

Okay? Now, if you're in a. If you're in a meritocracy system, the sponsor is really not that critical. Right. Even though you just need to make sure people know what you're doing. 

Tim Hobbs:

But if you're in a good old boy program, it becomes very critical. You have to. And people say, how do you find our sponsor? I'm like, well, I'm gonna be honest with you. The sponsor finds you, because here's a connection. 

Tim Hobbs:

Because if you. If you can solve a problem that the sponsor needs, they will find you. And it happens in a very unique way when they ask you, yeah, go ahead. 

Mark Graban:

Yeah, you were making me. You're just jogging my memory of my first job out of college at General Motors. I had a sponsor find me. 

Tim Hobbs:

Yes. 

Mark Graban:

There was some interaction at work, and he took an interest in some of my development and career, and I left General Motors after two years. He was an advocate for me going back to school and was very supportive of that. Had I stayed or gone back to GM. Yeah. I mean, I can see where you almost wonder, like, well, why did you take this interest in me? 

Mark Graban:

But that's something that was helpful and I appreciate. And maybe older me was like, well, okay, sure, he saw some talent. Younger me, I guess, was still just feel like, okay, why? But that was a big help. So, yeah, it's hard to say. 

Mark Graban:

How do you repeat that process there? 

Tim Hobbs:

Yeah, yeah. Having a having a sponsor, especially in a good old boy system, is you. It's a must. You have to have a sponsor or you don't move. Right? 

Tim Hobbs:

You do a lot of work. You lost up, done. But then. But in the meritocracy system, you don't even know the system rewards you. And so for you, right? 

Tim Hobbs:

For me, you know, I've been working and just having fun, but I didn't have a sponsor, and I would just get overlook, overlook, overlook. And then as soon as I. As soon as a sponsor finds me and by, you get this, you get the email or you get the, hey, hey, Mark, are you happy where you at? And you're like, what did that come from? You know, hey, can I. 

Tim Hobbs:

Can you. Can you come in this conference room with me? You know, and you have this conversation, and you got to know this conversation. So when it happens, you realize, is this person trying to sponsor me? This is a great idea. 

Tim Hobbs:

But you, as a problem solver, though, you have to deliver. Okay? You have to deliver. And I asked a question to my sponsor sometime. I said, I would say stuff like, so what problem keeps you up at night? 

Tim Hobbs:

And they'll tell you it's either cost or this project or something. Something. And I'm really concerned about that, and I will. And here's the deal. That's why I coach people. 

Tim Hobbs:

Go solve that problem. Even if you got dude on your back end time of your, you know, you work a little later to work on this stuff. Solve the problem and see if the sponsor qualifies to be a sponsor. And people, how do you know? You find out, right? 

Tim Hobbs:

Because if the sponsor appreciated what you just did, knowing that you kind of went above and beyond, they will make it a point to, like you said, they will show a vested interest in your career and start opening doors for you. Had that, you don't even know that was even close to you. So. So, yeah. So when I look at the. 

Tim Hobbs:

The online program, that's the, that's the extra benefit that people get, is the. It's like, I can't just like, you can. We can't coach and mentor everybody, but can I document something? In my busy world with kids and grandkids and all this type of stuff, can I put something available so that people can have access to, to learn some of the skill sets and techniques that people like you and myself have been around for a long time? We've seen just about every scenario you can have, and nothing really throws us off. 

Tim Hobbs:

Right. We like, yep. Seen this before. Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. 

Tim Hobbs:

I've seen this before. Oh, boy. Yep. Oh, we need an update right away. Oh, yeah, I've seen that before. 

Tim Hobbs:

But guess what? We're not ready. So therefore we need to slow it down because you and I both know at the end of the day, we have to deliver results. And if I go through a workshop or something and everything is not where I need it to be and I don't see enough opportunities that we can actually do anything with, we're going to stay in this Kaizen workshop type of mindset thinking so we can actually develop some, some key opportunities that we can actually do something with. And you can tell a lot in those workshops. 

Mark Graban:

And then you get to that point in your career where you're teaching, mentoring and sponsoring people now, kind of paying it back in a way, looking for that next generation of other professional problem solvers, or at least budding aspiring professional problem solvers. 

Tim Hobbs:

Yeah, and that's not everybody. Yeah, that's. 

Mark Graban:

Everyone can solve problems, but not everyone's going to have that passion for. 

Tim Hobbs:

Yeah, exactly. And I think I always say that my passion is really to inspire the current and the next generation of professional problem solvers. Right? Yeah. We're gonna have a lot of technology, AI, and all that stuff coming, but it's not gonna replace the human side of problem solving. 

Tim Hobbs:

Right. Where you can get in, you can see stuff. So to me, as I'm looking like, you are like, okay, what is the next ten years gonna look like? Well, that's gonna be retirement. Okay. 

Tim Hobbs:

I'm gonna be done with juggling the ball between corporate America, consulting, teaching, all these are passionate things for me. But as I'm, you know, kind of in the mentoring side of our career, it's just good to just see that sparkle in people's eyes and just help them. You know, I either teach a class and it'll sparkle in, you know, one or two people after every course or something, they'll come up and say, hey, can I talk to you or can I have a cup of coffee? And then you can start to see that they. They want to go deeper. 

Tim Hobbs:

Then they realize that, wow, this is really a career. You do this for a living. I'm like, it's the best job ever. I mean, I get a chance to, you know, to have a company to bring you in to go solve a problem. You can get on a plane, fly halfway around the world, and you're just like, okay, no problem, no, no big deal. 

Tim Hobbs:

Just give me your data, let's look at. And we go through the same framework the same type of process. And to have that type of confidence and people, sometimes people think like, you know the answer, no, I trust the process. The process and the framework and the critical thinking process is going to always get me there. Even when I want to jump to a premature conclusion, I have to tell myself, tim, wait. 

Tim Hobbs:

Wait for it. 

Mark Graban:

Yeah. 

Tim Hobbs:

Don't do that. Because why you miss all the opportunity, you miss all of the, you know, I have a concept called a problem and the problem. Right. The problem is why you here. But when you're going through a real problem solving effort, you start to see a problems that's not the problem. 

Tim Hobbs:

But it's like, hey, why is this like that? Why did that take so long? Why did that order apart and the part was wrong. Gosh, a problem. I'll come back to that later. 

Tim Hobbs:

And I just go over. Then I run into another thing. And eventually what happens is that you finish your, solve the problem and you discovered like ten different opportunities of little a things that haven't become the problem yet. But now you have this, but you have this, this list of opportunities to investigate. So if it ever happens when things get kind of low and you don't have any major stuff, I just go on a second. 

Tim Hobbs:

Let me go look at this particular issue again, because this is a problem. And so as you put this together and I started to teach people this stuff, they was always like, how do you always find problems? Because I'm looking for them. You know, I am so less interested in just the problem. I'm going to solve that problem, but I'm going to find everything that's also, that's contributing to this issue that we are not even considering, that may not have nothing to do with the cycle time reduction or whatever we're trying to do. 

Tim Hobbs:

It's just something that we seen that just is not right. I always tell people, like, how do you sleep at night if you, if you know that there's an issue? And it's just so fun. I mean, I have my, I have my car in the shop right now. That's so funny. 

Tim Hobbs:

I take it in because it was a problem. It was starting a little sluggish. And, and I take the car and we can't find any alarm. I'm like, I know I'm at the symptom level now. I'm like, I'm a proactive type of guy. 

Tim Hobbs:

I'm telling you, we're leading to an issue. The poop haven't hit the fan yet. I'm not beside the road. However, I don't want to be there. So less proactively versus reactively begin to address the issues. 

Tim Hobbs:

So. But, yeah, that's just. I just. I think that problem solving is the universal skill that everybody must know. Whether we talk about technical problem, we talk about business problems. 

Tim Hobbs:

And those of us who've been married for a long time, marriage problems, my wife. Be like, you're doing it again. I'm like, I know, I'm sorry. So can you explain to me, when did it start? 

Mark Graban:

You gotta be careful trying to solve someone else's problem when they're. All they're wanting to do is tell you about the problem. 

Tim Hobbs:

Right, exactly. Yeah. And you just become a good listener that way. 

Mark Graban:

Yeah. 

Tim Hobbs:

You know, until they. Until they really want you. You want me to solve this problem? Like, now, my adult children, I get a chance to go, so you want me to give you the answer? You just want me to listen? 

Tim Hobbs:

I don't know. Let me know what you want, because we already got the answer. Like, dump the dude, keep it moving. Right. 

Mark Graban:

You know, but anyway, that's the critical thinking and situational. Well, Tim, thank you for joining us. Today. A preview of upcoming keynote talk. Come hear Tim. 

Mark Graban:

At the AME International conference, Association for Manufacturing Excellence, Tim is going to be one of the keynote speakers there. This is the 40th anniversary of the AMe International conference. It's October 28 to October 31. We'll put a link in the show notes there. Again, as a reminder, Tim's book is the anatomy of problem solving. 

Mark Graban:

I'll put a link to that. I'll put a link to his website, his company, Hobbs Technical Consulting, and take a look for the link to the contest. If that contest, the book giveaway contest, is still open, go and enter. So, Tim, thank you. We intentionally were going to keep this relatively short to make sure it stayed a preview, but I want to take you up on. 

Mark Graban:

I think we had agreed that after the conference, it'd be great to have you back on the podcast. Maybe, you know, debrief, share some reflections and other thoughts, maybe things that. That wouldn't fit into the keynote. 

Tim Hobbs:

Does that sound all right? That sounds great. I'm going to one up you, right? We're going to also. We're going to also give one online course. 

Tim Hobbs:

So you have the book and you can do another for the online course. So whatever your process is, if whoever wins your contest, let me know, and then I will give them access to the online course so they can actually go through the online course, and they can really get an in depth, behind the scenes tour of what it really takes to be a professional problem solver. 

Mark Graban:

All right, well, that's great. Thank you for doing that. We'll combine that. So it'll be the book. The book and the online course. 

Mark Graban:

A grand prize. Right. Okay. So we'll make that part of the same contest. 

Tim Hobbs:

It's your choice. 

Mark Graban:

Okay. I think we'll do it like that. So that's an even better prize than the book. So, Tim, thank you. It's really great to meet you through this process. 

Mark Graban:

I look forward to being there, sitting in the audience at the AME conference late October. 

Tim Hobbs:

Thank you, Mark. Look forward to seeing you there. Yeah.


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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

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