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Achieving Goals in the New Year

The New Year is an exciting time—full of potential. But we’ve all been here before, right? We resolve to do things differently only to find ourselves falling back into familiar patterns until the next New Year rolls around. Below are a few thoughts that may help make this year the exception by giving you new ways to tackle problems.

“Have a beginner’s mind,” recommends Paul Bennett, creative director of the design firm Ideo, in a TED podcast. “Try to…look at the problem in a fresh way,” he advises. Moreover, when designing solutions, don’t just think of what will work, think of how it will work from the end-user’s perspective. “Put yourself in other people’s shoes,” Bennett says.

That’s excellent advice for security managers. Security solutions and policies that incorporate the user’s experience are less likely to be thwarted by workarounds.

Don’t just be quantitative, advises Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management and author of The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage. In a Harvard IdeaCast discussion of his book, he defines design thinking as the midpoint between purely inductive and deductive fact-based thinking and intuitive thinking. It’s a combination of analytic thinking and what he calls “inference to the best explanation…to produce something that is creative but replicable.”

I would call this trust but verify—trust your instincts, but verify your ideas with research and field tests.

Bryan Lawson in his book How Designers Think notes that creative problem solving generally has two components as first identified by the early 20th century mathmetician Henri Poincaré. The initial step is obvious: You have to do the hard groundwork to learn whatever is already known on the topic. The second step may be difficult for you to do: Stop concentrating on the problem you need to solve. Inspiration—the eureka moment—is most likely to strike when you give your mind a break and focus your attention elsewhere for awhile.

Another lesson comes from the business world, where Macy’s department store is now moving away from a “one size fits all” approach. Management has discovered that sales are higher when stores selectively stock shelves with merchandise that has a local connection. If your company has multiple sites, especially if they are in different countries, consider whether there are ways in which you can improve employee support of security by more closely relating training lessons to the local culture and to their own concerns.

As for improving staff performance, studies in hospitals have shown that when it comes to reducing errors that can cost lives, sound protocols can matter far more than advances in science. Likewise, the solution to some security problems may be a better systemic policy and retraining on the basics rather than more technology. That tracks with the philosopher William of Ockham’s dictum that the simplest solution is usually best.