12/27/2010 09:04 am ET Updated Mar 20, 2015

Workarounds: Four Keys To Success In 2011

Do you see any chance that 2011 will be free of the roadblocks, frustrations and unexpected twists and turns that seemed commonplace the past couple of years? My guess is that you have about the same chance of that happening as the proverbial snowball in hell.

What are you going to do to overcome the complex systems, frustrating processes or negative and resistant people the next time they show up? Complaining won't change much, and blaming the other guy rarely is greeted with much enthusiasm. My advice to you is to come up with what I call a "workaround strategy," a simple yet effective methodology for overcoming whatever it is that gets in your way.

As I point out in my new book, "Workarounds That Work: How to Conquer Anything That Stands in Your Way at Work," not all workarounds work equally effectively. However, you don't need a perfect workaround to make things better; you just need something to get going again.

Every sailor knows that if you are out at sea and your mast breaks, you have a couple of choices: you can bemoan your fate, blame the mast-maker, or do what you can to get underway again. In nautical terms, you need to come up with a "jury-rig," or "jerry-rig," as it is sometimes called. What's a jury-rig? It's just a temporary mast that is far from perfect but enough to get the boat moving again.

Workarounds are those strategies, behaviors or actions that you can take that are akin to the jury-rigged mast. Sometimes, a workaround will work superbly well, perhaps even better than the original process. However, they are frequently less efficient and require more work than you might prefer. However, the question is not about what will solve the problem perfectly, but what will be directionally correct, something that will help you work around whatever is in the way and get moving again.

Having spent 35-plus years in the trenches working in companies large and small, as well as having tried my hand at starting five different companies of my own, I know firsthand that if you want things to improve, it's usually going to come down to you and what you're willing to do on your own to get things moving again. Again, it's not about being "perfectionally correct" as much as it is about being "directionally correct."

Four Keys to Overcoming Anything that Stands in Your Way

I know all too well that getting unstuck is rarely going to be easy and that working around what's in the way is often messy. However, there are four basic keys I have discovered that you can apply. I will lay out the basics here and then go into greater depth in the coming weeks.

Step 1: Awareness

As simple as it sounds, the first step to any improvement is simple awareness. What's happening right now? What's working? What isn't working? What would you like to see improve? Notice I didn't ask, "Who's to blame?" If you prefer the blame game, no need to read further -- just don't go sailing, for heaven's sake. Blaming the mast-maker won't solve the problem of the broken mast.

All you need to do at this point is to notice how things are, what you would prefer, and then move to the next step.

Step 2: Accountability

For most people, accountability equates to blame. "Who's accountable for this mess?" is something we have all heard before. Not so often will you hear, "Who's accountable for this great success?" What I mean by accountability here is simply the degree to which you are willing to own the outcome.

Once again, notice that I'm not advocating that you blame someone else for the current situation, nor do I advocate that you blame yourself. Blaming just doesn't work.

Instead, how willing are you to own the outcome? If you're the sailor with the broken mast, you need to own the outcome of getting underway again if you're going to come up with some kind of workaround or jury-rig. If you are being blocked by someone else on the job, have lost your job, or if you have endured something even more traumatic (like Mitchell, the guy I wrote about last week who overcame a blazing motorcycle accident and a paralyzing plane crash four years later to become a successful businessperson and sought-after motivational speaker), it's still going to come down to you to pick up the pieces and get moving again.

Once you have chosen to become accountable for the outcome, you can then move to step three.

Step 3: Response-Ability

With a gathering awareness of the current situation and a willingness to own the outcome, you can then begin to develop options for what you might be able to do to improve upon the situation. As Mitchell has written, "Before I was paralyzed there were 10,000 things I could do. Now there are 9,000. I can either dwell on the 1,000 I've lost or focus on the 9,000 I have left."

All that means is that you have to assess what kinds of responses, choices or options you have available to you in the current situation coupled with your current ability to exercise those choices or options. Some options will be less likely or even impossible, depending on your circumstances. Following Mitchell's example, focus on what you can do, make the best choice you can, and get going again.

Once you have explored the options and assessed your ability, you are ready for step four.

Step 4: Choose

How deceptively simple: just choose. Choose what? Well, that's a combination of steps two and three: you need to clarify the outcome you can realistically expect to achieve given current circumstances, assess your options and capabilities, and then make the best choice you can within the constraints of available resources, capabilities and practical realities.

No sooner that you have chosen and get yourself moving again, you are likely to encounter another set of circumstances that you may or may not have anticipated. As soon as the new circumstances arise, you are ready for step one all over again.

Step 1: Awareness (yet again)

One again, you need to notice where you are, and what the new circumstances are this time around. There's an old country saying: "if you don't know where you're going, any road will do." In a way, this is simply saying "wake up" and smell your own coffee. If you like the outcome at this stage, keep going. If not, revisit your willingness to own your preferred outcome, reexamine your options (response-ability), and choose again.

In subsequent articles, we will dig into some examples of real life work and personal situations where workarounds are required. Ultimately, the first workaround usually comes back to your own mindset, your own willingness to do what you can first, before seeking the assistance of others.

As I said last week, sometimes the only thing you need to get going again is to ask yourself one simple question: "What could I do that would make a difference that requires no one's permission other than my own?"

What roadblocks have you been facing in your job or in your life? What could you do to make the experience less frustrating and more successful? Are you willing to own the outcome and do what you can given the resources available to you?

I would love to hear from you about your ideas and what choices you have that will help you work around whatever stands in your way.

I'd love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at)


If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.

You can buy Workarounds That Work here.

Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at)