More than one way to skin a cat

Posted on: October 18th, 2012 by Clear Thinking Team No Comments

The earliest printed citation of this proverbial saying is in a short story by the American humourist Seba Smith – The Money Diggers, 1840:

“There are more ways than one to skin a cat,” so are there more ways than one of digging for money.

Whilst it's not a particularly pleasant image to bring to mind it remains relevant more than 170 years later in the context of management effectiveness, reminding us, quite simply that, there is more than one way of achieving an aim.

Now, more than ever you need a management population who are responsive and agile, able to react at just the right moment to the ever-changing conditions that you operate in……

It's your managers who can keep you ahead of the competition if they have the ability, and the permission, to experiment in the margins, to fail fast, learn and move on……

You're probably concerned about their well-being too, you need them to be present, functioning at their peak and fulfilling close to 100% of their potential……

If these things are true of your organisation then your managers will undoubtedly need to be equipped with the kind of independent thinking skills that enable them to create multiple pathways to achieving their goals, i.e. lots of ways to skin the proverbial cat!

If the only path to your goal appears to be blocked by a wall 10 metres high, and you can't see a way past it, then it really can feel as if you're ‘banging your head against a brick wall'!

Progress is likely to be painful, slow and at worst, non-existent. In the face of this kind of impossible challenge you feel frustration, anger, resentment and are pretty likely to give up! (The manager in this picture looks remarkably cheerful considering his predicament – that's more to do with my limited skills as an artist.)
But, what if you have the necessary thinking skills to generate a range of options, alternative pathways that can be explored and evaluated?

This provides us with the opportunity to choose, and choice makes us believe that we have some control over what happens to us, which in turn helps us to feel more capable and resourceful. This state of mind makes us much better at thinking and more likely to hit upon an option that brings about the successful achievement of the goal.

As a happy by-product to this multi pathways thinking we feel good about our capability and our likelihood of ultimately succeeding and so our stress levels are kept in check and we maintain our well-being and are able to perform at work without the ‘interference' that too much stress can bring.

3 techniques to develop Multi-Pathways Thinking, to create choice:

  • Tap into your inner child and ask “why” with the Why-Why Technique
    • Start with the problem, write it down and list the reasons why it's happened
    • For each of those reasons, ask why again and list the responses
    • Follow the same process another 2/3 times until all the possible causes have been identified.
    • Reflect on what you see and consider what is likely to be the key cause. That's the thing to tackle!
  • Doodle your way to choices with the Mind Mapping technique
    • Created by Tony Buzan this is a great technique for exploring possibilities.
    • There is an abundance of information available on the web for this technique….start here if you've never experimented with it before.
  • Uncover opportunities with some Big Picture thinking
    • This is an excellent tool for creating a visual representation of your situation
    • By using the Template and following the Path you can quickly create a Big Picture that allows you to clearly see the Challenges and Opportunities
    • From there it's possible to choose and prioritise the actions that are most likely to help you achieve your goal or outcome.

Whilst each of these techniques can involve the use of pen and paper (very retro), there are electronic platforms for them too.

Bev Holden is half of The Clear thinking Partnership. She's been successfully leading teams at work and in the voluntary sector for more than 20 years. She once won an Oscar (well, The Disney Store equivalent) for leading her team to become one of the highest performing new stores in Europe!

With her business partner Kate Hargreaves, she designs and facilitates Management Development Programmes  for clients who are passionate about people and who want their managers to think more clearly, act decisively, engage with their teams and realise their full potential. You can connect with Bev on Twitter and Linked In

*Multi Pathways thinking is just one aspect of the QO2® instrument, the Opportunity Orientation Profile, that measures the energy people put into either seeing opportunities or seeing obstacles. The Clear Thinking team are accredited by TMSDI to use this instrument in their work with clients.


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