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March 23, 2022 | 30 Mins Read

The Fine Art of Problem Solving

March 23, 2022 | 30 Mins Read

The Fine Art of Problem Solving


Sarah welcomes Amy Herman, a New York Times Best-Selling attorney, former Frick Collection Head of Education and art historian. The FBI, NYPD, Navy Seals, and Fortune 500 companies, among others, have hired her to help them solve problems. She has a TED talk titled “A Lesson in Looking,” and published a new book in December of 2021 titled, “Fixed: How to Perfect the Fine Art of Problem Solving,” and she shares an interesting perspective on a fresh way to approach problem solving.

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the future of field service podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Nicastro. Today, we're going to be talking about the fine art of problem solving. We all have our fair share of challenges that we are up against. And we talk a lot on future of field service about how leaders need to work on harnessing their own creativity and look for different ways to achieve the innovation they need to in an industry that is changing so rapidly.

Sarah Nicastro: So I'm thrilled to welcome to the podcast today Amy Herman, who is a New York times best selling former Frick collection, head of education and art historian. She has worked with the FBI, the NYPD, Navy Seals, and a number of Fortune 500 companies, among others, who have hired her to help them solve their problems. She has a Ted talk titled a lesson in looking and published a new book in December of 2021, titled, Fixed: How to Perfect the Fine Art of Problem Solving. I think this is going to be a really fun conversation. I'm very excited. Amy, thank you for being here with me today.

Amy Herman: Thanks for having me, Sarah. I'm really excited to be on the show.

Sarah Nicastro: I have to admit, Amy and I spent a good portion of our time chatting before we even started recording because we just hit it off right away. So that was fun. All right. So I'm really intrigued about our chat today, but before we get into the meat of it, tell our listeners a little bit more about yourself, your journey, whatever you would like to share.

Amy Herman: Sure. So I am what I call a recovering attorney. I'm a recovering attorney because once you're a lawyer and you leave, you're always an attorney and I'm also an art historian. And I like to think that I combined the practical aspects of each of those disciplines, legal analysis and visual analysis when I created my company over 20 years ago.

Amy Herman: Basically what I do. My company's called the art of perception and I train leaders around the world to enhance their observation, perception, and communication skills by learning to analyze works of art. And I know the two don't sound connected. I know the connection could be tenuous at best, but it really seems to be working. And it's taken me a long time to figure out why, but with my new book coming out, I'm not only trying to help people enhance their observation and perception skills, but now I want to help them solve problems with the same method, because I think everything is broken right now. And while I'm a half glass full person, that is what I do. I use works of art as the vehicle to get people to rethink their problems and the skills they use at work and at home.

Sarah Nicastro: And the two really go well together. Right? I mean, the idea of evolving your perception and looking at things differently is sort of step one of being able to solve problems, right? Because oftentimes you need to change your perspective a bit to be able to come up with solutions. So I would think they go really well together.

Amy Herman: They do. They do. Two things come to mind as we were discussing beforehand offline. I think the best things really do happen at the exit ramp of your comfort zone. And while we are hesitant to go there ourselves, when someone else says, okay, come with me, I'm going to take you to the exit ramp of your comfort zone. You're going to see things you didn't see before. And then you go back, it's kind of empowering too. And I'm using art as a set of data. I'm using it as a new way to think about problems.

Amy Herman: And I have to confess, as you can imagine, I've spent a lot of time in museums, but I don't like to get hung up in labels and years and artists, blah, blah, blah. I did all that when I got a degree in art history. That's all fine. But I saw a wall label recently that really struck a chord and resonated and has been undergirding everything I've been doing ever since then. And what it said on the wall text is how we look at things is fundamental to what we see. How we look at things is fundamental to what we see. So I'm trying to help people change the way they look at things. And in the words of Wayne Dire, he says, when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. I love it. All right. So as I was researching you, there's a number of terms that come up that I want to sort of clarify for our listeners before we kind of talk about what the method is and sort of what people should be thinking about. So the method is an alternative for problem solving that can be considered different from what we refer to as default thinking. So can you explain what you mean by default thinking?

Amy Herman: Yes. Default thinking it's actually really a reserve of comfort for us. Been there done that. You know, I've seen this problem before. This is how I can solve it. And default thinking is what we rely on. You know, example. I say this as a mother. Okay, kid throws up eight o'clock in the morning. You know what to do. You clean it up, see if he feels okay, you know check the symptoms and you know, he is not going to go to school, so you put all these things in place.

Amy Herman: At work, somebody on your team, a key person on your team, quits unexpectedly. Okay, I've had this happen before. Let me think about what to do. How could I put the pieces in place. So we can do it personally and professionally. Default thinking is been there, done that. I'm seasoned.

Amy Herman: What I want to do is change the default thinking and say, maybe there's a better way to do this. Yes. This worked for me in the past, but maybe there's a better, more effective and more sustainable way to do this that I haven't thought of before. So I want to give people a template just to move a little bit away from that default thinking, not abandon it completely. We know what works for us.

Amy Herman: Let me try something different this time to see if it works. And you know what, sometimes it doesn't, and it's an epic fail, but sometimes you fail forward. It doesn't work out, but you say, you know what, I tried it because I learned something. And sometimes you go back to your default thinking, but I want to give people another avenue because of all the problems we're facing right now, some of them are just intractable. Some of them are just such new dilemmas that I want to give people a new way to think.

Sarah Nicastro: Now that's what I was thinking when you were describing some of those examples that-

Amy Herman: You like the vomit one.

Sarah Nicastro: So no, I get it. Yeah. Would you say that there are problems for which default thinking works, but then problems for which we need to learn how to move past that default thinking?

Amy Herman: Okay. I'll give you an example. I was just writing up a proposal yesterday. So it's fresh of mind. There's an artist named Georgio Morandi, and he's an Italian artist and he never left Bologna. Or maybe he left once. He worked in Bologna and he worked in a studio and he painted the same subjects his entire life. Cups, vases, plates, bowls. And he rearranged them myriad times, painting after painting after painting. And some people rolled their eyes and said F Morandi. So boring cups and vases. But other people think he's brilliant. It's quietly subversive.

Amy Herman: He looked at spatial. He looked at appearance. He looked at light. He looked at shadow. He looked at weight and he thought about all the moving pieces and all the different ways that he could arrange these pieces. And that's what our lives are. Let's face it. We live our lives. We get up in the morning. We go to sleep at night and we have a certain set of tasks, but let's shift it. Let's move them around. Let's do things A, to make it more interesting. And B, hopefully to do things better.

Amy Herman: I'm not asking people to turn their lives upside down. Let's all drop everything and run to a museum. But let's look at art as a way of thinking about things differently. We all have to from point A to point B every day, but let's think about what's on that journey. What's at point C, what's at point D, and what are other things we can look at to enhance our lives, but also to be more engaged and get more out of it.

Amy Herman: That's how I'm using art as sort of that analogy like Morandi's paintings. I can show 20 of them. No two are the same. They're different colors. They're different lights. There are different times of day and it gets you to think, oh, maybe I don't have to do the same thing all the time. That's what I mean about default thinking and using the pieces that work, but thinking about what doesn't work and to deviate from that just a little bit.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. And I would say, just thinking about how this relates to our audience, right? Sometimes it's the minutia that is really where the problems get stuck, right? So you mentioned the fact that some people could look at his paintings and say, oh, you know, they're all-

Amy Herman: Same old, same old.

Sarah Nicastro: Olds. But you're saying like, there's a lot of movement in the details. And to me, that's, very similar to how problem solving would work for our audience, because yes, we're in a period of massive innovation and market pressures and demands, et cetera.

Amy Herman: Yep.

Sarah Nicastro: And so sure. Sometimes you're going to paint a whole new painting, right. With a whole new set of inspiration. But a lot of times it's looking for those details and looking at it that way. So-

Amy Herman: Absolutely. But there's something I want to throw in there when it comes to problem solving. This is one of the biggest takeaways of my book, fixed about problem solving. And I say this to people like you, and to me. We're all juggling a lot. Right. We have demanding careers. We have really interesting careers. We've got families, we've got a balance. Don't let perfection be the enemy of good.

Amy Herman: Sometimes good is just good enough. Sometimes you have to solve a problem and you need to put all the pieces in place because you got to get out the door or you can't let everything fall apart. So I don't think we need to strive for perfection every day. I don't. And you know what? That's hard. One because you think you have to be perfect. Think you have to fix everything you don't. So one of my biggest takeaways is don't let perfection be the enemy of the good. We don't have to be perfect all the time.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. That's a good point. All right. So we talked about default thinking. Tell us about your approach and how it provides a more innovative way to problem solve, how it gets people out of that default mode.

Amy Herman: Well, I'll give you the example of having two people stand in front of a painting. Let's just say I work with police officers. So I have two cops standing in front of a painting and I say, okay, take 15 seconds. Take a look at this painting. And 15 seconds is a long time when you're just looking. And then I say, okay, each of you tell me and tell the group here, what do you see? And it's not threatening because you're just telling people what you see. You're not telling me who Van Gogh is. You're not telling me what period this is. What do you see in the painting? And what is remarkable is that the two people will come up with vastly different narratives of what they're looking at. And it's almost self-evident to them that if this is happening in a museum in front of two paintings, what's happening at the crime scene?

Amy Herman: What's happening in the operating room? What's happening in the boardroom? And that it gives us an insight into problem solving that not only do we come up with different solutions, we have different ways of seeing the problem. So let's start at the bottom line, articulate what we see the problem is before we think of what the solution is and art gives us a vehicle that's not threatening. I'm going to use the F word. It's really fun. It's actually fun to look at art together and talk about what we see and gives us this model to say, whoa, whoa, whoa. Before we all dive in to solve the problem, can we just go around the table and each articulate what we see the problem as really being.

Sarah Nicastro: I love this. So I have a podcast I recorded not too long ago with a gentleman who leads the digital buildings business at Schneider electric. And we were talking about what he feels are the kind of traits of modern leadership. So how over his career he's worked to evolve his thoughts, beliefs, approaches to, continue to improve. And one of the points that he brought up is the idea of there isn't enough root cause analysis.

Sarah Nicastro: And it's making me think of what you're saying, which is people jump to solution before ensuring that everyone is solving the same problem, right. Or that the same perception of the problem. And so his point is, he didn't obviously give it in an art context, but his point is without proper root cause analysis, you have people racing off to solve their own versions of what they saw in that painting. And then, without consensus that they're working towards a common objective, so.

Amy Herman: Yes, and you know what there, and that method, that idea happens a lot. That execution happens a lot, but you know, where you run into trouble and why this methodology hopefully can be useful is sometimes in the process of solving a problem, you run into a roadblock that was unforeseen. You run into a roadblock and you say, oh, I didn't think of that. Now what? I just went so fast. So two concepts come to mind.

Amy Herman: One, I learned from a colleague of mine in the FBI and he taught me the concept of festine lente. And it means to make haste slowly. And I know that sounds sort of like an oxymoron to make haste slowly. What does it mean? It means we all have to get to the finish line. We all have to complete the project. We all have to meet the deadline, but we need to do it mindfully and purposefully and in synchronicity with others to make sure we get it done the right the first time because nobody has time to start all over again.

Amy Herman: And another example that I want to give you that I think is just so interesting about dealing with problems along the way. So in the wilds of Colorado, this past October, I don't know if you saw in the news, they had film footage of a wild elk running around with a tire around its neck. And once you got over the absurdity of seeing this elk with a tire around its neck, it was actually really sad. What happened was the elk had coming contact with human pollution. When it was young, before it had antlers, it put its head through the tire and then the antlers grew and they couldn't get the tire off. So to make a long story short, the green wardens decided to taze the elk. It took them a while. It's a wild elk. They couldn't taze it.

Amy Herman: They finally got the elk out. And when they went to shave the tire off, they couldn't, it had a steel band in it and they couldn't get the tire off. Times a ticking. You know, when you taze an elk. I don't know how many Elks you've tased-

Sarah Nicastro: No, not a lot.

Amy Herman: But you don't know to keep it down. So what do they do? They can't shave the tire off. So you know what they did, they said, okay, here's a new problem. They shaved the antlers off, took the tire off the elk's neck. It woke up and it ran away. Now what's the takeaway for us that are not tazing, wild elk. The overarching problem here is wildlife and pollution. Are we going to solve that problem? No. Sometimes you need to solve the problem at hand and not worry about the big problem or the undergirding problem.

Amy Herman: Get the tire off your neck is what I tell my clients. Get the tire off. And sometimes yes. Is it a bandaid? Sure it is. But when you really don't have the resources to solve the big problem that caused this, the chances of another elk getting its head through a tire. Sure. It could happen. This particular elk and solve the problem and be able to handle unforeseen circumstances. Yeah. It's an interesting analogy. I know, but visually compelling when you see the footage of this elk running around Colorado.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. So tell us a little bit more, Amy, about ... I'm just curious, like when you work with organizations, we said FBI, NYPD, all the Fortune 500 companies, et cetera. What is the process like? So, what are you ... give us a glimpse into the work you do with them and what you're sort of asking them to do and how you're incorporating art into that process?

Amy Herman: Well, the first step that I take with any new client, it's always the same. A mentor of mine once said we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Use them proportionally. And so I listen to what my client's concerns are. There's a reason they've come to me. You know, they didn't just say, oh, let's call that Amy Herman. Let's see what she's up to. No, they're coming to me for a reason. Something's broken. They need team building. Morale is really low. I mean, given where we are in the pandemic, it could be a thousand reasons that they're calling me. So I listen to what their issues are, what their concerns are, and what they hope to get out of a session like this. And then I turn around and I say, okay, this is what I can offer you.

Amy Herman: So when I bring the clients in, we've had to do this virtually because of our current circumstances. But normally I go to the client and we look at works of art together. And I explain to them how we're going to use art as data. This is not an art history class. Okay. You're not in for, oh, let's look at some Monet's together. It's not about that. It's looking at artist data, bringing them to the exit ramp of their comfort zone, making it highly participatory, highly engaging. There is never note taking in my sessions. Never. Because if you're busy taking notes, you're not participating.

Amy Herman: Then I put everyone on the spot. I make them do exercises with each other. They have to close their eyes. They have to describe works of art. They have to visualize. They have to articulate. And my training work breaks down into four A's. Every new client, every new product, every new vendor, any new situation, you practice four A'. one, you assess your situation, put parameters around it.

Amy Herman: Two, you analyze it. You say, what do I have? What do I retain? What do I get rid of? How do I prioritize my information? Then you articulate it. You tell your team. You send a memo, you send a text, you form a plan and then you act. You make a decision. So I show them how to assess, analyze, articulate, and act in the sparest of terms, because everyone's so busy. Nobody needs anything more. And how that can break things down into digestible pieces, whether it's communicating your strategic vision for the company or whether you're trying to solve a really big problem. So with this artist data, we work together in interactive exercises. We work together. We open our eyes and the time moves really quickly. And my goal is that every single person that participates in my program or reads my books, leaves thinking differently about one aspect of their work.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So when you gave the example of the two police officers looking at a painting. We talked about the perception, right? So their perception, what they saw is different. And so the perception of a problem can be different. There's a couple other things I just want you to kind of define for our listeners. The second is visual intelligence. So what does that mean? And how does it relate to problem solving?

Amy Herman: Well, visual intelligence, spoiler alert is the title of my first book. And it's two things. Number one, visual intelligence is seeing what matters. We are barraged with information. We're on a 24 hour news cycle. We get. We have Instagram, we have social media, we have texts, we have emails. We have the old fashioned phones. Some people still call you and email. And our brains can't process all that.

Amy Herman: So visual intelligence is breaking down that information, distilling down to what you need. And that sounds like some kind of platitude. It's not. There are certain things I know that I can't look at social media before a certain time in the morning. I don't need that information, but for certain of my clients, that's how they communicate. So I know what I need to look at in a very focused way. The other definition I use for visual intelligence is seeing what other people don't.

Amy Herman: What does that mean? Seeing what other people don't. How do we look at our existing resources in a way that other people don't see them? And more importantly, how can we use them to solve problems? And the art example that I give you is a work of art by a woman named Rachel Whiteread. She made these beautiful, it's a hundred sculptures of beautiful wax and resin in a room. And when the sun shines in them, they're beautiful. You know what the sculptures are based on? The underside of a hundred different chairs. Who thinks about the underside of a chair? Nobody, but it's a negative space. And she thought, what a cool negative space. And she made a sculpture based on the bottoms of a hundred chairs. Do you need to know that? No. But she saw something that nobody else did. That's what visual intelligence is. It's seeing what other people don't and distilling all the information that we have to what you think you really need.

Sarah Nicastro: Now what about situational awareness.

Amy Herman: Situational awareness. It breaks down into two forms. There's short term situational awareness and there's long term situational awareness. Short term is knowing where you are at any particular moment. Right now, how did I get here? How did I get out? This is what we teach our children. How did you get here? What's the safest way to exit? What is the threat? What are you going to do right now being aware of your surroundings. Because as we know, when people put their earbuds in the rest of the world goes away. That really isn't the best thing to do in any situation. Long term situational awareness is a problem that you're aware of, but you haven't wrapped your head around it. You don't have a solution. You are aware of, but it doesn't have a solution. And it's sort of, it's looming. You say, okay, I know we have this problem.

Amy Herman: Like in the intelligence world, we know terrorism hasn't gone away just because there haven't been any terrorist incidents in the last two years, knock on wood. It hasn't gone away. So we still have to combat the issues that might not be at the forefront. So situational awareness is the here and the now, where am I? How did I get here? How did I get out? What can I do while I'm here? And long term is sort of a long range awareness of the issues and they're on your radar, but you may not be dealing with them all the time.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. Now those concepts, so perception, visual intelligence, situational awareness ... are these skills that anyone can hone or are there certain people who are more inclined or more effective at these things?

Amy Herman: Well, from an entrepreneurial perspective, I'm going to tell you that if the skills couldn't be honed, I'd be out of business. If everybody had to be born with this, I wouldn't have my company and I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing. I will say, that being said, there are some people that are better at this than others. There are some people that are aware, that are more aware than others. There's some people that can articulate their circumstances better than others.

Amy Herman: But I believe that we can leverage our own neuroplasticity to get our brain to think differently. And as one of my intelligence colleagues once said, and I steal this phrase from him all the time, because I think it's fabulous. He says neurons that fire together, wire together. And when I show you works of art and we look at works of art together, you are engaging your brain in a way that other stimuli don't do to your brain. So when you're using those neurons to fire, my hope is that when you encounter a problem, you'll be able to call upon them to wire to help you solve problem.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. All right. So our audience is business leaders, varying levels across varying industries that are all looking to solve problems related to innovation, digital transformation, differentiation of their offerings, company service and company growth, leadership. How does this formula apply to this type of persona?

Amy Herman: Well, let's start. Every one of those professions that you just named thrives on change. They're all working in a dynamic environment. None of those people can afford to be left behind. So I'm going to give you a quote from Henry James, which is probably the overarching takeaway from my whole methodology is try to be the person on whom nothing is lost.

Amy Herman: So what I'm doing is I'm using art as the data to reengage all of your senses, to sharpen your perception, to rethink innovation, to look at your existing resources differently, with the hope that you'll be able to solve problems, not just today's problems, but the problems down the road, because all those people in changing markets and leadership and startups, they are all poised. They're like elite, military squads. They know they're going to encounter trouble. They know they're going to encounter hostility and they're going to encounter change.

Amy Herman: So I want to give people a different template that they can fall back on. That's where we get back to that default thinking, that they can fall back on and say, you know what? There's a better way to solve this problem. And I'm using art as the data. And when I say that quote, try to be the person on whom nothing is lost. I want to realign your engagement. Think about not just what you see, but what did you hear? What your impressions and most importantly, how do you communicate all that to your stakeholders, your clients, and your colleagues.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So let's say there's a listener hearing this talk and thinking, huh?

Amy Herman: Yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: Because I can visualize a few of those, just thinking about some of the types of folks that might hear this and just think.

Amy Herman: Sure.

Sarah Nicastro: So what's your reply to that reaction?

Amy Herman: My reply to that and believe it or not, I thrive on skepticism. I love when I have a skeptic saying, are you kidding me? You know, this is a room of MBAs. This is a room of CEOs. You're going to tell me that this art historian is going to talk to us. And instead of thinking about art substantively, I'm not telling you to drop everything and go to a museum. I'm telling you that, how you're doing your work. And however, you're solving your problems to keep in mind that yeah, things might be hiding in plain sight. Yes. There may be a more effective way to do this. And yes, I have the resources to be better at this. And so by simply reading my book and rethinking your work and your world. Nothing I'm doing Sarah, as you see is rocket science. You know, I'm not asking people to turn their worlds upside down.

Amy Herman: I'm saying, take your model as you know, it. Let's shift to the left, shift to the right. Let's clean the lenses that we're looking at. Let's change our shoes. Let's look at other perspectives. And I can almost guarantee when you step out of yourself, because one of my favorite lines with my son and with my clients is it's not all about you. It never is. It may be your business and your company and your team, but decisions are never all about you. Step out of that. Look at it differently. Use your visual intelligence. And I can almost guarantee you'll come away with a different perspective. That's all I'm asking for. Different perspectives and you choose how to apply it. It's not radical as it might sound.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I also think, my thought is the people that are the biggest skeptics are the ones that are the most stuck in their own comfort zones. Right?

Amy Herman: You bet.

Sarah Nicastro: Otherwise you're not so resistant to the idea of trying something different, right? So they probably need it the most.

Amy Herman: Agreed. I'm going to use the corporate term. I'm going to talk about the growth mindset versus the fixed mindset and the people that are going to shut their eyes and ears to this and say, I do not need some crazy lady telling me to look at Picasso to help with my job. The growth mindset says, you know what, I'm good at what I do. I'm talented. That's why I'm in this position, but I need to keep growing. I need to sharpen my edge and I need to be innovative.

Amy Herman: The fixed mindset says, you know what? They hired me because I am excellent at what I do. I don't need anything else. And it's usually the people with the fixed mindsets that are resistant to my training and resistant to my methodology. And I'm sorry to say, they get left behind and they're cutting off their noses to spite their faces because in the end, all I want this work to be is empowering to the individual, giving them additional tools to do what they do and do it even better.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. That makes sense. All right. So if someone is open to this method, how do they know it's working? Like how do you know when you've achieved success with a client that you're working with?

Amy Herman: The simplest and easiest way that I know the methodology works is my clients come back over and over and over again to train not only their new cohorts, but to refresh the sense of inquiry and vision of their more seasoned team members. So I work in hospitals year after year after year trading, the new doctors, the new nurses. I've been working with the FBI since 2004, and the whole reason I wrote my first book is because I got this feedback from participants in my program saying, got to tell you how I use this. You know, I was in this situation in Afghanistan and I missed this or a nurse will say, I never thought of looking at this from so and so's perspective.

Amy Herman: And I thought this is just too good. I need to, I've always known that art's powerful because I'm an art historian, but I'm just channeling that power of art and giving it to people who wouldn't necessarily look at art for a living. And when they come back to me, not only telling me that it resonated, but with practical application, the greatest for me that the methodology seems to be working.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Yeah. All right. So obviously one choice.

Amy Herman: That's a word that's not allowed in my program. Sarah. We're never allowed to say obviously.

Sarah Nicastro: Obviously, okay.

Amy Herman: Because things are so complex.

Sarah Nicastro: Right? So, listeners could have obviously no, I did it again.

Amy Herman: See we do it all the time.

Sarah Nicastro: So now I'm going to trip myself up.

Amy Herman: Of course you are. It's okay.

Sarah Nicastro: Listeners, they can read your book.

Amy Herman: Yes.

Sarah Nicastro: They could check out artful perceptions and learn more about how you work with organizations. But for those just curious about the idea, how could they get started kind of dipping their toe into this concept? You know, what are some ways for them to maybe test it out a little bit?

Amy Herman: Sure. So yes, you said they could definitely read my books. Artful perception is my website, which tells you about methodology. But if you really just want to try it out on yourself, two things you could do. If you're brave enough to go into a museum, I want you to walk into a gallery and just look around the museum. Don't read any labels and pick one work of art that speaks to you that you want to take home with you, walk up to it and just spend five minutes with it and figure out what is it about this painting that makes me want to take it home. Just spend five minutes with a work of art because you're going to engage your brain in a way that you wouldn't normally. And don't spend too much time in the museum. And only after that, read the label and see if your observations are in sync with what the label says. That's number one.

Amy Herman: Number two, if you're too busy, you don't have time, who can get to a museum. I take it for granted. I live in New York City. On your way to work tomorrow, I want you to go out of your way, either on your way to work or on your way home, go out of your way to notice one thing you didn't notice the day before. Actually look around, out the car window in the parking lot. In the walk in the supermarket, go out of your way and then come home and write it down.

Amy Herman: And I want you to do that every day for seven days. Just write it down. Again, it's engaging your brain in looking for something and making the connection between not only looking but communicating if just to yourself so you can help bridge the gap between what we see and what we say, because it's not enough to see. I work with CEOs. They're brilliant. People say, oh, she's a visionary. I have news. If you can't communicate your vision and your strategy, you're not so brilliant. So it's the idea of looking and communicating. That's what people can do in the interim. If they don't want to get the book right now, or they don't want to go to the website, think about engaging what they see on a daily basis.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. That sounds good. Okay. You talk about recognizing relationships and red herrings. Can you tell me what that means?

Amy Herman: Sure. The idea of relationships and red herrings. We take certain things for granted. We know this person, but red herrings are things that we think we see, but we don't really know. And if something catches your eye, there's a reason it catches your eye. You need to be able to go with something. And also you have to make sure that the things that you're depending on really there is veracity there. You know, this comes back to, I talk about biases. A lot, people know all about it, bias, cognitive bias, blah, blah, blah. There's so many biases. The one that I think is most dangerous is the anchor bias. Most people don't talk about the anchor bias. It's the human tendency to believe the first thing we see or hear is true. And you know what? Think about the news we get all the time.

Amy Herman: You hear it. It must be true. Well, that's what a red herring can be. You can hear it. You say, oh, it's absolutely true. I'm running with it. Ooh, resist the urge. And if there's a question or your gut tells you to look elsewhere, listen to your gut. Look at your relationships, determine on what basis. Are they sound? Can I rely on them? And the things that you're not so sure, be sure to question them because there are red herrings that are out there and be aware of the anchor bias.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. Can you recap for me why the use of the word obviously is prohibited?

Amy Herman: Absolutely. And I didn't mean to catch you in a moment, snagged you. At the beginning of all my sessions, I lay out three rules. Number one, don't write anything down. Number two, engage in the conversation because the more you put in, the more you're going to take out. And the third rule, which is the hardest to follow is that for the time that I'm together with my clients, I ask them to refrain from two words, obviously, and clearly.

Amy Herman: And the reason is, we live in work in a complex world. Nothing is obvious and even less is clear. So you say, well obviously we have a case of X. What if I don't know why it's obvious. Am I going to stop you and say, Sarah, can you please explain to me why that's obvious? So instead of assuming a certain level of knowledge and sort of introducing a potentially antagonistic situation, say it appears to me to be a case of X because of Y and Z instead of saying, well, obviously it's X. And you think of how, not only does that deescalate a situation, but you think about in companies where there are hierarchies or in the operating room.

Amy Herman: Well, the doctor says, well, obviously it's this. What if the intern sees something else? And because of the hierarchy, isn't going to say, well, Dr. Jones, why can't it be this? So if the doctor were wise and thinking about pedagogy and say, well, it appears to me to be this tumor because of all the evidence of X, Y, and Z around it. Better way to observe. It's a better way to communicate. It's more inclusive and it deescalates without having to say I'm deescalating. So just so you know that when my sessions are in person, if anyone says obviously, or clearly I make the whole room applaud. So they're reminded, oh, maybe I shouldn't do that. And I want you to know you're not alone. When I tell people that they broke the rule they use obviously again and again, and again. It calls attention to a word that we're using, and we're not really sure what the implications are. That's all.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I love that. No, I'm glad you caught me and called me out. And now it's something that I'll pay attention to. See, this is what the self improvement is all about. Learning different things and applying them and working through that. All right, Amy, any other advice to close us out on problem solving? Any other comments you would want to share with our listeners?

Amy Herman: Well, first of all, thank you very much for having me. I really appreciate it, but I'm going at the risk of repeating myself because I think they're points worth driving home. The two biggest takeaways from my talk with you and for people in the business world. I work with executives. I work with heads of companies all the time is really try to be that person on whom nothing is lost. Really try to reengage all of your senses internally, externally with all your stakeholders and on a more practical level, don't let perfection be the enemy of good. When you have to solve problems, solve your problems, get the tire off your neck and do what you have to do to solve your problems.

Sarah Nicastro: I love it.

Amy Herman: I would leave them with.

Sarah Nicastro: Thank you so much. I'm thrilled to have had you. Really enjoyed the conversation. So the book two books, Visual Intelligence, and Fixed: How to Perfect the Fine Art of Problem Solving. I assume people can find anywhere they buy their books and the website is If you want to take a look at a little bit more of what Amy does. So, be sure to check those things out. Amy, thank you so much for being here. I really appreciate it.

Amy Herman: Sarah, thank you. It was really a pleasure talking with you. Thanks so much.

Sarah Nicastro: Yes. You can learn more by visiting us at You can also find us on LinkedIn as well as Twitter @thefutureofs. The future of field service podcast is published in partnership with ifs. You can learn more at As always, thank for listening.