A recent article in
Astronomy magazine dealt with the subject of resolving
binary stars. Resolving in the astronomical sense refers to
splitting, separating or clarifying.
When an 80-year-old
astronomer or an eight-year-old child looks up at the stars,
such as the middle star in the handle of the Big Dipper called
Mizar, they may at first see a single relatively bright star.
But with careful observation, even with the naked eye one soon
realizes that Mizar is really a binary star. That is, it is
really two stars.
The reward of careful
observation is the ability to realize the presence of
differences and, in this case, to recognize a binary star.
fictional detective friend Sherlock Holmes was created with a
genetic map produced by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, which provided
him with an uncanny ability to observe and deduce.
Holmes could enter a crime
scene and with one of his quick all-comprehensive glances he
was able to observe the entire scene. After this overall
reconnaissance of the broad perspective of a situation, he
would focus sharply, like a laser beam, on a particular clue
or aspect of what he saw.
Fortunately for the readers
of the great detectives adventures and for public
administrators in general, Holmes did not then dwell
excessively on the one element in a larger puzzle. What he
would do is take the essence of his observation about a single
aspect and focus back out to the broader whole. By using that
technique of a broad perspective followed by a laser-sharp
focus on key aspects of a problem, and then returning for a
fresh look at the overall situation, Holmes was able to find
solutions out of apparent chaos solutions which even
impressed, if not annoyed, Scotland Yard.
Sherlock Holmes was
certainly a master detective whose keen observations and
powers of deductive reasoning led to his fame and legend.
However, a little-known fact is that Holmes was also a career
city and county administrator, specializing in Human
Resources. I believe that he lived for a time in Kansas, and
finally retired to a small farm after participating in the
DROP program and receiving law enforcement retirement
While the latter account is
not in any of Conan Doyles pages, what is true is that all of
us who lead or manage in government and private organizations
have important lessons to learn from Sherlock Holmes.
The fundamental lesson for
this article is that solving even relatively tactical or
smaller-scale problems is best done by first framing them in
the larger context of what led to the problem in the first
Visiting the beautiful
doctor daughter Rachel with complaints of a stomach ache leads
to a medical overview of the persons general health condition
and any other compounding symptoms. Once that is done, and it
can often be done very quickly, generalities can give way to
targeted specifics. In the case of the stomach ache, as any
fan of the great movie Airplane can attest, it was
probably the fish!
Beginning with the view from
40,000 feet and then focusing on a specific problem will help
the leader develop a solution, often in collaboration with
others or in delegation to others, which not only fixes the
particular problem but leads to the avoidance of future
Then stepping back and
looking at the impact of the solution on the larger picture
helps us resolve. The fact is that what looks like one
thing on a microscopic level is very often something much
different at a telescopic level. Holmes certainly helps
us see this approach as having value in creating policy and
techniques for seeking out innovative solutions to
What is also little-known is
that Sherlock Holmes was also a licensed employee assistance
program counselor. He could take this same approach of looking
at an issue du jour and relating it to a larger more
strategic assessment of what might be happening.
An employee with performance
or behavioral problems may act-out in a particular way which
becomes the focus of the organizations coaching or corrective
action. However, the underlying causes of the poor behavior
may have much broader implications for the life of the
employee and family members.
Employee assistance program
leaders like Pat Erickson in Broward County, Fla. can be the
master detective in helping the individual, and by extension,
helping the whole organization as she applies Sherlock Holmes
all-encompassing observational techniques. Visits these days
to employee assistance programs are often spurred by a feeling
of financial hopelessness and distress. But there may very
well be other underlying contributors, including possible
substance abuse or underlying health issues.
So it is with Sherlock
Holmes the detective, the human resource public administrator
and the employee assistance professional. Employing the power
of observation and applying it carefully to particular
situations is a valued way to do exactly what all careful
observers, including the amateur astronomer HR Doctor, hope to
do to clarify, separate, and to resolve.