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Management Spy: Creative Problem Solving

The two companies merged the day after the epic dart game in November 1999 into FutureNext, which delivers e-commerce initiatives for old economy companies. Clients include AT&T, Lucent, and Kelly Services (Detroit). Rose, former senior vice president of e-strategy in the Cleveland office, has also recently left FutureNext, to pursue new business projects. "He cheated," Rose jokes. "But seriously, it was one of the few times when I won even when I lost."

For Michael Drapkin, e-commerce chair at Columbia University and founder of Drapkin Technology in Monsey, N.Y., the game was a kind of "pin the tail on the donkey." While organizing the London office of couriers DSC Corporation, Drapkin had staff who couldn't decide where they wanted offices to be in their new quarters. "They acted like kids," he says. "I made flashcards of each of their departments, drew a large visual of the whole building, and pinned up the flashcards of like departments so they could clearly see where their offices would be with respect to others'," says Drapkin, co-author of 3 Clicks Away: a Candid Guide to E-commerce, Strategy, Organization, Project Management (John Wiley, 2000). Then they took turns tacking up individual cards to select their spaces. The revamped vintage kid's game did the trick.

Convince the doubters. According to Berglas, the best way for a management consultant to test out a solution to a problem is to pitch it to a hostile audience. "One that feels 'You can never convince me, because I know everything,'" says Berglas, author of Reclaiming the Fire: How Successful People Overcome Burnout (Random House, 2001).

Berglas discovered this 14 years ago when he spoke about inherited wealth at a retreat for CEOs. "It was very difficult. I got my insides ripped out, telling them that giving kids too much money is like giving them heroin. But it was a great learning experience," he says. "They vilified me. I felt like I was thrown into the Coliseum with no shield." He's since learned to use an "attack" as way to hone his message. "Now, when I have an idea I need try out, I present it to a hostile audience and learn from it," he says. "Lawyers are great sounding boards," he adds. "If there is a fault, they'll find it."

Turn to mother nature. In high school, native San Franciscan Marc Benioff was running his own software company. In college, he worked for McIntosh. By age 25, he was vice president at computer giant Oracle Corp. After years of practicing meditation, he moved on to the Zen Big Leagues, swimming with wild pods of dolphins in Hawaii, an activity popular among many New Agers and business people on the West Coast. He claims it gives him clarity, focus and concentration. "I've swum with 10 dolphins at a time. They communicate with each other as they swim around, and help you along. You get the sense that they just 'get it'," he says.

He compares his dolphin buddies to business sharks. "The first time you jump into the water, if they don't like you, they shun you. Dolphins like to make the decisions." But he won them over, and swears it's an inspiring experience. While pod swimming in 1998 when still a senior executive at Oracle, he came up with the idea for a new Web service for sales reps and realized that the time was right for him to move on., his start-up, now has some 20,000 users signed on and recently became a distribution partner.

Benioff has less time for the dolphins now, but whenever he can, he's off to Hawaii for a serious swim with the 'pod' — the best problem-solvers he knows.

Put your business on the fast track. Read the Management Spy on every Thursday. For more Management Spy columns click here.

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