“All is big, until it is solved to become small.”— Mladen Đorđević

The task before us seemed impossible. The trumpet vine had grown vigorously on our trellis for twenty years. Then it had been lowered to the ground to make way for house repairs. Unanticipated circumstances meant that it had been on the ground, growing in a new direction, for two years. Now it was time to raise the vine to its former glorious heights.  

I have to admit that I was dreading dealing with this task. When I took hold of the whole vine, I could not even lift it off the ground. I anticipated having to organize a large work party of my neighbors. I thought that even with lots of help the task would take hours. I expected ropes and pulleys, frustrations and aching backs.  

With a deep breath, my partner and I went out and began to prepare for this anticipated work party.  We wanted to better understand how we were going to approach the problem.

Surprisingly, we were able to raise the vine in less than two hours without an enormous work party. With encouragement, some expert advice, and the addition of a couple of pairs of hands we conquered the task.

It turned out we followed a problem-solving process I often use on the job. It worked wonders for this task as well.

  • Clarify the goals.  The goal wasn’t to lift the whole vine at once. The goal was to restore the vine on the trellis so it could grow again.
  • Analyze the situation.  We found that the massive knot of vine was actually composed of four major sections that had tangled together quite thoroughly. 
  • Untangle the problems.  We did not need to solve all the problems at the same time. We just needed to separate them. We worked to untangle the branches from each other. We clipped out the parts that we did not need and pruned away shoots that were holding the larger sections down.
  • Solve one problem at a time. Once untangled, the individual branches were quite light and easy to handle.
  • Get help. We did get an expert to help us. He had done a similar task a few weeks before. With his help and a ladder, the vine was soon restored to the trellis

The main thing we did is often the most important part of any task. In spite of being overwhelmed by the job, we went out there and got started.

Do you have any impossible tasks you have been putting off?

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,

Alan Willett

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