I'm a problem-solver.
And that can actually be a problem…
"Don't bring me problems bring me solutions…" "Don't complain unless you are going to do something about it…" "If you see a problem, it's your problem to solve…" and on and on and on
We hear these things all the time. Hell, I say some of these things all the time. And yet. Taken to their extreme, they can be more harm than good. Driving so hard toward solution, needing to find a solution, can cause us to overlook the most important part of problems-solving: Defining the actual problem.
Not the symptoms. Not the most easily-apparent need. Not our assumptions about what's wrong. Not the thing that can be tackled quickly, today. The actual problem.
I'm not saying we should dwell. Or wallow. But jumping to solutions can send us down the wrong path. Wasting time and energy on things that won't work.
So how do we prevent that? How do we make sure we are pulling the weed by the root and not just grabbing at the leaves?
There's actually not one silver-bullet technique. But you expected that, right? Especially from me. I've written about uncovering your problem in the past and provided a framework that works for me. Here's another one that I like to use when the emotional charge is not so high.
I rely on the Five-Ws. And I ask myself Why five times.
- What is the problem you are trying to solve?
- Who does this problem affect? Or with whom does this problem arise?
- When is the problem most pronounced? Over what timeframe do we need a solution?
- Where does this problem show up?
- Why does this problem exist in the first place? (x5)
Following this sequence helps ensure I don't jump to a (wrong) solution. It gives me the full context of my problem and helps me dig down to its root.
- What is the problem you are trying to solve? I want to work out during the workday, but have trouble getting myself out of my office now that my gym buddy works far away.
- Who does the problem affect? Just me.
- When is this problem most pronounced? When I plan to go to the gym solo. I have no problem making it to yoga, even when it is eight degrees outside!
- Where does this problem show up? When I am working. Especially if I am in the middle of something or have a project to start.
- Why does this problem exist in the first place? Because I don't want to go (even though deep down I do want to exercise - I love it!).
- Why don't I want to go? Because there are other people there.
- Why don't I want to work out with other people? I do! That's the weird part. I go to yoga just fine.
- Why is yoga different? Because all I have to do is show up ready to work. They take care of everything else.
- Why does it help that they take care of everything else? During the work-day I already am mentally taxed. I don't have the energy to come up with a workout plan.
So Why do I have a problem going to the gym by myself? Because I don't already have a plan and I don't have the accountability to force me out the door anyway.
Now I'm ready to think about how I can solve my problem: By writing my workout plan the weekend before so that it is handy when the calendar alert dings in the middle of my workday. I don't have to think. Which means I don't have to stop thinking about the work-related problems I'm stewing about. I can just head down and execute.
That's better than asking a friend to call and yell at me (I considered it) and definitely worth a try!
A few hints to be sure you have a solution worth trying:
Does your solution address each of the five Ws? If not, it may not fully address your problem and you might need to layer in a second solution. And a third. And a fourth. And… depending on how big your problem might be.
Does your solution use the word should or must? RED FLAG. Should and must indicate that you intend to rely on willpower. That can work in the short-term but for persistent problems (liked getting to the gym) should and must are the equivalent of saying I will solve my problem by solving my problem. True. And useless.
And last, remember: Your answer to How can I solve my problem? Is not the solution. It is one possible solution. And it might not work when you test it. Implementing your solution could uncover a new variable, a part of the problem that you hadn't considered yet. That's great! It means you're digging closer to your roots. Use that information when you run back through the sequence and see how your solution changes.
Then try it again.
We encounter problems big and small every day. And problem-solvers like us take most pride in successfully implementing the solutions. That's fine. As long as we don't let that solution-focus become a problem in itself. No matter how obvious the solution might seem, those nine little questions help get to the fun part (the solving part), faster. By making sure we don't waste our time pulling on the wrong things.
I believe we're all trying to do great things. And sometimes great things seem impossible. Sign up today and I will send you a weekly Rise & Shine! email designed to motivate and inspire you keep learning, to keep growing, and to keep attacking your Impossible. Because we're all in this together.
Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner