When fully understanding the problem is a “bad thing”.

Raleigh has many lovely parks and lakes in the area.  One such lovely and convenient lake is Shelly Lake at 1400 W Millbrook Rd.   This park is centered on 53-acre (21-hectare) Shelley Lake, and offers greenway trails that are popular with cyclists and those who walk for fitness as well as families and pet owners who want to take the kids or dog out for a romp.

During one such walk, one guest was lamenting over a specific issue or problem that she was having.  She spent much time and energy repeating and retracing the events.  Like walking the circular lake, at the end of the 30 minutes, this young lady was back where she started — no closer to a solution than when she started.

Albert Einstein understood: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

Unfortunately, we often disguise the “need to vent” in the form of “understanding the problem”.   We typically spend too long describing how the problem was “invented” and the circumstances, people involved, the history, etc.  Fully understanding the problem (it’s in’s and out’s, the motive and even it’s results) actually slows down the “solution” process.

In reality, the only piece of the “problem” information that is truly required is that “the problem exists”.  How it came about may be interesting and even entertaining — but it rarely helps with the solution.

The “thought-process” that brings out the “solution” needs to be totally different from the “thought-process” that created the problem.   Therefore, spending lots of time discussing the “problem” in detail only keeps us in the same thinking space that created the problem (which is where we DO NOT want to be).

I liken it to the modern day “GPS” system.  The GPS system never asks you “how did you get here?”  It only asks you “where do you want to go?” It doesn’t focus on where you have been, how you got there, what roads, issues, circumstances that you encountered to arrive ‘here’.  It only asks you “where do you want to go?”  It simply focuses on the solution of your desire.

THEREFORE, diminish the “problem discussion” in regards to both time and importance.  The “problem” is just an indicator that a fabulous solution is lurking out there somewhere.  So let’s bounce our self’s there as quickly as possible.  After a short amount of time is devoted to the problem recognition, re-iterate in your own words what you understand the “problem” to be.  Then immediately focus on the “end results”.  Clearly articulate the results that you are currently looking for using descriptive but concise language.

A great book on changing the way you look at “problems” and transforming them into solutions is Roger’s Van Oech book “Whack on the side of your head: How you can be more creative”.  The intent is to give you a jolt out of habitual thought that got you into the problem in the first place.  It assists you into looking at things in a fresh way.  I actually recommend and give “A Whack on the Side of the Head” in the playing card version, to my clients as a problem resolution tool.

Some examples from the “Whack Pack” include (but not limited to) are:

1)     Find a Pattern

2)     Make a metaphor

3)     Combine ideas

4)     Substitute

5)     Exaggerate

6)     Rearrange

7)     Ask “What if”

8)     Reverse

9)     Simplify

10) Challenge the rules

Check out that book or cards and let me know what you think.

This is also why having another person (not skilled in the problem) to talk to is very helpful.   They can provide the outside view, the reverse view, or the devil’s advocate perspective.  These conversations help bring you out of the “problem thinking cloud” and into a different space.

One magic trick I often play on my clients is the “positive aspect” slight of hand.  Every problem is actually an opportunity to shine.  Everyone can “smell sweet” when everything is going great.    But — for me — I don’t know what I “know” until I’m asked a question.  I don’t know how capable I am until I am challenged.  The universe has this intriguing way of only supplying us with circumstances and events that allow us to shine.  It’s just that some folks don’t yet realize that fact.  So they don’t take that leap into the knowing that they can handle whatever comes their way.

Now you know that you already know and already capable.  Armed with that realization, your “leap” won’t be that large.  Try it and let me know what happens.


2 thoughts on “When fully understanding the problem is a “bad thing”.”

  1. User Avatar

    I really like this topic, Laura. You are correct, all too often we get caught up defending how we got someplace. In some cases, it is just people defending their decisions and trying to CYA. A little bit of history is good to be sure we don’t repeat ourselves and end up right back where we started. In this sense, it is good to capture all the things tried so far so that the team doesn’t waste time trying them again. Following on your suggestions, perhaps this step would be better left to the end after all the new ideas have been brainstormed, scrubbed, and a new direction has been selected. Remember, a GPS isn’t (yet) flawless. More often than I like, I’ve been directed right into a barrier (train track, freeway, etc.) with the road continuing on the other side. I would have loved to have someone tell me, “hey, that road is a dead-end.”

    1. User Avatar

      You are right. If you are looking for flaws — you will always find them in any solution. It is the same with both the GPS and the people telling you which way to go. This is because things are in constant flux. What was useful yesterday may not be 100% accurate today. On the other hand — What didn’t work yesterday may actually work today. Therefore, it can be said with the idea of “capturing all the things tried so far so that the team doesn’t waste time trying them again” – is not as useful as conventionally thought.
      Do not get me wrong — I also grew up with the “lesson learned” and tracking things to avoid future mistakes.
      But today (and this opinion will probably change tomorrow)– I would lean more toward using your “best judgment on what to log and capture” — versus “capturing all the things tried”.

      My hesitation in 100% agreeing with “capturing everything” is the ROI thing…..and that the circumstances will be different when/if you try this again (i.e. the road may be cleared by the next time you travel, or the construction was completed by the next time, or you dno’t need to go there anymore). For instance, your team will be different, your clients may be different, you will have more experience, you will have new software and tools to accomplish the tasks, etc. Different people, skills, equipment and perceptions will ultimately give you different results. Also, once you’ve accomplished this goal, a new goal replaces it which may make your previous steps or requirements obsolete and immaterial. You may never really “do this exact thing again” in the near future….so logging everything that went wrong doesn’t seem beneficial.

      One idea is to use your Risk Analysis to determine the probability and impact of this same issue occurring again. If the probability and impact is high — then take the time to log and publish after the project is successful. Or better yet — change the environment so that it doesn’t’ happen again.

      Philosophically, it’s just difficult for “the exact same thing” to occur again — because there are so many different moving and contributing parts in a project. So — it’s going to be difficult to end up right back where we previously started, because we never really start in the exact same place as before.

      I don’t know if this helps any — but it was sure fun playing with you on this topic. Thanks so much for the comments.

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