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What's the problem?

Updated: Aug 25, 2022

Whether the problem currently demanding your attention is getting your toddler to stop tormenting the dog or finding ways to increase the visibility of your company, there is one prerequisite that most people tend to overlook: define the problem.



I've just finished delivering my favourite training - Simple Problem Solving. It's one of a short series.


Although i've been delivering this same basic idea for the last 10 years or so, i never get fed up of it.


Why? Because it deals with a fundamental aspect of life that so few ever seem to get to grips with and every single time i deliver it, people say they never looked at it that way... really. Blows my mind.


And worries me.


There are two main concepts in the training - nothing earth-shattering, but they are:


Defining the problem.


Asking the right questions.


Like i say, nothing earth-shattering but, when we get into it, it becomes clear that most people don't look at work, or life, this way.


I'm only going to mention the first point in this post:


Defining the problem. You'd think it was simple.


However, the temptation to 'Jump to solutions' invariably pulls people off course before they've even had a chance to bring their 8D, Ishikawa, 6 Hats or OODA loop magic to bear on the situation.


And it applies to virtually everything in life.


Sales, for instance.


I've delivered this material to sales teams and they love it, because it addresses a fundamental issue of sales, ergo: what problem are you hoping to solve for your customer?


Even when approached by my own potential clients, the question arises: what problem are we going to solve?


'We have a problem with culture on the shopfloor.'


'That's not your problem.'


'What do you mean? You've never even been on the shopfloor.'


'It's just a symptom. Your problem is something else.'


I know, i tend toward pretentiousness at times, if i didn't enjoy it so much i'd probably stop. And sometimes there's just no other way to say it.


I suggest you ask yourself this the next time someone comes to you with a problem: Is this really the problem?


I mean, is this problem that is causing you so much grief REALLY the problem?


Your teenage son/daughter won't tidy their room/come home at an acceptable time.


That's not the problem.


Your husband insists he keeps 'forgetting' to put his shit away.


That's not the problem.


Your boss is constantly taking liberties.


That's not the problem.


And until we get honest with ourselves, acknowledge the real problem and deal with it head on, we'll continue to walk around the bottom of the mountain wondering why we can't get to the top.


In any situation where a problem is being investigated, be very wary if the 'Definition' aspect of the investigation is conspicuously short. Just ask yourself if assumptions are being made and ask: 'Really? Is that actually the problem?' You will be surprised at how often the definition will change upon closer scrutiny.

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