There are five steps to solving a problem and most people don’t manage to take the first one. That’s why they get stuck in the same situation, because they are failing to address and solve their problems.
You see, the first step to solving a problem is to acknowledge that you have the problem in the first place.
Not acknowledge that you have A problem. Acknowledge that you have the specific problem that you face.
We all know that we have problems to solve. Small ones, big ones, critical ones, trivial ones. Whether that’s at a personal level, professional level or for our business or organisation. Most of the time, however, we are running around solving the WRONG problem and that’s why we fail to make the progress we hope for and spend our time spinning our wheels and going nowhere.
It’s not that the problems are hard to see or even difficult to define. It’s mostly that we don’t want to admit that THAT is actually the problem. It’s totally obvious to everyone else but we are either blind to it or completely in denial.
When it’s in our blindspot and we just can’t see it, our response tends to be one of incredulity. “What, me? Have a problem with that? That’s ridiculous!” we laugh.
When we are in denial, it’s likely our response will be irritation or even outright anger and hostility. “What? I don’t do that, that’s not the problem! How dare you say that about me, I never been so offended in my life!!” we rant.
Of course, there are milder variants when it’s a business or an organisation. “Oh no, that doesn’t apply to us, we’re different.” Or “No, you don’t understand, this business (or industry or market or whatever) is unique.” (If I had a pound for every time I’d heard these … well, I wouldn’t be sitting around in my office writing this!)
Why do we do this? It’s because we like to be getting on and solving things, taking action, doing stuff. That’s what we get praised and rewarded for. So we grab at what we think the problem is (normally something we are comfortable admitting is a problem or one that we already know we can solve) and off we run, implementing our elegant solution. It doesn’t work, of course, because it’s solving a problem we don’t actually have, not the one that is really there.
(There’s an advanced form of this that I am particularly prone to, as someone who is a natural problem solver, which is to create problems that don’t exist so that I can show how great I am at solving them.)
Whereas as getting real clarity on what the problem is, well, slow and messy and difficult. We may have to face up to shortcomings that we don’t want to admit to. We may have to acknowledge failures we are trying to ignore. We may have to face a new and uncomfortable reality that we’ve been avoiding for ages. So we skip that bit and get onto the bit we like.
The truth is, we nearly always need some help on this first step. We need a critical friend who will hold a mirror up to us and make us face the reality. We need expert advice from someone who understands the terrain and the issues. We need different perspectives from people who have different backgrounds and worldview to us.
And we need to honest with ourselves and courageous enough to face the world as it is and not how we would like it to be.
It’s painful and difficult but it is necessary and more than worth the effort. Solving THE actual problem is going to stop us endlessly spinning our wheels and actually start moving forward. Until the next problem gets in the way, at least …