People in management and leadership deal with problems all day long. Plans and projects get started, procedures are written and taught, but things go awry.
Challenges present themselves in so many forms. People problems, supply problems, customer problems, and so on and so on.
A lot of physical and emotional energy gets spent solving problems. For managers, problem solving is a big part of your job description. It can be argued that management is nothing but problem solving. Yet there is one thing that I find curious about most problems.
Usually, the problem is not the problem. The problem is the way we are thinking about the problem.
Yes, our mindset drives so much of our approach to problem solving. Here are a few examples:
- If the problem involves money, does our view about money trip us? (see How Much Is Enough)
- If the problem includes certain people, do we have an attitude about that person or persons?
- If the problem is about a client, do we have a particular view of that client?
In what ways do you hinder your problem solving with your own biases? That’s a tough question. Seeking open, objective opinions about problems can be refreshing.
Recently, I was invited to speak in front of a Houston community group. The event was sponsored by RJ Capital. The purpose of the gathering was to help professionals all across Houston who might be impacted by the downturn in the oil and gas industry i.e. people in career transition.
I don’t know about you, but losing a job is a pretty big problem.
Sure enough, as we entered the Q&A phase and during the lineup after the event, I was fielding specific questions people had about their individual situation. Without exception, I noted that the problem was not the problem. That is, losing a job was not the real problem. The actual problem was the way people were processing the situation mentally, physically, and emotionally.
Some were very upbeat, seizing the moment with excitement, knowing that the transition was an ideal opportunity to go a new direction. Others were, well, devastated. They could not get past limited thinking about their skills and abilities to adapt and adjust to the reality of having to launch a job search.
I did what I could in the limited amount of time that day to encourage people to rethink their responses.
Here are a few simple questions to ask yourself about your approach to problem solving.
- Fear – Is there any amount of fear you might be sensing about the “problem”? Are you afraid that the outcome may be something out of the ordinary? Fear drives us into the fight or flight mode. Coming at a problem from either of those two mindsets cannot be helpful.
Doubt – Are you unsure of your own ability to handle the problem? Doubts create limiting thought. If you can’t see over the next hill, you may be paralyzed in your ability to keep moving forward.
Prejudice – This is a harsh word, especially in today’s social climate. Prejudice doesn’t have to be about race or ethnicity. It can be about a bias. I like the word prejudice to describe this thought because it truly frames the severity of a mindset that cannot solve problems for what they are. Biases cause us to react in fixed ways. Often, problems require new ideas and fresh thinking. Don’t let your
The next time a problem presents itself, ask yourself whether the problem is really the problem. Instead ask “is my way of looking at life the real problem here”?
[reminder]How does your thinking impact your problem solving ability?[/reminder]