What's Your Problem?
You can’t craft good solutions until you completely and correctly pinpoint your problem. Solving something (anything!) is a thinking trap that makes us feel productive when, in fact, we are choosing counterproductive activities that dodge the real problem and make things worse.
In our hurry-up world, we often make hasty decisions and move on without even realizing that the real problem hasn't really been addressed. Unresolved issues and lurking problems have a nasty way of getting worse. So taking time to assess the situation and find the root cause of a problem is time well spent.
Here’s a personal example. Last summer, I realized that most of my clothes were getting a little too tight. I solved the problem by going out and buying some new clothes. Problem solved, right?
But it wasn’t the real problem, the root cause, that I addressed. Until I acknowledged the real problem and dealt with it, the real problem continued to grow (and so did I!).
Consider the tragic example that came out of the Sandusky scandal at Penn State. Numerous people were involved in trying to solve a problem, but it was the wrong problem. They focused on keeping the school’s image and sports program looking good, ignoring the real problem that grew to include many children being abused. Had the first person who witnessed this or heard about it focused on the real need – protecting children – many victims would have been spared.
All “Band-aid solutions” focus on symptoms rather than on core issues. Superficial fixes may be expedient and momentarily satisfying, but they only delay the inevitable. Someday, the real problem will have to handled. The best solutions are not necessarily the fastest. They are the ones that make the problem disappear – not just the inconvenient reminders of the problem, but the actual problem itself.
Tackling a tough situation is never easy. That may be one reason why we opt instead for the easy outs. We fool ourselves into believing that the Band-aid will adequately substitute for the tourniquet that’s really needed. At least, we say to ourselves, we did something.
To truly handle a problem, you have to first identify it. Name it. Two questions will slow you down and help you get clarity. Ask yourself:
- Will solving THIS problem have an impact or result worthy of my time & effort?
- If I solve THIS problem, what will the domino effect be? Will I cause other problems?
There is absolutely no value in being an expedient problem solver if the problems you are solving only deal with surface-level issues. But you may have been recognized, rewarded, lauded, promoted, or complimented for your quickness in the past. If you have, that may cause you to think you can always operate in this mode – jumping in to offer unsolicited solutions, for instance. Trading in that superhero cape for one that is not initially viewed with as much esteem may be a challenge.
The real value comes when someone pauses just long enough to peel back all the layers and declare the real problem. What a relief that is! Declaring the real problem enables you to cast off the albatross around your neck, take the 800-pound gorilla out of the room, and slay the sacred cows. When we dance around those problems that need to be addressed but get set aside over and over again, we diminish our own value to the people who rely on us for real solutions. Every time we slap a Band-aid on, we offer a false sense of hope. Eventually, that can compromise your credibility and your effectiveness.
Instead of quick fixes and solutions that amount to “sweeping it under the rug,” press yourself to work a little harder. Ask yourself those questions above and then ask others the same questions. If you are dealing with a recurring problem, this is particularly important. You need to stop wasting your time on stop gap solutions and get directly to the underlying problem.
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