It's Not a Problem, It's a Puzzle – and You're Not Even Trying to Solve It

January 18, 2018
01_18_Its Not A Problem It’s a Puzzle

When you are faced with a challenge – whether it’s a new, high-priority project when you’re already feeling overworked or a problem that seems insurmountable, such as raised goals without an increase in resources – how do you react? Do you panic? Push back?

The problem with these responses is that they are emotional. And once those emotions get going, it’s really, really hard to get off that track.

The problem is that you’re thinking of it as a problem.

Here’s the thing. There’s always a solution. But instead of treating it as a problem, you need to think of it as a puzzle. A brainteaser. When someone presents you with a puzzle, you know there is a solution, you just don’t know what it is yet – but with a little creative thinking, you’ll arrive at it.

Albert Einstein said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” Most people don’t spend any time at all thinking about the problem, let alone trying to find solutions.

So instead of indulging in the corporate equivalent of fight or flight, force your intellect to take over. Think about what you are being asked to do. Don’t take the challenge at face value – really think about it. Break it down. Understand the components. What are the external drivers? What are the politics involved? What is “non-negotiable” in terms of deliverables and results? Where is there wiggle room or opportunities for shortcuts that won’t have significant impact in the final result? Are there other projects or programs that can be re-jiggered or re-prioritized to open up time, resources, etc. for this new one? And these are just the general questions that can be applied to just about any problem – there will be others that are specific to the challenge at hand. By trying on these different “lenses” with which to view the problem, you will find clues to help you solve it.

Once you start doing this, you’ll find that you can be way more productive than you ever thought possible. And the more you do this, the better you’ll get at it. You even start applying this approach to your work in general, which helps you work more efficiently and get better ideas – which leads to better results overall. I know this, because it happened to me.

Of course, there are insurmountable problems. And when I wrote that there’s always a solution, I was tempted to add the word “almost.” But I deliberately left it out. Because “almost” gives us an easy out. It allows us to say, oh well, I tried, but this is just one of those times. And 99 times out of 100 we’d be wrong.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.

Instead of indulging in the corporate equivalent of fight or flight, force your intellect to take over.

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