The first rule in problem solving is that the solution depends on the definition and therefore success in problem solving depends on the way the problem is defined.
The same logic applies if you want to solve any problem in life. Define the problem one way and it appears insolvable. Define it another way and the solution becomes clear immediately. Define your problem as: I want to solve India’s problem of illiteracy: and you are likely to give up even before you start as the problem is so humungous. Define it as: Can I teach one child to read and can I motivate ten friends to teach one child each: and you will be well on your way to a solution.
However I believe the issue is a bit more fundamental than defining. Even before we begin to define a problem, we need to ask the question, ‘Do I want an excuse or do I want a solution?’ Why do I say that? Well think of this; how many times have you had or overheard a conversation that goes like this:
‘You know, I am very unhappy because my career is going nowhere.’
‘Where do you want your career to go? Have you written down a life goal for yourself? Have you worked out a strategy to reach that goal?’
‘Man!! What’s the use of doing all that? There’s so much discrimination in society. It is only the smooth talkers who get promoted. Sincere people (meaning me of course) are always left behind.’
‘In that case are you taking some action to enhance your presentation and public speaking skills? After all what can be better than a sincere fellow who can also present his ideas powerfully?’
‘Na!! What’s the use of that? I can’t be a smooth talker. It’s just not me. See?’
‘Yes, I do see. But perhaps not what you want me to see. What I see if someone who likes to be miserable and revels in that misery. I see someone who has no intention of solving his problems because they give him so much pleasure. I see someone who is looking for excuses and not solutions. So most welcome to your problems. Please keep them. They are yours. But delete me from your list of people whose shoulders you can cry on. When you are ready to look for solutions, you are welcome. But until then, ‘Goodbye.’
I am sure all of us have either had such a conversation with ourselves when we faced a challenge or overheard such a conversation where typically the focus of the individual seems to be on all the ways their problem is insolvable. So every comment or suggestion of yours is likely to be met with, ‘Yes but!!’ or ‘No but!!’ These two phrases are the clearest indicators of someone who is not interested in solving problems but is looking for ways to maintain the status quo.
That is why I said that the first question to ask yourself when you are faced with a problem is, ‘Do I really want a solution to this?’
Now you may say that I am nit picking because obviously everyone wants to solve problems, so what is the big deal about asking an obvious question. The reality is that many people unconsciously don’t want to solve problems because instinctively they realize that the solution will need effort, may be risky and entail some pain. The familiar pain of the problem is better than the unfamiliar and risky pain of the solution. It can be statistically shown for example that many women actually choose to remain in abusive relationships rather than walking out or filing for divorce or even approaching a counselor for help. Similarly people choose to remain in dead-end jobs but will not make the effort to change their company or career. People will talk about having their own business but will do nothing to actually make that happen. And every time you ask them what happened to their idea of starting their company they will tell you all sorts of stories about the difficulty of getting finance and how the current market is not favorable and so on. Fear of the unknown is the biggest fear for many people and they choose to remain with the pain. So we have the ‘Yes but!!’ and ‘No but!!’ conversations.
Definitions influence solutions. But solutions don’t come to those who want excuses. An ‘excuse focus’ seeks to legitimize your current state and helps you to keep pretending that you are helpless. It fools nobody but you. A ‘solution focus’ faces the reality that your life is in your own hands; that you are as powerful as you want to be and that your problem, no matter how big it may be, can be solved.
Sure, it will need grit, energy, focus, creativity, courage, forbearance,
consistency, strength, patience, vision, strategic thinking…okay, so I will stop. You are scared once again? Let me ask you, ‘How would you like to be described as someone who has grit, energy, focus, creativity, courage, forbearance, consistency, strength, patience, vision, strategic thinking? You’d love it?? Sure?? Then what do you think problem solving does? Whether or not your actual problem is solved, you end up getting all these things anyway. Now how about that? Still interested?
But remember, ‘You have to be looking for solutions, not excuses.’ That is the key.