Tuesday, July 29, 2008

i-TFTD #145: Problem Solving to Problem Dissolving

Problem Solving to Problem Dissolving
Excerpted from an article in Artistic Management newsletter

How do you perceive "Problems" and "Problem Solving"?

For some people a problem is like a "hot potato" that needs to be dropped immediately. For some others, it is little more fragile and precious. For this group of people, solving a problem is like finding the right place and right way to drop it without breaking it. For another set, a problem is like a "piece of muck" on the road that you royally ignore and hurry past towards your desired destination. There is another set of people with warrior-like approach, who treat a problem like a wild animal that needs to be hunted. And, for some who are well-versed with the ways of the "motivational industry" define "problem" as an "opportunity", which sounds great but they  have a tough time trying to figure out whether it really means anything.

Whatever be the analogy used, for most people, a problem is an undesired state of turbulence, and problem-solving is the process of taking you out of this state into a more comfortable situation.

There is a fundamental approach with the whole concept of "problem-solving": it assumes a distinct beginning and end of the existence of a problem—when you "solve" a problem, you expect to reach a state which is more comfortable and happier.

Look back and remember the last time you did a real good job of solving a complex problem in your life. What happened next? Was everything really solved? Did you manage to "happily live ever after"? A problem always brings more problems. When you find that VC to fund your start-up, it spawns off a new set of challenges that are more difficult to face. When you find the customer, it opens up a whole new set of problems (delivery, support, keeping customer happy). No matter what problem you solve, if you really do a good job of solving it, it will definitely bring a newer and bigger set of problems.

Now, consider this.

If you look at problems as a hot potato, you will keep getting bigger and hotter potatoes every time you drop one. How many hot potatoes will you drop?
If you look at problems as a muck to be avoided, you will constantly get bigger and stinkier mucks every time you avoid one. How long will you keep avoiding?
If you look at problems as a hunting experience, you will constantly meet more ferocious beasts. How many beasts can you keep slaying?
If you look at problems as an "opportunity"—well nothing much needs to be said about it.

How about looking at problems in this way:

A problem is a situation that you need to get past in order to encounter bigger, better and more desirable problems.

This approach totally changes the way you look at it. There is no end. There is no avoidance. There is no expectation to be comfortable. There is no "happily live ever after". Your whole aim is to get past the present challenge so that you can experience a bigger, better and more desirable challenge.

There is no "problem-solving" here, but "problem-dissolving". You don't try to fix the present situation, but get past one to reach another one to get through.

All our obsessions to learn "problem-solving" arise from the fact that we perceive problems as a threat, and we need something that will immediately kill the threat before it kills us.

That is the reason for all the stress in the corporate world: We have a totally screwed-up approach towards Problems and Problem-Solving.

We need to move from "Problem Solving" to "Problem Dissolving".

This is not about how to solve problems but how to live life and work. The key is a shift of perspective, the most important aspect of thinking out-of-the-box and generating creative solutions.

One situation where I see this often in my line of work is when someone aspires to a higher role and perceives hurdles in the form of a boss or a policy or nature of assignment. Discussion reveals that the person's perspective is limited to "solving" the problem by working around the hurdle and reaching the goal of getting a different role. And then? What about the preparation for handling the increased responsibilities, meeting the expectations of a new boss, or the other pressures of the new assignment?

Unfortunately, recent research shows that the human mind is almost incapable of conceiving its future state--we are not good at predicting how we would feel in a projected scenario. Many of these studies are described entertainingly in two books I recently read, "Stumbling on Happiness" by Daniel Gilbert and "The Happiness Hypothesis" by Jonathan Haidt.

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