How to look at Problems

Every organization I’ve worked for encountered problems and challenges. I am a problem solver. I like to fix things (sometimes to a fault – I really should let others do the fixing). Problems are inherent to decision making processes (see “When Binary Decisions are Elusive”). Problem-solving requires time, effort, and resources. As such, one should feature a bit of pre-work to determine if it’s worth doing. I try and run problem-solving through a three-question framework.

Is this really a problem?

Because it might not be. To answer this overarching question, I need to go deeper.

  • Do I know enough to say this is an actual problem? If not, go learn more. (Note: do this first before all else to save on future pain.)
  • Do many others share this problem? Enough to embrace the change management involved with behavior change?
  • Is this really the problem I should focus on? (I’m thinking of Hattie’s research which highlights all the ways educators spend their energy…and the return that can be expected on a given focus).
  • How are my own biases and experiences elevating this problem? That’s not to say biases and experiences are inherently good or bad. But I should try and be aware of what is affecting my view.

If it really is a problem, does it need to be solved now?

  • What are the tradeoffs with waiting to solve? Every organization has finite resources. Does it make sense to pull those resources into solving the problem at this moment? Or might time itself be a problem solver?
  • Outside perspectives – external teams, leadership teams, mentors, etc – are essential to leverage in answering this question. Groupthink can become a problem.

If it does need to be solved now, what are the consequences?

  • How many resources need to be diverted?
  • Is MORE work being created in solving the problem, or less work?
  • Will solving the problem have unintended consequences?

When long days hit, I try and pull these questions to the front. It helps. A lot.

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