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Don’t find problems and then stop

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Don’t find problems and then stop

Scott Miker

Everyone is different.  We all have varying experiences and beliefs that make us who we are.  We are each unique and add value in our own way.

But this doesn’t mean that there aren’t common patterns.  In fact, many of us probably see recurring behaviors by different people and see the similarity in each person’s approach. 

While we are different and can use our unique experiences and knowledge to attack life in our own way, many times we fall into the same pattern when it comes to problem solving.  Instead of every person handling problems differently, I have experienced a few different models of thought and behavior around problems. 

In The Happiness Advantage, The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fueled Success and Performance at Work, author Shawn Achor states, “While there are always different ways to see something, not all ways of seeing are equal.”

I have experienced this first-hand in various management roles that I have held over the years. 


Business example

Whenever problems arise, some employees seem to be able to think through the problem before they come to me with it.  Some just find a problem and immediately stop.  Some see a problem and immediately jump to a half-thought-out solution. 

This might not seem like a big difference but it is.  Imagine being at work and being approached by an employee.  She comes into your office to tell you that a customer called and is upset because they want a variation on a product you offer. 

Approach 1 – She comes in and says, “Customer X called and wants us to give them Product A but with an additional element that we don’t have packaged together currently.  What do you want me to do?

Approach 2 – She comes in and says, “Customer X called and wants us to give them Product A but with an additional element that we don’t have packaged together currently.  I told the product development team to start working on this new idea and told the customer that we will do it.”

Approach 3 – She comes in and says, “Customer X called and wants us to give them Product A but with an additional element that we don’t have packaged together currently.  I did some research and talked to the product manager who said that they did something similar in the past and could do that again, but would require a small fee to Customer X and would need you to sign off on it.  Before I reach back out to the customer to see if they would be interested, what do you think?”

It might not seem like the three approaches are that different.  The reality is that my response to the problem might probably be similar to any of those situations.  I would ask follow up questions to get more insight into the problem and potential solution. 

But Approach 1 does nothing other than surface a problem.  Approach 2 shoots right to a solution without adequately understanding the problem and the various systems involved.  Approach 3 shows that the individual thought through the problem and tried to find a way to overcome the obstacle and is using me to confirm or adjust her thinking on the issue. 


What does this mean?

For me, I tend to value employees like the woman using Approach 3.  In today’s busy business environment, we can’t just bring every problem that comes up to managers.  Managers who expect this approach by their staff tend to get overwhelmed because they are always working through problems.

If we train our staff to spend a minute to think through the problem, many times they can come up with the right solution.  As long as they don’t just jump to a conclusion before really think it through, this can be a great way to help develop problem-solving skills throughout the organization.

If you find yourself as an associate desiring a leadership position, I recommend taking approach 3.  Doing this will start to build trust and you will start to see the problem-solving approaches that work and those that don’t.  Instead of putting your hands up at the sight of a problem or immediately coming to a conclusion before assessing the full systems involved, we can start to build the necessary skills to succeed at the next level. 

While there may be a few people that naturally gravitate to using Approach 3, the reality is that most do not.  So we need to find a way to adjust our reaction to problems so that we can better come up with potential solutions. 


Beyond the business environment

While this can be helpful insight for someone’s career and in a business situation, I feel there is even more benefit to using this in your personal life. 

If you come to an obstacle, what do you do?  Some people just stop.  Usually this ends up turning into a situation where the individual plays the victim.  They say something unfortunate happened to them instead of seeing that they still decide their response.

If you find yourself doing this often, next time it happens stop and think before throwing up your hands and quitting.  Think about the system involved and how the various elements are interacting to create the problem you face.  Then work through ways that could potentially alleviate the problem.   

If you are the person that faces a problem and needs an immediate way to proceed, realize that many times this type of immediacy is harmful instead of helpful.  When I read books written by experienced military personnel I am always surprised that even in those life and death situations, they pause to determine the best way to proceed.  If there is ever a time that seems to fit with “just react don’t think” I would assume it would be in those fast-paced, extreme times when quick reactions are necessary to survive.  I find that these examples are great because they don’t recommend stopping and thinking through the problem for hours, usually it is just a few seconds or minutes to realign with their mission and make sure they make good decisions under this intense pressure.

Instead of relying on quitting or coming to an immediate response without thinking the solution through, start to pause and evaluate the situation.  There is a calming effect because the focus isn’t on the problem as much as it shifts to being on potential solutions.  This can be helpful in business situations as much as it can be helpful in our personal problems and challenges.