What do you do with a problem?

Updated: May 7

When faced with a challenge the common tendency is to make your best to focus on it, to repeat it over and over again, write is down etc. Is this struggle the best way to solve a problem?

National Geographic reckons in “What Makes a Genius?”: “the aha moment, the flash of clarity that arises at unexpected times—in a dream, in the shower, on a walk—often emerges after a period of contemplation. Information comes in consciously, but the problem is processed unconsciously, the resulting solution leaping out when the mind least expects it. “Great ideas don’t tend to come when you’re narrowly focusing on them,” says Kaufman.””

To put it differently, although we are usually good at formulating problems, solutions come best when we build on our intuitive thinking, also known as unconscious. For this to happen, one needs to present the problem in a way that invites contemplation.

First, make sure you frame the issue at hand by focusing on the desired outcome. At the same time, restate all problems as questions. That is, establish what you want to obtain rather than what you are trying to avoid and move away from statements that might shut down your creative thinking.

It might not seem like a big difference but it will change where your main focus is. To exemplify consider the difference between "The others competitors are much bigger than us. We can't compete with them" or "Competition is high" with questions such as "How can we increase our market share?" or "How can we withstand competition better".

In NLP it is reckoned that “where attention goes, energy flows". Maybe you've had the experience of trying to solve something in a way that you knew should work and as you were obsessing over it you completely ignored all the other alternative ways (children are good at given us lessons like these).

Reframing is enough to fire up your neurology in very different ways. From what I found, identifying the first question will indeed lead you to other questions which then can help you in addressing the problem. In other words, this simple exercise moves you away from the problem space into solution space. It takes your head out of the problem, frees up your thinking etc.

Other step towards problem resolution are:

  1. Whenever possible, turn nouns into verbs. For instance instead of “Competition is high” one can say “There are many players competing on this market”. In doing this simple rephrasing one recognizes that he/she is not dealing with a static situation; the problem is restated as a process and this is indirectly implying that one might be able to intervene…there might be options available.

  2. Look for exceptions or counter examples.

  3. Break the problem into pieces (chunk down) or generalize it (chunking up). When chunking down ask questions such as “What does this imply?”, “How do you know it?”, “What caused this to happen?”. To chunk up, you can ask “What is this an example of?”, “What’s the purpose here?”, “What is this relating to?”. Generally, I prefer chunking up first, to see the bigger picture and be able to tackle it from an alternative angle.

  4. Another critical point is adopting the presumption that you can act on this problem. That is, even when external factors seem to be at work we have to strive to adopt the assumption that we have options available. In most cases we can bring strong arguments to support the problem and yet it’s best to keep in mind this insightful quote “you can have excuses or you can have results, not both”.

Overall, there are different practical ways that we can put to use to flex our mind and direct our energy towards finding a solution. These are ways that empower us, prevent excuse making and stir us towards a creative mindset. Indeed, as you are consciously working to reframe the problem you will be unconsciously priming your neurology and you shouldn’t be surprised when new ideas will come to mind. To put it blankly, our conscious is the goal setter and the unconscious is the goal getter; make them work together.


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