How Do You Get Started When Thinking About A Problem?


Tuesday, 9.20pm

Sheffield, U.K.

If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire, then you got a problem. Everything else is inconvenience. – Robert Fulghum

I think I wrote something a while back about experiencing a block when trying to think about a business problem.

This particular one had something to do with organisation structure.

When you look at how organisations are structured you find that you can classify them in different ways.

For example, you could look at them as highly centralised, silos, networks and so on.

So, you’ve given the organisation structure a name – now what?

That was the problem I came up against – saying you think something is something simply says you think A = A.

It says nothing more about whether A is good or bad or what you should do to make A better.

It’s like being frustrated by someone and swearing at them.

It doesn’t really change anything about the situation at all.

The point is that we’re in the vicinity of a problematic situation and how we think about it is going to affect what we do next.

For example, say you’re married and have children you probably face quite a few problematic situations.

You’ve got the situation in the morning, getting everyone ready and fed and off to school and work.

You’ve got the situation around homework and the balance between letting kids play, spend time on screens and getting enough sleep.

Problematic situations often overlap with other problematic situations.

Your employers may want you in the office at the same time that you need to help with getting the kids to and from school.

Then, of course, you have any number of problematic situations at work.

These range from getting sales numbers up to recruitment and retention, keeping clients happy to getting new equipment for the office.

On the whole we just get on with these situations – many of them can be solved with planning, preparation and some shouting.

But others can’t.

Especially ones that involve more people, more situations, more moving parts.

At this point, you’ve got to figure out where you are on the map in relation to the problematic situation.

Are you in the middle of it, enveloped by it and flailing about?

Are you outside, looking on with interest but without involvement, feeling or fear?

For example, let’s say your company has set sales targets.

Is that something that affects you personally?

You’re worried about what you’ll miss out on if you don’t hit the numbers, excited by what you could get if you do?

Or is sales something someone else does while you get on with the job in front of you?

Or are you a consultant, desperate to get involved and show how clever you are?

Well, from my experience, when you’re on the outside your experience isn’t worth as much as you might think.

That’s because the models you have – the sales boards, targets, mission statements, CRM systems and all the other tools you’ve used successfully are the kinds of tools others know about as well.

On the other hand, when you’re inside the organisation you might not know as much as you think you do.

That’s because you only have the one experience – perhaps a few others – but in the main the one you’re having right now.

And it’s hard to step back from that experience because you see what is going on so clearly – you see the people and the politics and the culture all working together. Not working well, perhaps, but working nonetheless.

So, to change things you need to move closer to the edge from wherever you are.

If you’re too close you need to step back so you can start to see the bigger picture.

If you’re too far away you need to step closer to see the detail.

You’ve both got to take some steps on the road.

The further apart you are the bigger the difference in what you’re seeing – in your points of view.

You’ve got to get closer and so the first job for anyone trying to work together to improve a problematic situation is to get to a point where you’re both looking at roughly the same thing in roughly the same way.

And then you can make a start at talking about the problem.


Karthik Suresh

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