The Problem with Problem Solving
Solving a problem works well when you need specific information. If your computer isn’t working, you need concrete information about how to get it working again. If you have the wrong address for an appointment, that’s a problem. You need the correct address.
Life and relationships are far more complex, however, than just fixing your computer or finding a new street address. When it comes to how you relate to yourself, your life experience, and to others, approaching what you want to create as a problem to fix will end up creating more problems. The unintended consequences of being a great problem solver can be very subtle.
To illustrate, think of a time when you were immersed into a problem. Let’s say it was a project at work that went sideways, and you and several co-workers were talking about how to fix it. Most conversations start with describing what’s wrong and looking at what happened.
When conversations start with debriefing the past, the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT) can arise very quickly. When in the Persecutor and Victim role you might say, “We didn’t have a big enough budget,” “Management didn’t support us,” or “We have too much on our plate.” As a Rescuer you may agree to take on more work and offer several ideas about how they can do more to make everything more successful next time.
Such an approach to problems is rooted in the Victim Orientation because everyone feels victimized by the problem. It is also focused on what’s happened in the past and trying to rearrange history which of course is impossible. Such rearranging usually starts with, “if only we (or they) would have…”
The difficulty though, is without identifying and clarifying the outcome you and the group want to create, just revisiting the past problem will cause the problem to expand. Why? Because what you focus on expands. It is easy to stay mired in a problem-focused conversation because the ego likes to stick with what it knows.
Focusing on the outcome means you must declare a future which hasn’t been created yet.
This is where your ego gets nervous because it doesn’t like the idea of an uncertain future, so it fools you into thinking that if you relive the past, you will have a known scenario.
To clarify your desired outcomes, the focus must be toward the future and what you want to create. This change in mindset will guide you toward the Creator Orientation.
You really can’t focus on the future and relive the past at the same time. Your brain just doesn’t work that way. Pointed toward the future, you are giving yourself a chance to notice relevant information that supports what you want to create.
After you declare and describe what you want, now you and your co-workers can return to the conversation about the problem and ask different questions such as:
- What is working that helps us get closer to what we have declared as our outcome…what do we want to create?
- What can we do more of to build upon what is working?
- What problems do we need to address that are inhibiting progress toward our desired outcome?
While holding the future in mind and as a guidepost, you tell the truth about current reality through the above questions. You also can apply good, solid problem-solving tools to the inhibiting problems, once the outcome is clear. This gets everyone on the same path focusing on what matters most. Not every problem needs to be addressed—only those that will get you and the team closer to the desired outcome.
When you hold your focus toward what you want, new information often comes forward, sometimes almost magically. “Coincidences” or “synchronicity” happen as you take forward Baby Steps and shift your attention to the future and new possibilities.