Why you should focus on your problems

by | September 16, 2013

What is the toughest problem you face personally or professionally that, if solved, would have the greatest positive impact on your life?

First of all, if you don’t have an immediate answer to that question, that is your problem. The first step of progression is to define reality.

Furthermore, you can’t know your problems until you know your purpose. Problems are a function of purpose — by definition, they are impediments to a goal.

If you don’t know what you’re trying to make happen, how can you possibly know what’s hindering your progress?

Do you know your purpose? Without a purpose, there are no problems. A man lounging on a couch cannot stumble over blocks — nor can he climb any stepping stones.

Now, if you do know your problem (and your purpose), consider this profound perspective from Dan Sullivan, author and founder of Strategic Coach:

The problem is never the problem; the problem is that you don’t know how to think about the problem.”

Leonardo da Vinci, one of the most brilliant men and prolific artists and inventors the world has ever known, had a motto that fueled his genius: sapere vedere, meaning “to know how to see.”

Fellow genius Albert Einstein added,

If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on it, I would use the first fifty-five minutes to formulate the right question because as soon as I have identified the right question I can solve the problem in less than five minutes.”

The fastest way to find solutions is to learn how to see and define your problems by asking the right questions.

The most valuable skill possessed by the world’s greatest innovators is that they are masters of asking the right questions.

The first step in this process is to analyze whether you’re defining your problem as a victim or as a victor.

For example, in Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Robert Kiyosaki teaches that poor people define their problem as, “I can’t afford this.” Rich people ask, “How can I afford this?”

In his book, Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius, creativity expert Michael Michalko points out, “What if the paralyzed man who invented the motorized cart had defined his problem as ‘How can I occupy my time while lying in bed?’ rather than ‘How can I get out of bed and move around the house?'”

Victim Problem Definition Victor Problem Definition
My boss won’t let me contribute more to the team. I haven’t demonstrated to my boss how I can create more value.
My teenage son won’t listen to me. I haven’t been a loving and effective communicator to my son.
The poor economy has slowed my sales. I haven’t convinced prospects that we’re a better option than our competitors.

By defining your problem as a victor, you’ve empowered yourself to find solutions within your sphere of control.

Once you’ve done that, analyze the problem by asking questions.

  • Why are sales down?
  • Why do I want to increase sales?
  • In what ways can we effectively demonstrate the superiority of our product to prospects?
  • Do we know what our customers really want? Does our product solve the right problem for them?

The better questions you ask, the more viable your solutions.

We’ve been taught by well-intentioned people to focus not on our problems, but on solutions. The problem with this philosophy is that we can’t find groundbreaking solutions until we’ve accurately defined the problem.

So what’s your problem? Are you certain you’ve defined it accurately? What questions can you ask to understand it better and define it more clearly?

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