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Do you have a problem?

We have problems.
This is the most often heard statement when I deal with clients.
This statement is then typically followed by a long tirade, this and that thing is not ok, so and so person is a nuisance etc. After listening for quite a while I find that most people still can't define the problem. They do however have a list of frustrations and complaints but not a problem.

What then, can we call a problem?
A problem is something that is stopping you from getting from point 'A' to point 'B'. (Points ‘A’ & ‘B’ could be anything. Maybe physical, financial or other targets, situations, a geographical location etc.)
This presupposes that;

  1. You know where you are

  2. You know where you want to get to

  3. You have an idea what is blocking you from getting there or what is obstructing you.

If you do not know where you are at this present time, nor where you want to go and what is obstructing you, then you certainly do not have a problem.

Most people and organisations are purely reactive in nature. They have little or no clue where they themselves are. Since they react rather than respond, they have limited or no plans of where they want to go and how to get there. So any and every issue, frustration can be classified by them as a ‘problem’.

Sometimes organisations and people do know what they want, but are not still unable to define the problem. They can't put their finger in what is the obstacle that is preventing them, from getting from point 'A' to point 'B'.

That is why philosophers and scientists, place immense value on framing the question or in words defining the problem correctly. Once defined it is easier to resolve the problem.

To resolve problems we need several things;
  • The right mental attitude.
  • Correctly defining the problem or challenge.
  • Implementing the decision.

It is believed that the greatest challenges of our life are resolved in our minds. Once we have resolved them in our minds we can implement them in life. Of course there is the sticky matter of external factors and other people and they have to be tackled. A good mental attitude is a must, a losing attitude never won any challenge.
“Success or failure in business is caused more by the mental attitude even than by mental capacities.” said Sir Walter Scott.

Long ago as a student I learnt and practiced throughout a very good approach which never failed.
(SREDDIM) Select, record, examine, develop, define and maintain.

  1. Select the problem: That is define what exactly is the problem, what are we trying to achieve.
  2. Record the facts: That is observe and list down all the facts (not perceptions). Very often people arrive at a conclusion before the facts are examined. It is essential that the facts be obtained and recorded, even if on a piece of paper.
  3. Examine the facts: Study the facts that have been recorded, and examine what you have recorded. Look for trends etc, examine likely root causes of the issues.
  4. Develop a solution: This involves determining the 5W & 1H. What, where who, when, why and what and how of the decision implementation which will lead to resolution of the problem. If you have many stakeholders involved in the solution then you need to get them to concur with the developed solution. If you fail to convince or carry other stakeholders or team members , they won’t play ball and even the best solution can fail. By doing this you have widened the ownership of the solution and therefore likely to be universally accepted.
  5. Define the solution: The same thing can mean different things to different people. It is therefore necessary to define the solution so that no matter which way people look at it, it should mean the same thing. This brings everyone onto the same page, now and in the future.
  6. Implement the solution: If you have carried out previous stages properly, this stage can be quite easy, as if implementing a master plan which unfolds. However it is here at this stage where egos and territory can be stepped on by mistake and can derail a good solution. The 5W & 1H come into play and the problem should be resolved.
  7. Maintain the solution: If the solution is not maintained , be sure that in time the situation will relapse and the problems will resurface. Good management is involved not only in resolving problems but eliminating the causes of the problem from the very root, so that they never occur again. This may mean an audit or follow through of what was done, and to be routinely be done has to be checked from time to time. Failure to maintain a solution means that often people find themselves taking two steps forward only to take two steps back after some time, thus depriving people and organisations of any lasting progress.
    Remember, "what is not audited is not done."

Implementing solutions is another exercise which I hope to cover in another post, to avoid making this article unnecessarily long.

It may take some time but you are unlikely to visit the problem twice. This approach may be text bookish, but that is what education is about. To distil the collective wisdom of many people and present it to others so that they may benefit from that wisdom.

Photo by Tambako the Jaguar


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