What’s Your Problem?

quote: half the solution to any problem lies in defining it

Eons ago, I worked with a woman who periodically stopped into my office to declare, “We need a new system.”

“What’s the problem?” I would ask.

“We need a new system.”

Since I was Systems Manager, she was asking the right person, but from my point of view, she was asking the wrong question. Or rather, she was requesting a solution and seemed unable to tell me the problem it was supposed to solve. When I would tell her that we could certainly look at options for new systems, but we would first need to know WHY the current system was inadequate, her eyes would glaze over and she’d wander away. A few months later, she’d wander back in, “We need a new system.”

Clearly I wasn’t explaining myself well. How I wish I’d had this quote from Dr. Phil (I think he was an unknown at the time) to help smooth the way to a better process for her team and the company.

How I wish I’d had this quote to help ME become a better ME. Or that I’d connected the dots and realized that the same principles I used in project management would work in life management.

Instead, I spent most of my adult life chasing the wrong solutions because I never defined the problem correctly…FOR ME. “I want to be thin” is a wish. It’s not a problem. (It’s also not a possibility, but that’s a post for another day. LOL)

“I’m overweight” or “I eat too much X” or “I don’t get enough exercise” are problems. Well, they were problems. When I defined the problems correctly, I was able to define concrete paths to address them. That’s not to say they weren’t (and aren’t) a little crooked now and then or have a patch of gravel here and there. And that’s okay, because part of problem solving is evaluating results and reassessing the situation. For me, wishes can’t really be evaluated. They either come true or they don’t.

I suspect I’m muddling these thoughts just like I apparently muddled the “we need a new system” response. I can see your eyes glazing over. :) What I’m trying to do is suggest that a little time spent thinking things over and making sure you’re working on the right problem–or even a solvable problem–might save you time, effort, and frustration.

Back to the case of the new system and why I kept insisting we look at the situation and define the actual problem. The system in question was old, true enough, but the time, effort, and frustration with it wasn’t in the system itself but in the data being reported from the field. We could have spent hundreds of hours and many thousands of dollars creating a shiny new system, but unless they cleaned up the reporting issues, the problems would still be there.

Kind of like the way I used to spend my dollars and energies chasing solutions to wishes. :)

Have you defined YOUR problem(s)?

Image credit: Public domain photos on Pixabay.com

20 thoughts on “What’s Your Problem?

  1. Wowza, girl…that was a short, in-my-face post (in a good way). You’re right. Wishes don’t define problems. Are you sure you don’t have my house bugged?

  2. I love this – going to first try and apply it to myself but I’m also going to teach my boys!! I think we spend lots of precious time trying to fix something without ever having a clearly defined problem.
    Thanks for sharing!!!

    • LOL One of my favorite hobbies is trying to finagle the solutions. That’s how I came up with Cake Day (which is currently Ice Cream Day.)

  3. I just had this conversation with a friend today. Too long to try to explain it. I’ll just say I completely agree with you, and obviously you said it better than I could LOL.

  4. I am going to have to sit down and write a list of my “problems” in order to come up with concrete solutions that will ultimately give tangible results. Thank you for this post – I needed it today!

  5. This is really relevant to me right now… for the past 4 months or so, I’ve been battling about an 8 lb gain over my 4-year-maintained “happy weight.” I muddled and frustrated over this gain, without really being able to do anything about it, until last week I sat down, determined to figure it out. Going over my habits, I had the ‘AHA!’ moment… My workouts, while remaining consistent in frequency, had dropped dramatically in intensity. I defined the real problem, and now I’m on my way to tackling it. Knowing the real issue has saved me a lot of frustration!

    • LOL I had a similar revelation a few weeks ago, Colleen! I continue strength training 3 days a week, but for shorter periods than I did in the past. That’s fine, but it occurred to me that that meant I didn’t need to “save” quite so much for the end of the workout, so I upped the amount of weight I’m lifting. :)

  6. Thankfully, yes! And unlike your co-worker, I’m well aware that no new system is needed. Not only do I know the solution, I have the skills needed to implement the solution. And the past success to know that it works. Sometimes, I forget and BECOME the problem, but the turnaround time seems to be coming more quickly and easily! I have lots of friends to thank for that. One of them lives in Memphis!

  7. Loved reading this. And I love Dr. Phil’s willingness to cut to the problem! Wishing gets us absolutely nowhere!

    I come from a healthcare background, instead of systems, so tend to evaluate problems in terms of “symptoms” v. “causes.” I’ve learned to dig deep to get to the cause. For years and years I focused on my excess weight and got nowhere because weight is just a “symptom.” It was only by digging deeper to the root cause of the weight that I finally got traction. Weight wasn’t my problem. Eating TOO MUCH was my problem. When I addressed Why I ate too much it all finally fell into place.

  8. Love that quote and your explanation of how to define the problem and then find the correct solution. Brilliant!

  9. It almost seems obvious in hindsight, but you’re so right – clearly defining the problem is half the battle of finding the solution. Thanks for sharing – I really enjoy reading your blog!

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