The Power of Problems

We live in a solutions-oriented world. In terms of work culture, we are taught to always come prepared with answers — not problems. I don’t know how many bosses I’ve had who have preached this mantra. And coming with answers has helped me; it has driven my career. It is a psychology that often drives change. But in being so singularly focused, we sometimes miss clear opportunities. We are often so “heads down” on the answer that we forget what we are answering. This situation can be in some ways paralleled with the differences between Eastern and Western medicine. Both practices have their benefits, but if you look at both at a macro level, there is a fundamental philosophical difference. While Eastern medicine aims to identify the root problem, Western medicine often aims to get to a resolution as soon as possible — treat the symptom.

One of the many ways this bent comes to life is in how we approach briefs and the task at hand. Many times, the ask does not address a fundamental business or human problem; the focus is often on addressing a “symptom.” Over the course of the last few years, one notorious task was hitting 1 million fans. Our clients were begging us to help them arrive at this random number. As practitioners who have read enough literature on the growth of social networks, we all jumped at the opportunity to treat this symptom, but why? What root problem were we trying to address? Why 1 million? None of these fundamental questions were ever addressed.

Einstein once famously said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I would spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” This is some of the best advice I’ve ever heard. Sometimes we just want that headache to go away. But how do we refocus and be a more problem-orientated culture?

Spend Time on the Problem

In a solutions-oriented space, time is spent and invested on the back end. Our project plans are aligned to resolutions not contemplation. We throw talent and resources at the end result. Our resourcing is therefore not front-weighted to challenge the brief. And when the brief is challenged, we often are not receptive to a redefinition of the issue.

Don’t Just Challenge the Answer, Challenge the Question

Are we asking the right questions for our business? Are the questions we are asking fundamental to shifting our business, or are they simply vanity problems? Was the problem defined by true insight or just the HiPPO (highest paid person’s opinion)? Asking the right questions means the difference between asking for 1 million fans and asking how a community built around your brand will help to support the growth of the business.

Research the Issues

Research often begins with the need to arrive at a solution. Rarely does it start with the need to define a clearer problem. One of the highlights of my career was when a client opened up a budget to explore new issues. The way we had positioned the problem from the perspective of the consumer completely redirected the way they saw the path to pursuing a solution. Understanding not just the perceived issue, but also the fundamental business – or human problem – helped us to redirect the strategy and ultimately recolored our solution. These redirects can get you better results faster.

Ensure That You Are Solving a True Human Need

Often problems start with a necessary business impact rooted in sales. We as business owners are constantly looking at the goal we are trying to reach. But one step above that is a human interaction. Your customer still needs to think, feel, and do something before you can arrive at that transaction. Are you solving for their issues? Does the problem you are looking to fix ultimately align with and consider the human element?

In today’s world we are so quick to solve. We need to take the time to breathe and rethink the problems we are aiming to solve. Only then can we know if we truly see the power of problems.

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Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.