It’s easier to find the solution when you know there is one

Let’s say you have a problem with your marketing. You’re running an ad, for example, but not getting any response. You’ve studied the ad and thought about how you could “fix” it, but you don’t have a clue. You’re not sure if fixing it is even possible.

You come to me for advice. I look at the ad and immediately spot the problem. I tell you the solution is simple, but instead of telling you what it is, I say, “keep looking at the ad and you’ll find it.

You go back to studying the ad, and guess what? You find the problem and fix it. “It was obvious,” you say. “I don’t know how I missed it!”

What just happened? What happened is that when you first looked at the ad, you didn’t know there was a solution. Sure enough, you didn’t find one. When I told you I saw the problem and it was an easy fix, you were able to find the solution. . . because you knew there was one.

There’s probably a psychological principle at play here, but we don’t need to know what it is to know that this kind of thing happens all the time.

The other day I was playing “Words with Friends” against the computer (“Solo Play”). I almost always beat the computer and I realized that it’s probably programmed that way because if it beat you all the time, you would probably stop playing. So the computer gives you the tiles you need and/or plays words that open up spots for you to enable you to make high-score plays.

The other day I had an opening to make a triple-word score. I looked at my tiles but couldn’t find any words to fill the spot. Against a human opponent, I might have given up and tried something else. But knowing that the computer had probably given me the tiles I needed to find a word for that spot, I kept looking.

And I found it. I don’t know how I missed it.

When you know there’s a solution to a problem, you keep looking for it. You expect to find it and you often do. Even though the problem may seem insurmountable at first, when you know there is a solution, you keep at it.

How can we use this in our everyday problem solving? Should we always assume there is a solution, even if there is no evidence that one exists?

Perhaps not. Life is complicated and not every problem has an accessible solution. An ad that’s not working may not have a simple fix, no matter how much we assume that it does.

What we can do, however, is ask ourselves, “What if?” “What if there were an easy fix? What might it be?” In other words, while you shouldn’t always assume that there is any easy solution, you shouldn’t always assume that there isn’t.

Put the problem aside for awhile and come back to it with fresh eyes. Assume that there is an solution and see if you can find it.

You might not find an easy solution, but you’ve got a better chance of finding one than if you assume one doesn’t exist.

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Solve problems by asking “why?”

Toddlers are experts at asking “why?” Why do I have to go to bed? Why can’t I have ice cream? Why are you and daddy wrestling with your clothes off?

They ask why so they can better understand the world around them. When they get an answer they don’t like or don’t understand, they ask why again.

Adults also ask why. But unlike our little tykes, we often accept the first answer and fail to dig deeper.

If you realize that you’re not going to have enough money to pay all of your bills this month, for example, and you ask yourself why, you might look at your accounts receivable and solve your problem by sending out “late” notices to clients who owe you money.

That might be a good idea, and it might solve the immediate problem, but it doesn’t help you to get to the root problem.

So next month, you might again have a shortage of cash.

Asking “why” you have a problem helps you find the solution, but asking once may not be enough, as this post explains.

In Japanese, Kaizen roughly translates to “continuous improvement”. One of the discipline’s techniques for problem solving is to ask “why” 5 times. This helps you find the root problem.

Here’s how you might apply this to your money problem:

  1. Why don’t you have enough money to cover this month’s bills? Because I don’t have enough clients.
  2. Why don’t you have enough clients? Because I don’t do enough marketing.
  3. Why don’t you do enough marketing? Because I’m not good at it.
  4. Why aren’t you good at marketing? Because I haven’t found enough strategies that I am comfortable using.
  5. Why haven’t you found enough strategies? Because I haven’t spent enough time learning about the available options or how to use them.

The root of your money problem, and the solution thereto, is thus revealed.

If you stop asking “why” after your first answer (not enough clients), you may not discover a solution other than sending out late notices. If you stop after your answer to the third “why,” (you’re not good at marketing) you might conclude that things are hopeless for you in this department and give up.

Ask why 5 times and see where it takes you.

Why? Because I said so. Now go play with your toys. Mommy and Daddy are busy.

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Sometimes, the best way to handle a problem is to ignore it

You’ve got a problem and you’re searching for a solution. Or you know what to do but don’t have time to do it.

Fear not. Sometimes, the best way to handle a problem is to ignore it.

The problem may go away by itself. Or turn out to cause damages that are relatively minor. Or manageable. Or covered by insurance.

It’s all relative, isn’t it?

Some problems are big and hairy. Others, not so much.

Before you start looking for solutions to a problem, make sure the problem is something that truly needs fixing.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Why is this a problem?
  • What are the benefits of fixing the problem?
  • What’s the worst that can happen if I don’t fix it?
  • If the worst case scenario occurs, can I afford the consequences?
  • What are the costs of fixing the problem?
  • Can I ignore the problem for now and fix it later?
  • Can I fix part of the problem now and fix the rest later (or ignore the rest)?
  • Can I delegate some or all of work needed to fix the problem?

You may find that the problem isn’t as bad as you thought. You may conclude that your time is better spent fixing a different problem, or tackling an opportunity that promises bigger benefits.

You don’t have to fix every problem. Sometimes, the best way to handle a problem is to ignore it.

Removing the obstacles to success

Instant manifestation. You think it and it appears. You write it down and it becomes reality. Sound good? Actually, it would be a nightmare. Your life would be a jumble of confusing and conflicting thoughts and you would be continually fixing mistakes and apologizing for transgressions.

Thankfully, there is a buffer of time between first thought and manifestation that protects us and keeps us sane. We want something, we think about how to get it, and then we do the work. It takes time and reason and effort to get from first thought to fruition.

And it’s a messy process. There are lots of failed attempts, unsolved problems, and abandoned ideas along the way. That’s part of the buffer, too. These obstacles help us clarify our objectives and ultimately, get better results.

But sometimes these obstacles get the better of us and stop us from getting what we want. How do you overcome obstacles that keep you from achieving your goals?

You could power through the problem. Drink another cup of coffee, burn the midnight oil and do what needs to be done.

When we do this, we acknowledge the obstacle and then defeat it by refusing to give up. When we do, we’re often the better for it. Tired, but victorious!

But there’s another way and it’s a lot less taxing. Instead of fighting the problem, eliminate it.

Make a list of obstacles that are keeping you from achieving your goals. Your list might look something like this:

  • I don’t know what to do/don’t know how
  • I’m not good at [whatever]
  • I don’t have enough time
  • I don’t have enough money
  • I don’t like doing what I have to do
  • I lack confidence
  • I procrastinate (actually, this is a symptom; the obstacle is one of the other things on this list)

Then, make a list of ways you could remove those obstacles:

  • Get help doing the things you’re not good at or don’t like doing
  • Money: Sell something, save, use credit, find vendors who will barter
  • Eliminate or postpone other tasks and projects to free up time (prioritize/learn to say no)
  • Talk to someone who has done it and get their advice
  • Read, take a class, and learn how to do it or how to do it better
  • Hire an expert to advise you
  • Outsource all or part of it
  • Change the rules. Modify the goal or objective to suit your present situation
  • Ignore the problem and let your subconscious mind solve it while you’re doing something else

You can either work harder (power through the problem) or work smarter (eliminate or dilute the problem).

And if neither of these works, you can confess your sins to your wife, mom, partner, or client and have them make you do it.

Hey, whatever works.