How do you know if you’re solving the RIGHT problem?

I read a fascinating article recently in the Harvard Business Review discussing the importance of solving the RIGHT problem. It reinforced for me a philosophy that I have long embraced in my business and with my clients. And that is, the importance of critically thinking about a problem, issue or opportunity before frantically trying to solve it.
I believe it is the thinking – the strategic pauses that we intentionally insert into our day – that are the starting point to everything: solving problems, achieving goals and getting more out of what we want in life.  The challenge today is that most of us don’t take ANY time to think at all. We rush around from meeting to meeting in between checking and responding to the never-ending emails that flood our inboxes.
Think about it (no pun intended). When you are faced with a decision, challenge, or opportunity – how much time do you spend simply thinking about the problem? How much time do you spend vetting multiple views and perspectives, looking at historical data, connecting all of the dots, etc… BEFORE feeling the pressure to speedily come up with a solution? And, how many times have you solved something at your company only to find out later that what you solved wasn’t the real problem after all? (Click here for the elevator wait story in the referenced HBR article.)
As leaders, it’s critical that we have processes and mechanisms in place to prevent us from being in automatic-pilot or reactive mode. Any process that interrupts our pattern is valuable. Does it take longer to solve the problem this way? Yes. However, I think most of us would agree that speed, although highly valued in Western society, does not always equate to successful outcomes. In fact, making hasty decisions can be quite costly for most companies.
In my coaching practice, much of what I do for my clients is engage them in a process that allows them to think through their issues more fully and comprehensively in order to achieve the best solutions. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve been told, “Wow, I never thought of it like that before. This changes everything. Thank you!”
The same holds true in our Vistage group. The structured process we leverage for solving member challenges and opportunities forces a deep dive into the situation that reveals a more comprehensive view of reality. This leads to discovery, ah-ha moments, and significant breakthroughs. It is, in many cases, the difference between feeling completely stuck with a problem and suddenly having options, solutions and ideas that were never identified before.
Perhaps where this deliberate, intentional “thinking” practice is most at play, is in my strategic planning work.
We spend one and a half days identifying and discovering the current organizational reality BEFORE carving out the plan for the future. It is a true discipline to stay in ‘discovery’ and NOT plan or problem solve. This is a best practice for creating the soundest strategic plans.
It’s a simple principle, yet not easy to practice. Our world today demands instant gratification and instant responses to everything. I challenge you to go against the grain as a leader, and deliberately, purposefully think before you lead. And if you really want to step up your game, commit to a process and/or enroll a mentor to hold you accountable. You will be truly amazed at what you discover when you make time to think and ask more questions. Stay in discovery and allow yourself to just think. The answers will reveal themselves.
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