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Showing posts from 2012

Focus on One Problem

It's tempting to tackle multiple problems simultaneously. Tempting, but usually less effective.

Centered problem solvers focus on the problem at hand.

The more problems we work on the better we get at it, but only work on one problem at a time.

Working on one problem often uncovers new problems. Write the new problems down and come back to them later.

Your main problem needs your immediate attention, or it wouldn't be your main problem.

Afterall, you'll likely never run out of problems. Why not solve them one at a time?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Holding Judgment at Bay

It's tempting to jump to judgement when wrestling with a troubling problem. When causes seem to emerge, we can want to punish them, hold them down, to take them apart. It could be the wrong course of action.

We need to stay centered. We need to stay curious. We need to probe deeper to the true cause and deal with it unemotionally, as tough as that is.

Centered problem solvers Identify the causes of a problem without judging them.

The goal is to find viable, sustainable solutions to the problem -- not to punish it.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

How Will You Interact?

Solving problems together is powerful. By bringing groups of people together to collaborate on solutions, new ideas are generated and new resources become available. But there are challenges.

What if you have differing agendas?

What if your schedules don't match?

What if you have different values?

When solving problems together start by agreeing on a set of guidelines for how you will interact.

The guidelines will be particular to your project. They may be unique to your group. They may take longer than you expected to reach agreement on. They will be invaluable to your problem solving success.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Finding More Arms

On one hand, the bigger the problem, the tougher it seems. On the other hand, the bigger the problem, the more people are effected and the more potential help you have to recruit. Once people are invested in a problem they are much more likely to care about solving it.

If a problem is too big to wrap your arms around, find more arms to help you.

Sometimes all you need to do is ask.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Listen without Judging

Have you ever proposed an idea or solution to a problem only to have your idea dismissed immediately by someone?

Instant critical response can dowse ideas faster than water on a candle flame. No matter how brilliant your idea may be, it will struggle to survive the search for perfection.

Solving problems together requires the compassion to hear someone else's truth without judging them.

It doesn't mean that you agree.

It doesn't mean that you will be adopting an idea immediately. It simply means keep the judge at bay long enough, and with enough care for the other person, to understand it's perspective.

It's what I call sending your inner judge out for milk and cookies -- the judge will be happy and you'll get to finally hear some ideas completely.

It's more than worth a try -- it's how to build more compassion in your team while generating more ideas.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

The Courage to Tell The Truth

Can a problem be so tough that we deceive ourselves about solving it?

In any problem there is a temptation to soften the edges, smooth the rough spots, to paint a better picture than we see.

Sometimes we take sides and spin the truth in favor of our side, even when that contributes to a conflict or problem. We can do better than that.

Solving problems together requires the courage to tell the truth as you see it.

Not our version of the truth. Not our ideal of the truth. The truth as it exists, weak spots and all.

If we want to clearly analyze a problem, we must be willing to see, and tell the truth.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Other People's Problems

What's one great way to learn more about problem solving without risking your own situation?

Helping other people to solve theirs.

Sincerely, using your best problem skills, and in service to their goals, offering help.

Helping others is easy because we need not fear their problems. We need only help them improve their situation.

Who has a problem you can help today?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Be Careful About Fixing People

How many problems have you solved by fixing people?

If it is truly a people problem, there may be a people-focused solution, but fixing people is tricky business. And most problems aren't caused by people or bad intentions or even carelessness. Most problems are process based or engineering based or simply the result of inadequate design.

You can't solve an engineering problem by fixing people.

But you can make it worse by trying...

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Solving in Isolation

Can you do it all by yourself?

If your problem extends to other people, do they really need to get involved? Even that guy down the hall who slurps and yogurt and roots for the wrong football team? Even your ex, who works in accounting now and has to approve your budget?

Problems solved in isolation tend to re-emerge. Centered problem solving involves all stakeholders.

Even the ones we're not too happy about.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

The Complete Picture

Does the complete picture matter to you?

Do you take the long view when you plan your goals?

Centered leaders focus on creating a better present on the road to a much better future. Problems show us that we've been missing the complete picture.

In that way they do us a great service.

How can you use that big problem to re-center and refocus your mission?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Learn more in the workshop: Solving Problems


How do you look at problems? Do you feel resentment? Do you see opportunity? Do you wish the problem would just go away?

We can choose so many different ways of looking at an existing problem, but however we look at it the problem remains.

Every problem is a reminder of life's bittersweet complexity and magnificence.

LIfe is worth it, and the problem is worth solving.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Finding Connections

Where do you look for the causes of your problem?

Where do you look for solutions?

Who do you find to help you solve your toughest problem?

Centered problem solvers find connections. There are unexpected similarities or patterns underneath each problem. At the core of a challenge are the ends of connections that sometimes bring about outcomes far different from their intentions. Connections fray, connections twist, connections turn, connections surprise.

And connections can also deliver. Finding where the connections are no longer effective (whether they are process steps or relationships) is the first step to relaxing them, restructuring them, retuning them, and helping them to be the connections you are looking for.

Creative, centered problem solvers find connections fast and fearlessly.

To find connections fast: pay attention, ask questions, open up your imagination, and stay open to possibilities and surprises. See things from other (maybe many other) points of view. Let art and l…

The Wrong Solution

Did you ever solve something and make it worse? I know that I have. I've installed processes that people didn't need. I've created logs that tracked data no one wanted. I've printed reports that no one read.

An ineffective solution can be worse than a persistent problem.

A solution that no one wants creates resistance to solutions that people may need. The trouble is that we don't always shut our resistance off and on accurately or effectively. When a leader creates road blocks to success and gums up the works, even with the intention of making some valuable change, people may disregard wholesale. Is that what you want?

Why not spend the time to find a better answer?


Take the time to FOCUS on what it is that you really want, based on your mission, values and goals.ANALYZE the situation carefully and identify any misunderstandings. You'll do better with the help of other people on this, especially people who are skilled at finding inconsistencies.Involve the…

Understanding Your Problem

What happens when someone tries to solve a problem before they understand it?

Bad solutions.
Surprising side-effects.
Incomplete solutions.
More problems.

That's probably not what you want.

Centered problem solving requires a deep understanding of a problem before solving it.

Sure, that can take time, but you don't want to create MORE problems do you?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Front Range Leadership

A Clear Mission

How many ways can you solve a problem?

How many choices do you have for dealing with your challenge?

The answer of course is many. We always have choices, and in solving a problem we get to choose whether or not the people we partner with, the processes we use, and the solutions we develop match our mission. To do that, don't we first need a clear mission?

We will be happier with the solutions we develop once we align them with the purpose we are seeking.

Centered problem solvers are clear about their mission and goals before trying to solve tough problems.

Before we jump into the answers, why not center ourselves around the right questions?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Front Range Leadership

Connecting to Mission and Goals

Have you ever tried to solve a tough problem and realized that your solutions just didn't agree with you?

A good idea can seem to solve the problem, but somehow it disconnects from what you're looking for.

Centered problem solvers are clear about their mission and goals before trying to solve tough problems.

This is part of what I call the FOCUS process step in centered problem solving: aligning any ideas and steps you take with your central purpose, your mission, your goals.

You do want your problem solutions to contribute to your big picture mission, don't you?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Front Range Leadership, LLC

No Perfect Solution

Have you ever been polarized in a search for a perfect solution?

Maybe it was you, maybe it was someone you were working with, but the project just doesn't move forward because the solutions you've come up with aren't perfect.

Waiting for a perfect solution assures you that one will never be found.

Find a great solution and move forward. Change as you need to. But don't keep analyzing in hopes of perfection.

You do want to solve the problem, don't you?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Front Range Leadership

The Trouble with Denying Problems

What if we just ignored a problem? What if we just denied that it existed?

Some people would rather "reframe" it and not call it a problem at all. I have had several bosses who preferred to call problems "opportunities". They didn't fool anyone because a problem is still a problem. We may have the opportunity to succeed, but only if we solve the problem.

Denying that problems exist invites them to worsen and grow.

We don't want that do we?

What's the fear? Let's call problems what they are: problems;  and get about the exciting business of solving them.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

The Effects of a Solution

I'm not a very good billiards player. When I hit the cue ball who knows what will happen. Sometimes I hit the ball that I'm aiming at, but most often I don't. And, sometimes the ball hits a ball I didn't intend to hit and pool disaster results with the cue ball entering the pocket. I'd much rather ride a bike or go for a walk.

Solving problems can be like that for some people. The more you try, the more the ball seems to careen out of control causing all sorts of new problems. Problems cascade into problems and before you know it, the fun drains out of it.

Centered problem solving considers the effects of a solution on other problems.

Just like that cue ball, any action you take to solve a problem impacts other people, places and things. What will you do when it does? How do you plan for the effects? What happens if it stops being fun?

The fun must come from within. The fun must be in exploring the process and changing the pieces as you go, including the pieces of …

Solution Problems

Have you ever solved a problem only to discover that you've created a whole new set of problems?

It's not unusual. Sometimes in the rush to come with a solution we miss the side-effects. We miss the repercussions. We miss backlash and impact to people we may not have considered.

Many solutions bring new problems so let the new situation unfold and propel you forward.

Maybe your next solution will be better. Maybe you'll learn what you need to learn to pull things together. Maybe the centered solution has alluded you -- it's still out there for you to find.

-- Douglas Brent Smith