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Showing posts from 2014

Quick Thoughts on Centered Problem Solving, Part 2

"Nobody can force you to solve your own problems, but don't you want to?"

"Problems are best solved by drawing on the limitless resources of clarity, courage, creativity and compassion."

"We are not defined by our problems but by what we do about them."

"Character grows in the efforts to solve problems, not in the solutions."

"Telling me not to see something as a problem does not solve it."

"At some level everything is a problem. the question is how will you solve it?"

"It helps to start with a problem solving framework even if you completely change it later."

"Problems exist to bring us together, not pull us apart."

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Build Strong Agreements

Are your constituents on board? Are they on your side? Will they support the solution to your problem with all of their energy and focus and support?

Have you even agreed on what the problem is?

Have you agreed on what your goal is?

Tough problems call for strong agreements.

Even though most problems are due to process issues and not people (accord to William Deming) it is thru people that we solve those problems and achieve our goals.

And that takes agreements.

Build strong agreements at every stage and every step of your problem solving. It will not only seem more centered to you -- it will be.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

When You Don't Know What to Do

When was the last time you had to make a decision but didn't know what to do?

For some people, that's a daily occurrence. When you're lucky -- and very skilled -- it doesn't happen nearly as often.

Centered problem solvers figure out what to do when they don't know what to do. What could that be?
They ask questions. They get help. They stay curious. 

It's easy to become polarized by a problem. Easy, but not useful.

When you don't know what to do, stay centered (breathe!) and curious. There is help somewhere -- maybe what to do is to find that help.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Quick Thoughts on Centered Problem Solving, Part 1

Sometimes a quick thought is all you need to get moving on that problem. Sometimes pondering a quick reflection can spark another idea. And sometimes, it's just fun (and necessary) to keep things short.

Here are some brief thoughts on centered problem solving. Some have been tweeted by me, and some appear here for the first time.

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Some problems are mostly a misunderstanding. Check to see if you truly share a common understanding of the situation.

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If you see it as a problem, then it is a problem.

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It takes more than an hour to solve a truly entrenched problem.

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Solving problems will give you energy and motivation -- oh yes, and then the problem is gone.

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Sometimes problem solving is accelerated change management.

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Test The Data

Are you analytic? Do you dig deep into the data of a problem to find the root cause?

Even those of us who embrace analysis can forget that the data may be flawed. It may reflect an undetected perspective. It may even be  compromised with an agenda.

No matter what the data says (and it's easy to miss this when we really like what the data says) it is important to check it for accuracy. Test it.

Successful centered problem solvers embrace the data but test it carefully.

Maybe it's true, maybe it's useful -- but maybe it's not.

Who do you have checking your data?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Solve Without Creating New Problems

Is your solution symptom-free? Can you solve that pesky problem without creating a new problem?

We do not solve our problems by creating problems for other people.

As tempting as that may sometimes be, solutions that create problems for other people eventually create problems for us as well.

Besides, is that how you'd like to build a reputation? Probably not.

Be careful about solutions that push the problem down the line.

If the problem is not gone, it's still your problem.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Turn Your Problem Into A Positive Experience

What if you can't solve a problem? Are you doomed to negative experiences from an unsolvable problem?

You may not be able to solve a problem and yet can still turn it into a positive experience.

Where do the positives originate?

- Better, deeper conversations
- More honest, open relationships
- Stronger, sharper skills
- A wealth of experience
- Wisdom that only problem solving builds (even if the problem isn't solved)
- Humility
- Motivation to innovate

What other positives have you experienced in an otherwise frustrating problem solving attempt?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Advance Your Learning

How is your growth cycle going? Are you learning the skills it takes to solve the problems you encounter -- and will encounter in the future?

Problems require us to advance our knowledge and expand our training.

What's your next area for training?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Check Your Design

Could your problem be in the design?

Broken processes, faulty products, short-sighted services...all of these and more can sometimes be the fault of poor design. To fix a problem, we should consider the design as part of our analysis.

A problem embedded in the design can be hard to spot if we take the design for granted.

It helps to look at the design with fresh eyes. Ask an outsider to assess the usefulness and friendliness of your design. Test it against expectations.

While it can be frustrating to think that a problem may have been baked in from the beginning, very often that's the case. It's not too late. Look at the design now.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Talk Your Problem Over

Can we talk about it?

When a problem is bothering you, can you share that trouble? Do you have people who will listen without judging to your concerns? Do you know a confidante who will hold your secret fears in trust long enough to hear them out?

Problems require communication. Deep communication. Listening with curiosity. Speaking with clarity. Knowing what matters and keeping focus on the clear boundaries of a larger vision. Problems are part of the journey, why not make them part of the conversation.

The bigger the problem, the greater the need for deeper conversations.

Talk your problem over. Build the relationships you need to deal effectively and with respect to the problems at hand. That's how it works best.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Curious? Explore our workshop Centered Problem Solving.

When You Are Truly All In

Is there any problem that you would give anything to solve?

Fortunately, we aren't all so obsessed (and I use that in a positive way) with a single problem that it is all that we can think about, all that we can work on. But what if there were such a problem in your life? How would you react? What would you do?

We have before us no end of problems begging for noble solutions. World hunger. War. Pollution. Energy. Boundaries. Education. Problems bigger than any single person.

Have you embraced one major problem with the intent of making a positive difference?

What problem would you give your life to solve?

Take you time, you don't need to answer that this minute. But you probably do need to answer it.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Think Before Running from That Problem

Run away! Do you ever find yourself simply avoiding a big problem? Even though you know for sure that problem is not going away on its own, it's just too hairy and slippery to figure out right now and it doesn't seem as if the effort is worth the anxiety.

But what eventually happens to our anxiety if we do nothing about our problems? It just grows bigger.

Before I run from a problem I need to ask if that's the best solution for all concerned.

How about you?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Are you interested in helping the people in your organization to learn how to solve more problems faster and more collaboratively? Check out our one day workshop on Centered Problem Solving.

Drop the Emotional Baggage

It's easy to get excited about a problem. It's especially tempting when people seem to be making the problem worse. But does getting angry help? Does attaching yourself so tightly to the outcome that you burst help your situation?

Probably not.

Any problem is big enough without adding emotional baggage.

Why not drop the emotional baggage and focus on your goal?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Find the Courage to Solve the Problem

Does courage factor in to whether or not you will solve a problem?

Sometimes we need to take risks. Sometimes we need to be more assertive than usual. Sometimes a problem will resist us and even threaten us until we find the courage to face it down. Solve the problem.

The problem is meant to be solved. Do you have the courage to solve it?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Be Careful With Forced Solutions

It seems faster. It seems more efficient. Why not simply give your constituents no choice by changing what needs to be changed and removing the old way of doing things?

Because, well -- people don't like that sort of thing. And when they don't like something you can count on lots of resistance.

There's not much point in solving a problem by creating new ones.

Centered problem solvers do better than that because they know that a solution that needs to be forced is probably not going to solve your problem.

We might as well find a solution that our constituents embrace -- even when that is more work.

What do you think?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Looking for a way to solve more problems in your organization? Why not bring our workshop Centered Problem Solving to your location.

A Promise Or A Plan?

Which would you rather have -- a promise, or a plan?

I love promises. When some people make a promise to me I know that it is as good as done. They are reliable, trustworthy, hard-working creative people who keep their promises.

I'll take a promise from them any day.

Promises can be problematic sometimes, though. Some people are not so skilled or willing to keep their promises. They may make a promise to move forward in the conversation (possibly because the conversation is deep enough to cause some discomfort) and yet have no intention of keeping that promise. That's not helpful. That's not what centered leaders are looking for. That's not how centered problem solvers operate.

Promises are great and I'm also interested in the plan. What exactly are they promising to do and when will they do it? What's the plan?

Picking a promise over a plan is a risky way to solve a problem. 

Problems respond better to the actions completed in a careful and thorough plan.

So, t…

Fix the Problem Not the Person

How are you at fixing people?

Me, either. People are tough to fix, mainly because they usually are not broken. Something simply stands in the way of where they are and their most effective actions. Sometimes, we're even the thing standing in the way and don't know it.

Sometimes it looks like another person is the problem, or at least the cause of the problem. The temptation gets stronger then to solve the problem by fixing the person, or insisting that they fix themselves. That seldom works.

We do not solve our problems by attacking other people.

That makes the problem bigger and harms the relationship. Centered problem solvers take time to carefully analyze the source of the problem and they involve related people in that process. Because while it's hard to fix people -- those very same people you might be tempted to fix are often the best source of help in solving the problem. The key is aligning them, not maligning them.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Interested in solving more …

First Believe It's Possible

Do you believe that any problem can be solved?

Sure, there are really difficult problems we don't have a clue about solving yet. But does that mean that they can't ever be solved? Or, do we do better by believing that a solution is out there to find or create?

Our belief that any problem can be solved helps to solve any problem.

What do you believe?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Rearrange Your Problem's Parts

Does your problem feel all mixed up? Maybe it's got YOU all mixed up, too.

Your problem may be made of parts begging to be rearranged.

Altered, modified, changed, rearranged. When you analyze your problem, see if that's the deal: mixed up perfectly good but confusing pieces.

Find the parts. Rearrange them. That might be all that you need.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Play A Winning Game

Who wins when you solve a problem?

Your answer to that question likely defines whether or not you've actually solved the problem.
Any solution that creates a loser is likely not sustainable. It's a never-ending game.

Problem solving is a game that can be played with everyone winning.

That's probably the only way to really put an end to the problem.

Could that take longer? Yes. Is it more likely to succeed? Yes, and yes, and yes!

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Solve It Now!

What do you think?

If your problem is bigger today than it was yesterday, now is the time to solve it.

Unless you want to wait until it gets even bigger...

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Identify The People Effected

Sometimes grouping problems into who they effect points the way to a faster solution.

Same customers, same problems. Same people, same situation. Isn't it likely that far enough upstream the causes are the same?

Before we start creating solutions, let's be sure to analyze a problem correctly.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Focus On Your Goal

Where do you start your problem solving process?

Many people jump right in defining what they think is the problem, but what they are really describing is the symptoms. If you've ever solved a bunch of symptoms only to find the problem still hanging around, you're ready for another approach.

How about starting with your goal? What is it that you really want?

It's much more effective to focus on your goal because then there are things that you can DO to get you there faster.

Before solving a problem, focus on what you really want from a solution.

You'll be much happier with the solutions you find when they help you achieve your goals.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Go Earlier Than the Money

How do you feel when you run out of money?

It rocks my world if my account misses the mark. I don't like to run through my cash before all of my issues are settled, do you?

Sometimes, money is more of a symptom than the money. Many people will tell you that all of their problems could be solved if they just had enough money. As the expression goes, "if money can fix it, it's not a problem" (sometimes attributed to Rita Davenport). There is often something deeper. There is a cause behind the cause of the limited money.

If the problem is money there's another problem hiding earlier in the chain.

Dig a little deeper. Discover the true cause. Or keep burning through the cash. The choice is up to you.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

New Problems, New Solutions

It feels easier to solve problems using familiar solutions. We know they worked before. Why wouldn't they work again? That new problem seems familiar, too so why not throw a tested solution at it?

Because it may not work. Have we truly analyzed the problem? Do we understand the causes?

We should be careful about letting the solutions to past problems determine the solutions to our current problems.

Our current problems need current solutions. That's more work, but it's the right thing to do.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Don't Force Your Solutions

What happens when you impose your solution on someone else's problem?

If it works, they will be happy that it works and likely still resent you for imposing the solution. If it does not work (which is often the case) you of course will get the blame.

People need to come up with their own solutions. Your advice may be brilliant. Your insistence may be strong. But their resistance to change (and need for ownership) will quite likely get in the way.

We should not force someone to try our solution to their problem.

Even if their ideas aren't as good, they are much more likely to follow them.

Unless your trying to teach both of you a lesson. Good luck with that approach.

Centered problem solving involves much more. It is taking an approach of working on the relationship as well as the problem. It's attacking the process, and not the person. It's cooperating and collaborating. That's not as easy as imposing your own solution -- but much more likely to succeed.

-- Douglas Brent …

Bring Centered Problem Solving to Your Location

WHAT IF you could work with a small group of people who would help you to solve your most pressing problems? They wouldn't try to impress you. They wouldn't charge you money. They wouldn't hold back their best advice to keep you coming back for more. All they wanted from you was to help you to solve your problems and achieve your goals, in exchange for cooperation in solving their own problems and achieving their goals.

What they would do is speak openly and honestly and with absolute clarity. They would support your goals and offer their expertise unselfishly and without reservation. They would pay careful attention to your problem solving needs and treat your shortcomings and challenges with compassion. They would cooperate. They would spark ideas together that they would probably not realize on their own, and they would have fun doing it.

They would help you drop excuses and time wasters to focus instead with your full energy on what you really want.

That is…

One Generation Behind

It's not fair. It's not exactly logical. But how true do you think it is?

Every generation creates its own problems -- and must solve the problems of the previous generation.

Maybe it's the advance of technology. Maybe it's the quality of thinking. Maybe it's the incubator of time. What do you think?

-- Douglas Brent Smith


Some problems are little more than a reason to spark a conversation.

Spark it. Talk. Bring out the truth.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Improve the problem solving skills in your organization -- Bring our half-day Creative Problem Solving workshop to your location. Contact us here:

Keeping Control

Centered problem solvers care about a problem without giving it the power to control them.

They focus, analyze, create, engage, and solve each problem while staying balanced and detached.

Do you care enough about your problems to solve them, without letting them rule you?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Beyond Pretending

Pretending that there is no problem won't make it go away.

I've tried it. Hiding our heads in the sand only makes it more easy for a problem to sneak up on us and bite us.

Guess we might as well face the problems ahead of us.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Big Opportunity

It's not always fun. It's not usually what we seek. It can create tension in our lives. Still, it's good to know:

Your biggest problem is your biggest opportunity.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Unmet Needs

The machine needed oil. The garden needed water. The team member needed attention.

Problems appear from unmet needs.

Seldom do problems occur without warning. Often, the problems are completely avoidable. By providing our responsibilities with what they need, we can often keep things in order, running well, centered, and happy. When we ignore this need, more problems pop up.

Once you've solved that problem, do you have a maintenance plan to prevent it from recurring?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Share Ownership

Who owns the solution? Who is in charge of making your problem better?

We can solve problems faster when we share ownership of the solution.

Even when we can delegate our problems, how we help makes a huge difference. Solving problems together creates a bond that's difficult to achieve any other way.

What problems are you helping with today?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Something Important

If  a problem requires more help than you can give it you've found something important.

What's your next step?

Could it be finding the help that you need?

Centered problem solvers get the help that they need.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Pay Attention to Concerns

When you're solving a problem, do you listen to other people's concerns about your solution?

We can get in a hurry. We can solve problems with solutions that meet our standards while disturbing someone else's. While it's not possible to please everyone all the time, sometimes we'd do well to slow down and ask. Stay mindful of concerns. Proceed compassionately.

Ignoring a person's concerns about your solution weakens your solution.

Why not go in the direction of strengthening it?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Solve it Sooner

Our biggest problems stand in the way of things both seen and unseen.

What would solving your biggest problem allow you to do?

Make a list of all the things that your biggest problem is standing in the way of. Is it a long list? Is it an important list? Is it a list of things worth moving toward? That's your list of things seen that your problem is standing in the way of.

Imagine what your unseen list looks like.

Maybe that problem should be solved sooner, rather than later.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

How Do You Feel About That Problem?

Have you ever had a problem so long that it felt like part of you? It's so familiar that you can hardly imagine life without it?

Sometimes our problems attach themselves to us, and sometimes we attach ourselves to our problems.

It's hard to solve a problem that you're in love with.

Are you sure you want that problem around?

What can you do today to uncouple it?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Strengthen Relationships

How do your problems impact your relationships?

Problems can be disruptive to relationships, especially if the relationship is part of the problem. Problems can also help to build relationships when you work together, identify new ideas, build on each other's strengths, and minimize each other's weaknesses. Often in those ways problems end up being beneficial.

Every problem begs to strengthen a relationship.

Do you see that opportunity? Are you taking advantage of it?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

The Targets of Our Anger

What makes you angry?

Do you ever feel anger and wonder where it came from?

Sometimes I've noticed that anger appears out of scale with the thing that seemed to trigger it. Maybe it's an accumulation of aggravations. Maybe it's a sustained patience that has become unsustainable. Maybe it's a lifetime of little disappointments. The anger boils, flairs, and erupts. At that point it can be highly unhealthy.

We lash out. We shout. We blame. We break things. Humans can be so sloppy sometimes. We lose our center and our balance lists like a ship in a storm. Our storm of anger rocks our world.

Maybe you haven't experienced this, and if not, maybe you've seen it in other people. It can scare.

Where the anger heads though isn't always where it belongs. Fall out occurs. Innocent feelings and people are hurt.

The targets of our anger are seldom the cause of our anger.

We punish the wrong people. We overreact to minor disagreements propelled by the build up of restrain…

Determine What You Really Want

Is the best result what you really want?

I know you want a result that is best for you -- but often we can confuse what is best for us and our teams vs. what we seem to really want.

This can work against us.

How do we overcome this?

Check in on what you really, really want. What is it that you are hoping for? Is that aligned with your vision and goals? If it is, go full speed ahead. And if it isn't, it's time to talk it over with someone who can help you with that.

-- Doug Smith

Optimize Your Awareness

What if your problem isn't really a problem? 

What if it's your latest change emerging?

Are you ready to optimize your inputs to maximize your outputs?

Are you ready to take whatever comes down the road, problem or not, and turn it into an opportunity?

It takes total awareness to optimize your results. Stay mindful, get centered, stay aware -- you can do it.

-- Doug Smith

Help Other People Solve Their Problems

How are you at solving other people's problems?

Does it sometimes seem easier to you to tackle a concern of someone else, rather than one of your own issues?

Sometimes we can see with greater clarity the problems of someone else, and miss those of our own that are right in front of our eyes.

But does that mean we should go around solving other people's problems?

Can you tell the difference between helping and interfering?

It may feel easier to solve someone else's problems but trying to do so may not help either of you.

It's usually better to help, rather than take on, the issues of another person.

How can you make yourself available to help, without assuming responsibility or ownership?

High performance leaders sort that out, and help when they are needed while letting other people learn what they need to learn to move forward in their mission.

It's not always easy -- that's what makes it so wonderfully valuable.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Communicate Honestly About Your Problems

There are so many complicated problems that go unsolved for the lack of one major ingredient: open and honest communication.

Not just honest, but more: radically honest. So honest that feelings bubble to the surface and change the energy in the room. So honest that there are NO doubts how people perceive the situation. They may disagree, but they get closer to understanding. 

How can you solve a complicated problem without a clear understanding of both the facts and the feelings of the situation?

The answer is, you likely can't.

Creative, high impact problem solving requires open and radically honest communication.

The analysis could be jarring. Feelings will be exposed and activated. People will occasionally want to hide the facts or hide from the feelings. But unless we completely understand what they are it is incredibly tough to effective deal with them.

Get it all out on the table. Tell it exactly the way we see it. Adjust and change as necessary but get the dialogue going -- unthr…

Focus for Productive Creativity

Do you see things the way they really are, or the way you only THINK they are?

Are people on your team deceiving you or gaming your system?

How will you know?

A clear analysis of a situation provides the focus that allows for wildly productive creativity.

But the analysis comes first.

Know where you ARE, and then you're free to evolve.

Does that make sense to you? 

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Some Problems Need Emotional Detachment

Problems that cause us emotional trouble may need distance and detachment before they can be solved.

Are you ready to provide that distance?

What other solutions might you have?

How much distance is enough?

-- Doug Smith

Help your people develop their leadership, communication, and productivity skills. Contact me today at:

about scheduling a workshop or teleclass.

Rapid Problem Solving

How fast do you solve problems? 

Effective leaders solve many problems even before people realize that they are problems. 

Because centered, high performance leaders are always looking for ways to improve their processes, revolutionize their designs, and develop their people, they are constantly exposed to hints of resistance. Big problems often give out signals of dysfunction long before anyone notices them. 

As a leader, how will you see these signals soon enough to optimize your impact?

What problems are lurking just below the surface of your most important process?

Who on your team needs additional resources to get the job done?

What skills need additional attention and training to optimize your team's performance?

What will you do today to diagnose a hidden problem?

-- Doug Smith

Map the Problem Process

The first step to fixing a process is mapping it. High performance leaders seek to understand problems before solving them.

How much time do you spend working to understand your most serious problems?

Where do you look for help?

What sources of help might you be overlooking?

-- Doug Smith

What if the problem is people?

Does it ever seem that your major problem would go away if you could just fix the people around it?

If you think that the problem is people, remember that includes you.

Now what?

Centered, creative problem solving starts with the knowledge that people are not perfect and are usually not to blame.

People are often misunderstood. Why not start with your communication around the problem to see if there are some misunderstandings there?

Talking about it is a great place to begin.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Solving Problems with the Highest Payoff

With so many problems to choose from, which do you pick to solve first?

Some people like to build momentum by moving from smallest problem to biggest problem. If this works for you and you're happy with the results, keep doing it.

Other people find that once they start with small problems or easy to do tasks that they get stuck there. It becomes too hard to move forward. If this is you, you're probably ready for something different.

How about going right for the biggest payoff?

When I worked at GE we used a tool called the Payoff / Effort matrix. With so much to work on, we used this tool to determine where to start. Should we put extra effort into something that would provide little payoff? Clearly, not when the same effort could produce more payoff in another area.

Solve the problems that provide the biggest payoff first.

Not only will you get your biggest problem solved, but you will likely find that you now have more resources and energy to solve other problems.

Of course,…

Creative Problem Solving: Certainties

A creative problem solving activity.
Purpose: Create deep conversations around perceived truths.
Materials: Talking stick or microphone. Seating: Circle Process: As we travel thru life we learn a few things. Things we were once certain about change and feel less certain. Things we did not believe or know emerge as our new truth. Do you believe in lasting truth? Do you hold a few beliefs that you feel will stand the test of time? Follow the CLUES for Success guidelines and when it is your turn, share 3 to 5 beliefs that you think are certain. Options: To prime the pump, share some “certainties” from others in short phrases or quotes. Some  examples: (Doug’s list) •The truth will always bubble to the top. •God is love. •Everything is personal. •Nothing is ever off-the-record.
Expand: A.Use recording equipment to create a visual record of people providing their wisdom. As a group, edit and produce a film. B.Play with figure/ground concepts and paradoxes by finding and exploring polar-opposite beliefs.