36 - How we define a problem dictates the solutions we see

07-03-2023

decision-making

We don’t build cars that are sent to the museum after a trip, but we have always built rockets for single use.

We don’t call cars fully reusable but we are calling a new generation of rockets that, as they acquire capabilities to outlast a single trip to space.

**How we define a problem dictates the solutions we see. **

When we defined the problem as sending a human to the moon, we ended up doing just that. When we think beyond flags and footprints to living in space, we start thinking reusable rockets, huge payloads, multiple-trip mileage, et cetera.

So how do you get your team to solve the right problems?

Step 1: Reject the problem presented.

This is a crucial first step before you can get your team to re-articulate the root problem.

Step 2: Separate the problem definition and problem solution into two discussions.

This allows you to widen the frame and explore alternatives. Without this decoupling, the team is likely to get caught up in signaling how smart they are by jumping to problem-solving.

It is possible that after Step 2 you may decide that the cost of solving the root problem is too high and make a trade-off to solve a more urgent piece of the problem. But the process will leave you aware of the opportunity cost of your decision.

**Tip 1: How do you know if you’ve arrived at the root problem? The problem definition does not change depending on whom we ask. **Otherwise, you’ll get as many versions of the problem as the number of business functions you ask.

**Tip 2: Reward good problem definitions. **We are all rewarded for solving whatever problem we’re presented with. Why not have similar benefits for taking any problem thrown at us and checking if that’s the right problem to solve?

The speed with which you respond to a problem matters only if you’re aiming right. It is good practice to question the defaults you are operating under. For that, don’t let anyone define a problem for you.

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