37 - The secret to solving the right problem? Identify it first.



If you have a habit of jumping at a problem the moment it is presented to you, if you take pride in being action-oriented, you may want to read on.

Here’s a scene from your day: Someone (boss, colleague, spouse) approaches you with a problem. You hear it, accept it, and get into solution mode. You come up with something the same hour or later, depending on the complexity of the problem. Only a few months down the line the problem recurs, bigger and badder. Your fix was a bandaid on a gaping wound. Or someone from outside takes one look and makes a creative suggestion that puts things right for good, and you wonder why you didn’t think of that. You get my drift.

How you define the problem decides the solutions you see. So, before you try and solve a problem, be sure it’s the root problem. The root problem is the one to solve. Everything else is a symptom of it.

How do you arrive at the root problem?

Step 1: Find out the key assumption behind the decision you have to take now.

Here are examples of problems/questions and the teased-out assumptions under them.

Which content marketer should I hire? → Hiring a full-time marketer is the best way to build an audience

What management discipline should I specialize in? → An MBA is the education I need

Where should we buy a house? → Homeownership is the right financial decision for us

Teasing out unstated assumptions removes constraints from your thinking. Next, test each assumption by posing it as a question.

Step 2: Replace which, where, what, when, who, with WHY and HOW

Which content marketer should I hire? > How to best acquire customers?

What management discipline should I specialize in? > Why do I need an MBA?

Where should we buy a house? > How can we live comfortably within our means?

Arriving at the root problem means you have identified the point of maximum leverage–that thing that’ll bring you the most benefits for the longest time. So when considering a problem statement, ask yourself: Is this my root problem?

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