A problem can become our whole world. And we can get absorbed to the point that it becomes the only thing in our world. Many times, as we get concerned and absorbed by this problems, we tend to exaggerate the possible consequences.
To address that problem, we implement “defense methods” that many times are not as effective as we believe. We think that obsessively focusing is going to make it easier to solve. For some strange reason, our levels of concern and distress become directly proportional to the perceived size of the problem.
Excessive worrying is a waste of time. If that concern doesn’t lead to a concrete action, that “extra level” of concern doesn’t make sense.
Instead of worrying, we should be thinking in different ways to solve that problem.
If worrying has never helped, why should I be doing it? What additional options do I have apart from complaining?
First counter-intuitive method to solve a problem: Unfocus instead of focus
The thing about focusing too much on a problem, precisely, is that the concern and the excessive focus become another problem itself.
A problem is defined as a problem precisely because of the characteristics of the situation: We probably haven’t faced anything like that before, or we don’t fully understand what’s happening, and because of this, we have no idea how to deal with it.
That’s why, in many situations, we take an incorrect approach: We think that we need to lock in a room to worry and tear the hair out of our heads until we can find a specific solution. And that is where we lose control, and we start to get obsessed with some approaches and specific “roads” that, although they are not working, we think are the only way to solve the problem.
We don’t realize that, even if it sounds counterintuitive, the solution may be to just to do the opposite: defocus instead of focusing.
Being ultra – concentrated on that approach we decided to focus on, we get biased and we forget the importance of having other perspectives, to ask for another opinion, to ask for help and look for different points of views that could give us new angles from which to tackle the problem. We forget that sometimes is just as important to unfocus, to have a wider and more global picture of the situation from which we can look for that problem.
Hence the concept of ‘spin-offs’ and ‘pivots’. Many business ideas and companies are a result of people who have been thinking about a problem from different perspectives. A lot of companies that were struggling, ended up ‘pivoting’ their business models and tackling their problems from a different perspective. That, eventually, helped those companies to be successful.
In what kind of situation have you been ‘stuck’ for a long time trying to solve a problem in a specific way, leaving aside alternate opinions or perspectives that you could have considered?
What aspects of your life, of your company or your projects, are stuck or are hurting you and you haven’t accepted? In what areas of your life are you scared to ‘unfocus’ and to understand where should you ‘pivot’?
Second counter-intuitive method to solve a problem: Exaggerate it to the maximum
It sounds stupid. If I already have a problem, why would I want to come up with a scenario where the problem is even bigger?
The point is that we often work better when we are under pressure. In these situations, we are forced to pay more attention to details that we could be ignoring, and where the solution of the problem may lie.
Simulating that a problem is worse than it really is, is another effective way to put things into perspective: We are simulating an even greater level of distress and disaster. And without even noticing it, now the distress from our real problem, in perspective with the simulated distress, is much lower. We realize how serious a situation could become, and our anxiety begins to diminish.
If we exaggerate the problem, we may begin to associate and connect things that we wouldn’t think if the problem hadn’t become even worse by this simulation. The fact of having to avoid a catastrophe makes us think of resources, people, and tools in which we wouldn’t have thought otherwise.
And the interesting thing about this technique is that we can not only exaggerate the possible negative consequences of the problem, we can also exaggerate the context and get value from that exercise:
- You have a meeting with a Japanese client. You feel nervous because, even tough someone already explained to you how the protocol should be, you still don’t feel prepared to interact with a client from a different culture. A big sale for your company depends on the success of this meeting. What would happen if your client is not from Japan but from Pluto? How can you prepare to talk to someone from another planet?
- You have three days to deliver your college essay, and you are blocked on how to finish the last five pages. What would happen if you don’t have three days, but three hours? What do you think you can write to powerfully conclude what you are trying to say in that essay?
- You have to cut 20% of your expenses to be able to keep paying the rent of your place. The problem is you don’t know how to do that, or what expenses to cut. What if that cut is not to pay your rent, but to save your life? What would happen if your life depends on that 20% saving? Where can you cut expenses to meet the goal?
Having exaggerated a problem, now you are going to be better prepared (or at least have a couple of ideas and resources that you could use) to face the real problem.
Putting the pieces together
Assuming that you already have identified the problem, and you already have tried to solve it (without success), the counterintuitive process to find new solutions consists of the following steps:
1.Accept the fact that the traditional solutions you have tried so far are not working.
2. Stop doing what you are doing.
3. Make a list of the solutions you have tried so far. To the right of each item, write down a short explanation of why do you think it didn’t work. In order to implement new techniques to try to solve a problem, you must first accept that something is not working, and be clear about why it’s not working.
4. Try to unfocus. Answer this questions:
- Are you seeing the big picture and the context surrounding the problem, or the desperation is taking you to leave out other variables that could lead you to an answer?
- Is there anyone who can help you find a better solution to this problem? Have you been embarrassed to ask for help to someone you know could be helpful?
- Is there a tool or a resource that you can use (even if it costs money) to find or to speed up the solution to that problem?
- Exaggerate the problem. Take a moment to write an unreal and fantastic scenario, something hard to believe, where the protagonist is your problem.
If you can project a scenario with maximum stress and chaos, your mind will start to generate ‘survival’ ideas that can help you find solutions for your real problem.
Problems are the fuel for the ‘creative’ machine. The world has millions of problems to solve. If there were no problems, there wouldn’t be inventors. The world, as we know it, wouldn’t exist. Problems are only as uncomfortable as we allow them to be, and sometimes, the less conventional ways to face them are the ones that will help us feel more comfortable when we confront them.
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