“When I coach with you, you ask me questions to make me think of things on a deeper level. Through this process, I realize I am defining and looking for the answer to the wrong problem. Only through our discussions, I can identify the problem better, which makes me find the right answer.”
When my clients say this to me, I am constantly reminded that throwing out solutions without understanding the problem is walking on the path to failure.
Though similar problems may have similar solutions, the root causes for similar problems can differ widely. What caused one problem, may not cause the same problem again. Though best practices can be applied to various problems of the same category, it’s unfair to the people involved to help them reach a solution without truly understanding the problem.
Understanding the problem forces us to think about the root cause or the “why”. Uncovering why a problem existed helps us to find a lasting solution while it can also act as a preventative measure from it happening again.
Albert Einstein said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.”
Though this may sound extreme to many of us, as most are impatient (though we like to claim we are patient), there is logic behind this train of thought.
While I sit down with clients to brainstorm solutions, I rarely jump into solutions without understanding the problem. It’s not fair to the clients. It’s not fair to the problem. And, I also feel it’s not fair to the process.
Problem solving without understanding the problem and its causes doesn’t save anyone’s time. It usually leads to more frustrations, while creating more problems.
Problem solving without understanding the problem should be avoided at all costs.
When applying the problem solving approach advocated here, we explore the problem in it’s depth and complexity while also reviewing any solutions that have been applied in the past. In exploring the problem deeper, we can find out what solutions have already been applied, so that the new suggestions aren’t mimicking old, tried and failed approaches. However, as not all past solutions are completely incorrect, we can learn what went right, while abandoning what went wrong. In this way, we take apart the problem and past solutions, fit back together what makes sense, like a puzzle, and brainstorm new, more viable and sustainable solutions.
In the version of coaching I provide corporates, when specific problems are bought to my attention, I take time, sit down with the client and discuss the background of the problem. Like in journalism, we look into the 5Ws and H of the problem history (what, when, why, where, who, and how), discuss any solutions that have already applied (the positive and not-so-positive aspects of the solution) and, only then, create new solutions.
Often I am asked to step in and help with this process, as my specialty is to impart skills and solutions to help Indians communicate more effectively with Americans at work. In this process, we bridge cultural gaps, understand cultural reference points, impart mindset awareness training, and language and communication skills without compromising the personal and cultural identity of the clients involved.
Author, Jennifer Kumar, is a corporate coach working with Indians one on one or in small groups to bridge the cultural and communication understanding gap in the office. Contact her for more information. Or, if you are a little apprehensive, see the video on this post to see how the first (free) call helps you understand our process.
feature photo: LinkedIn Solutions at Unsplash
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