Fall in love with the problem or the solution

This phrase, “fall in love with the problem or the solution”invites us to reflect on our attitude towards problems.

The word “problem” often has a negative connotation, associated with worry or regret. This is evident in phrases like: “Don't bring me problems, bring me solutions.” Avoiding deep involvement in problems attracts superficial solutions and encourages doublespeak: “do as I say, but not as I do.” This incongruence between feeling, saying and doing, together with defensive habits, alters the cause of the problems, prevents learning and reduces effectiveness.

For a problem to be relevant, it is necessary to accept it as such and understand its difficulty, which must be in accordance with the level of knowledge one has to analyze it. Fundamentally, the problem must be attractive to arouse the desire to solve it. Lastly, the solution must be viable both technically and from a human perspective.

It is not possible to think without a problem in mind. Resorting to history or memory can hinder the thought process; clear and distinct ideas are needed.

A life without problems would be very boring, and not knowing how to solve them would turn them into a curse. The problem is the engine of intelligence and thought, its instrument. To clarify ideas, you have to speak clearly. When someone says, “I'm thinking about you,” he is not thinking, but remembering you. And in “I believe”, he does not think, because whoever believes does not need to think. The THINK sign located in many companies is another mistake: no one can be forced to think without a problem to solve.

Education emphasizes solving exercises, not posing problems. Certainties are sought, assuming that the problem is something obvious, which prevents it from being stated well.

This is how false problems are canned and solved without knowing how to identify the real ones. Automation has its advantages, since otherwise we would have to think about everything we do, but the danger is applying it to situations in which we must think. A problem is solved with appropriate decisions and actions.

A good problem, once solved, opens up new options and expectations. Challenging our mental traps and encouraging creativity allows us to find innovative solutions and improve our problem-solving skills.

An innovative approach is that of Alexander the Great, who cut the Gordian knot rather than untying it, demonstrating the power of lateral thinking.

Heuristics are the ability to solve problems using divergent thinking. When solving problems, it is necessary to synchronize both brain hemispheres: the left, rational and strategic, and the right, emotional and intuitive. Accepting and understanding the difficulty of the problem is essential, as well as the technical and human feasibility that must be part of the solution.

Sherlock Holmes said to his assistant Watson: «Listen to the voice of the problem, demand its solution». Problems are not eliminated, they are resolved. Intelligence is the ability to solve problems: understand the situation, invent the solution and act accordingly. Divergent thinking allows you to invent solutions and explore possibilities, while convergent thinking chooses the best alternative.

In a world of specialists, teamwork improves the quality of the solution, requiring diversity of opinion, independence and the ability to convert private judgments into collective decisions.

This is because the specialist has a hammer and all he sees is a nail.

System 1 of the brain operates automatically and system 2 takes care of complex tasks. Failures in thinking are due to hasty decisions and cognitive biases. System 2 skepticism is essential to question and control them.

Thinking requires a well-defined problem. Einstein said it: “You cannot solve a problem with the same approach that was used to create it”. The mental trap is the lack of harmony in the nervous system and the tendency to look for non-existent patterns. The brain is neuroplastic and can change itself, meaning nothing is irreversible. Improving yourself requires sustained practice of new routines.

Show differences when there are none and say that they do not exist when they do. Expand or narrow it excessively. Address only part of the problem. Choose a single option. Choosing the interested parties poorly. Those with opposing interests should be chosen. The mistake is believing that the stakeholders are like us, that they will see it from our point of view and that, therefore, there is no problem.

A classic story shows the potential cost of restricting a problem to a closed analysis. In one office building, occupants complained about malfunctioning elevators. Waiting times at key times were very long. The study revealed that, due to age, the change could not be justified. The engineers said they would have to live with that problem. A psychologist was consulted, who focused on why they complained about waiting for such a short time. He concluded that it was out of boredom and thought of giving them something to occupy their time. He suggested installing mirrors so those waiting could look at themselves or others without being noticed. His suggestion was heeded. The installation of mirrors was done quickly and at low cost. Complaints about the waits stopped.

The future is uncertain and thought resists change. Let's look at some historical examples: Western Union discounted the value of the telephone in 1876; IBM's Lloyd asked what the microchip was for; Hewlett-Packard rejected Steve Jobs for not having a college degree; Digital Equipment's Olson saw no reason to have a computer in the home in 1977; IBM's Watson predicted that there would be a market for only five computers worldwide in 1943. Even the best experts fail when trying to predict the future.

There is nothing more difficult, doubtful in its results, or more dangerous to implement than a new order of things. The reformer finds enemies among those who benefited from the old order and lukewarm defenders among those who would benefit from the new. This lukewarmness is due to the fear of adversaries, who have the law on their side, and to the disbelief of humanity, which does not believe in anything new until it experiences it for itself. – Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince.

There are no magic tricks to avoid mistakes. The wise thing is to learn from them and develop the ability to forgive, avoiding the temptation to repeat the cycle of revenge. It is essential to question the prejudices we have about the problems.

It is crucial that different personalities come together to define problems, because the risk for equals is that they make mistakes together. Another difference is in the perception of reality: what is important for some is not important for others.

Good practice suggests that people should try to understand the client or situation before focusing on unexamined options. One problem leads to another, and before solving it you have to see if you have the resources required for the solution. We have two ears and one tongue to learn to listen before speaking.

The traditional thing is to make good presentations, since there is no second chance for the first impression. It is arguing to get them to do what we want. Preoccupied with responding, we do not capture the needs of the interlocutor, convinced that our idea is always superior. Practicing empathy is putting yourself in the shoes of another to see, feel and experience what they feel.

The difference between problem and opportunity is in point of view. Rain is a problem for an outdoor activity and an opportunity to sell umbrellas. Capturing the experience of others allows us to detect opportunities. Constructive feedback uses Edward de Bono's thinking hats: the white hat is objective and neutral, the yellow (positive) hat asks “what do you like?”; the black (negative) asks “what don't you like?”; and green (creative) reflects on how to improve. Open minds reach the synthesis that blue hat makes.

Communication must be clear and have a win-win mentality, where the complaint functions as an opportunity. Saying “Don't give me trouble” is a bad attitude; falling in love with the right problem is the solution.