Jim here. Have you ever walked into your house or apartment and smelled something that caught your attention—an odor that was striking but you couldn’t immediately identify it? Was it the remnant aromas from dinner the night before? Could it be the sweat drenched running shoes from that morning’s run you left in the entranceway? Could it be a gas leak? What were you smelling?

ProblemSolutionI’ve had this experience and when it happened I focused my nose, determined to identify the odor. I concentrated, committed to sort through the possibilities and resolve my question. Until I knew what I was smelling my imagination kicked in creating a variety of options each one suggesting different actions.

The first action I took was to check the burners on the stove. I could easily eliminate that one. But then the two options I’d considered morphed with the addition of a third more subtle scent. Knowing the house wasn’t going to explode I relaxed and thought about just letting it all go. Who cares, really? But there was a problem to solve and I was hooked.

I’m assuming you’ve had the same or at least a similar experience.

Rather than go through my step-by-step process it turned out to be a flowering plant I’d recently been given and wasn’t used to having in the house. As seemingly inconsequential my problem is a perfect illustration of the difficulty we all run into when the specifics of a problem cannot be clearly identified. Once I precisely identified what was going on I could consciously enjoy the fragrance of the plant. The problem not only was solved. It vanished.

Even though many of the problems you face at work are more complicated and therefore not as easy to solve the process remains the same.

Problem solving, no matter the complexity, consists of:

*an outcome that would satisfy as a solution;

**in my example, knowing what in the room had caught my attention

*materials available to reach a solution;

**my concentration directed through my nose

*what actions to be taken in pursuit of a solution;

**following the scent as best I could


**for example whether if I’d had a cold and my nose was stuffed

This example may seem trivial but the elements apply even to the 1969 Moon landing:

*outcome-landing safely in the moon;
*actions-planning; and
*controlling the trajectory;

Success Is in the Specificity

Success is in the specificity and how specifically you identify the problem points in the direction of the solution. Framing a problem is very powerful—both positively as well as negatively.

Have you ever been in a meeting that went on and on and stopped without satisfaction? Why does that happen? Because the problem is not clearly and carefully identified which leads to discussions that flounder and suggested solutions that are irrelevant because there is no way to evaluate what’s been offered because the meeting doesn’t know where it’s going. Poorly defined problems are masters generators of frustration.

Now remember a meeting that was very successful. Why was that? Here are some of the elements and they all emerge from a well-defined problem:

*Transparency—a clear direction and what it will take to get there;

**clarity at the outset and continuing through the process

*Creativity—expressiveness is fostered stimulating the imagination;

**debate is encouraged and emotionally safe thereby expanding options

*Connection—ideas emerge from the same general source

**everyone is on the same page which supports productive communication

*Dynamism—an alive and exciting energy pervades making room for passion

**participants will not be weighed down and victimized by the process

It’s not death by meeting. It’s death by careless and mediocre identification of the problem to be solved.

Hakuna Matata

And another point, as you can see from the graphic above, ineffective meetings are attended by meerkats and wart hogs speaking different languages. And that’s aggravated and intensified because each assumes the other is speaking the same language. When issues arise it obviously has to be the other’s fault and so effective communication collapses.

A well-defined problem directs and contains the flow of the interaction. Although it does not guarantee trouble-free exchanges, a well-defined problem acts as a regulator keeping things within a boundary and as the arbiter of what works and what doesn’t. It also serves as the source of creativity and is 50% of the solution right at the outset.

Author's Bio: 

Judith Sherven, PhD and her husband Jim Sniechowski, PhD http://JudithandJim.com have developed a penetrating perspective on people’s resistance to success, which they call The Fear of Being Fabuloustm. Recognizing the power of unconscious programming to always outweigh conscious desires, they assert that no one is ever failing—they are always succeeding. The question is, at what? To learn about how this played out in the life of Whitney Houston, check out http://WhatReallyKilledWhitneyHouston.com.

Currently working as consultants on retainer to LinkedIn providing executive coaching, leadership training and consulting as well as working with private clients around the world, they continually prove that when unconscious beliefs are brought to the surface, the barriers to greater success and leadership presence begin to fade away. They call it Overcoming the Fear of Being Fabulous http://OvercomingtheFearofBeingFabulous.com.