What Box? How to Turn Problems into Opportunities

Albert Einstein once said, “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” Put another way look in the mirror the next time you have a problem. Maybe it is actually a blessing in disguise. Maybe it is a lesson you need to learn. Maybe you have something to do with it. Take ownership and use these tips to guide you in finding creative solutions when others are trapped by paranoia, resistance, drama and disempowering paradigms.

Tip #1: Ask “What if?” Use this question to open your mind and brainstorm multiple alternatives. There are more ways than one to solve a problem. Beware of getting trapped in the ‘Option A’ versus ‘Option B’ dispute. Seek options C and D. Chances are your best option might just be Option E or F – a combination of creative ideas.

Tip #2: Ask “Why?” Use this question to contemplate all of the reasons why this is an optimal solution. Keep an open mind as you explore all of the forces ‘for’ the idea. Challenge your own assumptions and suspend judgement as you play with the rationale.

Tip #3: Ask “Why Not?” This question allows us to consider the obstacles and risks that are likely to come with any solution. Specify any forces ‘against’ the idea and weigh the risks. Now consider countermeasures. What can you do to mitigate or eliminate the risks?

Tip #4: Ask “Who” can help me? Remember you may be part of the problem. Surround yourself with capable and knowledgeable people. Get the facts. Solicit feedback. Think teamwork. Collaborate. Consult with experts, directly and indirectly. Involving people from a variety of levels and functionalities, including customers, will help you challenge assumptions and think outside the box.

Tip #5: Ask “How?” Use this question to consider the practicality, cost and ease of implementation and sustainability. This is where the rubber meets the road. The world is full of good ideas but many change agents fail when it comes to successfully turning good ideas into great results. Use the ‘How’ question to uncover critical success factors necessary to develop an effective strategic plan.

Tip #6: Ask “When?” Timing will be one of your critical success factors. Remember, timing can be everything. Use this question to exercise wisdom, patience, discernment and caution when building and executing your plan. Be sure you are well prepared. Make sure you also recognize that time is money. Set aggressive goals to challenge limiting assumptions and stimulate creative thinking. Consider “What would it take to have this completed by the end of the week, or perhaps even the end of the day?”

Tip #7: Prepare for the “Yeah, buts!” Every successful entrepreneur and change agent knows that resistance is part of the transformation equation. We are always being challenged with comments like “Yeah, but this really isn’t a good time,” or “Yeah, but someone else is already doing it,” or “Yeah, but you can’t make any money doing that.” The ‘Yeah, buts’ are countless and often come from well-intentioned people very close to us – including ourselves! Be ready for this resistance by identifying potential ‘Yeah, buts’ ahead of time. Some of these may have been identified in the “Why Not?” exercise. Others may have been addressed in the ‘How’ questioning. A wise problem solver will anticipate resistance and be prepared for it. As a result, wise solutions are designed for success.

Tip #8: Consider “So What!” What difference does your idea or solution really make? Clever innovators and creative change agents recognize that solving problems ‘inside’ a box, when the box itself is the problem, is like moving chairs around on the Titanic. So what if we made small, incremental improvement. What if the competition is doing it in half the time or at half the cost? So what if we have achieved six sigma (near perfect) performance on our floppy disks or fax machines. No one wants them anymore! Remember, a paradigm shift can send everyone else back to zero.

Tip #9: Ask “Now What?” Creative thinkers recognize that we never really ‘get it right’ and we never really ‘get it done.’ Life is a continuous journey and as we evolve we uncover more and more opportunity for growth. We may achieve near perfection on a temporary product or process but resting on our laurels or becoming arrogant and resistant is a recipe for disaster. Use these tips to keep an open, contemplative mind. Learn to make change, not just manage it. There is less traffic on the leading edge.


About the Author

John MurphyJohn J. Murphy is an award-winning author, speaker, business consultant, whose most recent book is Zentrepreneur: Get Out of the Way and Lead. Drawing on a diverse collection of experiences as a corporate director, collegiate quarterback, spiritual mystic, and management coach, John has appeared on more than four hundred radio and television stations and his work has been featured in more than fifty newspapers nationwide. In 1988 he left corporate management to start his consulting company. He has now trained tens of thousands of people from dozens of countries. His clients include some of the world’s leading organizations. John lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Visit him online at www.venturemanagementconsultants.com.

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