Let the Problem Solve You

domino effect 123rf 5000396_sLife can be an unending series of challenges—often referred to as “problems.” On the work front, our problems may center on how to reach a revenue goal, how to find the right talent, how to resolve conflict, or how to find more time in the day.

It feels good to rise to the occasion and resolve an issue. Logical creatures that we are, we engage our brains in solving the problem. For example, when conflict arises because of a lack of communication, one “solution” might simply be to share the information more systematically.

But that’s just a surface-level solution. What happens when the problem keeps surfacing? That’s when we need to flip the “solve-the-problem” approach on its head. Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, in their book An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization (Harvard Business Review Press, 2016), use the phrase “let the problem solve you.”

For example, in the prior scenario about sharing information more systematically, look beyond the systems to the person—why is the information not being shared freely in the first place? We might see that at the root, someone is insecure about his worth and withholding information to retain a sense of power or feel needed, or someone is not sharing information because he interprets the request for information as a lack of trust on the part of the requester.

Until this lack of confidence or misinterpretation is addressed, similar problems will keep surfacing. There is either fear-based (fight-flight) or safety-based (calm-connect) thinking involved.

  • Fear-based: “I retain power when I withhold information.”
  • Safety-based: “I create trust when I share information.” “The company can make better decisions when everyone has the information needed.”

Until a safety-based perspective becomes the predominant norm, the problem will keep resurfacing in other forms.

Problems are life’s perennial invitation to grow us, fine tune us, and evolve us. When we let them “solve us,” we see the bigger picture, create more productivity and profitability in our work, and become more of who we were meant to be.

How about you? What are the “problems” that are screaming for your attention?

“More than anything else, what differentiates people who live up to their potential from those who don’t is a willingness to look at themselves and others objectively . . . The most important qualities for successfully diagnosing problems are logic, the ability to see multiple possibilities, and the willingness to touch people’s nerves to overcome the ego barriers that stand in the way of truth.” (Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey)

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