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Man goes on rampage after eating baby in New York after winning Marathon

Now that I have your attention, let’s talk about choosing better problems. As well as its closely related cousin, chasing better solutions.

My problem was getting your attention towards problem identification, but was this the right problem? Or was it the right solution?

Common problem and common solution

Problem: Not having enough money
Solution: Work more hours

Identifying the right problem

Is the problem above that the person doesn’t have enough money? Or is the problem that they’re spending too much money? These are completely different. Depending on which it is, the solution will be different.

It could be that the person has simplified their life to the most basic of needs and genuinely doesn’t have enough money. My fictional scenario doesn’t give enough context but that is possible. Quite often though, that’s not the case.

Because we focused on the snake, we missed the scorpion African Proverb

Choosing the best solution

If we believe that we don’t have enough money, a solution is to work more hours. This is logical but is it the best? It’s a short term fix. The most straight forward path. Is it sustainable? What happens when my lifestyle requires this amount of hours and they aren’t available or as I age I’m unable to work so much?

Problems need to be observed then tackled from multiple angles. Work more hours, figure out a way to have others make money for you, invest money and monitor spending habits?  These are possible solutions. There are experienced people out there, who have been through this very problem and come up with better solutions. Thanks to the internet, we have access to their experience. This one problem is then attached to many other problems. It’s an endless rabbit hole but one that is satisfying to solve.

What’s a better problem?

CEO’s get paid mega bucks for top companies because of how they are able to problem solve. To look at problems from angles that most people wouldn’t. To solve them effectively. If it was easy to focus on the right problems, then come up with the best solution, their salaries wouldn’t be so high. We would all be doing it. This is what separates high performers from the rest of us. Hard work and problem solving. Effective problem solving.

Some tips for identifying problems and resulting solutions:

  • Look for what makes you unhappy – Pain, both physical and mental are strong indicators of problems.
  • Devote time to looking for problems – Ask how could I be doing better?
  • Think long term – Is this sustainable? Would I be better investing time in upping my skillset now to reap the rewards in the future?
  • Think without emotion or attachment – Don’t jump to the first solution that comes to mind. Sit with it and jot down ideas some time after it has arose.
  • Ask an independent observer – Ask a friend or colleague how they would approach the situation? They have the advantage of being emotionally unattached to the problem.
  • Look at different opinions – Try to explore an option you instinctively think won’t work. Could it be that you’re wrong? What would Steve Jobs do in this scenario? Or Beyonce?

Taking the time to figure out interesting problems to work on, will lead to interesting results, and an interesting life. It’s worth the investment.