No Problem is about understanding, simplifying and resolving three fundamentally different categories of problem. Lowy defines those three as:
Decisions – The task of deciding on one solution from an existing set of options.
Problems – A puzzle that is missing a piece required to find a suitable solution.
Dilemmas – The challenge of understanding two or more conflicting influences on a situation, and how they can be better understood or exploited.
If you’ve ever been to a hospital emergency waiting area, you’re well aware of the fact that the ER is one place where “first come, first served” is NOT company policy. The Triage station in a hospital exists to assess incoming situations – the severity, the urgency and the unique needs of each admitting patient. Hospitals get it. For a variety of reasons, different cases require different treatments.
Just like hospital patients, not all problems in your life are created equal. Lowy uses the criteria of complexity and uncertainty as the two major variables in assessing your challenge. Effectively, as the details of a situation become more complex, and as the outcome of potential strategies becomes more uncertain, your challenge will change in definition from decision to problem to dilemma.
No Problem offers a startling array of tools and exercises for each of the three problem types. Before any of those tools can be put into place, though, there is a fundamental question that must be answered…
The Big Idea
What’s My Problem?
"When we are able to distinguish between problems, we can make better choices about how to respond."
When planning a trip, the first step in deciding which route to take is knowing where you ultimately want to end up. Likewise, we need to be able to clearly express our problems if we expect to resolve them adequately. Try framing your question with the words “How to…” at the beginning, as in: “My problem is how to get the last of my Christmas shopping done before the 24th”.
Stress, emotional baggage, looming deadlines and other outside influences can often cloud our judgment and over-complicate issues. Putting your challenge into words (and writing them down) can remove or reduce some of the irrational emotion that you have attached to it in your head.
Once you’ve identified the real problem you’re facing, you can much more easily categorize it as a decision, a problem or a dilemma. As a general rule of thumb, decisions simply need to be made, problems need to be explored further to “discover” new solutions, and dilemmas need to be managed.
If you find that rewording a challenge as “How to” is proving to be a challenge, here’s a couple tips on other ways to find the root of your issue…
The Miracle Question
"...imagine through some miracle that your problem was completely eliminated. What would be the first thing you would notice?"
“If the sky opened and the perfect solution dropped into your lap, what would it look like?” As you describe your answer, pay attention to the words you use. Better still, have someone write down your description or create an audio recording of it. The key elements of your ideal solution can often be great indicators of the real problem you’re working to resolve.
Imagine you’re wrestling with your job. Your problem might initially seem to be something like, “I’m unhappy with my current job.” If you run it through the miracle question, though, you may start to realize your ideal solution comes out like, “I want a fast paced work environment where I can see the tangible difference I’m making in the world. I want to be learning constantly, while giving back regularly.” Some of your key criteria include: ast paced, making a difference, growth, education. So now your problem may have morphed into, “How do I find a job with a socially responsible company that will allow me to grow in a fast paced environment?”
Suddenly, you have a very different problem. The best part is that this one is actionable.
"THE BIGGEST enemies of problem solving are ignorance and fear. They are a formidable duo; fear prevents learning that might eliminate ignorance, and ignorance reinforces the fear."
Here’s the weird thing about problems: sometimes we have become so used to having them as a part of our lives that we resist when there’s an opportunity to be rid of them. It sounds bizarre, but it’s true – some people who have always had money issues continue to take action (or lack of action) that keeps them poor. Be honest with yourself – do you want this problem to go away? Of course our first reaction is to say “Yes! Obviously I want this problem out of my life!” Are you sure?
One great indicator that you’re not yet ready to let go of the problem is whining. Do you know anyone like that? Someone you’re not sure would have anything to talk about if they weren’t venting about their problems? Are you one of those people? No, of course not. But most of us do it to some extent from time to time – we whine about our problems, almost bragging about them like a badge of honour. Next time you find yourself whining about your problems for no reason other than attention, ask yourself if you’re ready to let go of them yet.
It’s perhaps a credit and a criticism to Lowy to say that No Problem contains far, far too much content to retain in one reading. What we’ve covered here is the very tip of the iceberg. No Problem goes into exceptional detail on how to address each of the three types of challenges, pitfalls to watch for, and sign posts to use in your pursuit of a solution. And yet, despite all the direction and suggestion within its pages, Lowy reminds us that nothing will help if you’re not willing to help yourself. If you’re content to whine about your problems, that’s fine – just understand that solutions come from deliberate action, not passive complaining. If you ARE looking for a solution, and a guide to get you there, No Problem is a resource worth having.