Agree on the problem before you look for the solution. Words to live by!

“Agree on the problem before you look for the solution”

I saw this quote on a whiteboard at the offices of Liberty Mutual Insurance Company a few weeks ago. I have no idea where it came from or who it should be attributed to. But it is one of those every day pieces of genius we sometimes stumble upon.How many times have you been in a meeting coming up with solutions when you realized you weren’t entirely sure what the problem was? Or suddenly realized you are trying to solve a different problem than your colleagues are? It has happened to me a lot.

This ends up in a lot of wasted time, a lot of headaches, and a lot of frustration. Imagine the main message is “Sales have gone down!” Some might think the problem is not enough marketing, while others may point at low retention. Someone might blame poor customer service and yet somebody else may accuse the competition of poaching customers. What is the solution? Well… what is the actual problem? 

Dan Sullivan, who is the entrepreneur behind the Strategic Coach, had been providing business coaching with business owners for several years when he developed a tool he calls the “Strategy Circle” to work on this very problem. I don’t know whether Dan’s genius was in figuring out there is often disagreement on the problem, or in developing the tool to solve it, but it became the genesis of explosive growth in his organization.

The genius of the tool is you must begin by clearly stating the problem.

In group discussions this is often not very easy to do. When you define the problem, in writing, and everyone in the group agrees , the solution is not far off.

The reason solutions begin to present themselves once the problem is clearly stated and agreed to is the natural human reaction to a problem is to begin to list other, related problems. Dan calls these “obstacles”. Really, obstacles are just subsets of the main issue.

Here is where the brilliance of the tool asserts itself. “The obstacles themselves become the raw material for the solution(s),” according to Sullivan. Isn’t this true in your experience? It is in mine. One additional advantage of using something like the “Strategy Circle” is it is a great way to involve more people in working together to solve an agreed-upon problem. Once you define the problem, and the obstacles, the solutions begin to make themselves known almost immediately.

The next time you find yourself struggling with something important give this a try and see how it works for you!

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