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Facing an Unsolvable Problem


Don't abdicate - mitigate

Are some problems “unsolvable?” Some can certainly feel that way, especially when they have been languishing unsolved for a long time.

But the question itself is problematic because problem solving is not binary. Most problems don’t fit neatly into a “solved/unsolved” bucket because success is a gradient with various degrees.

Framing a problem as unsolvable may not only be inaccurate but can influence you to abdicate responsibility.

When the pandemic lockdowns shut down my speaking business by ending in-person gatherings, I was gobsmacked. I reacted by viewing it as an unsolvable problem because there was nothing I could do about the lockdowns. So I threw up my hands and wallowed in despair, victimized by circumstances. Woe was me. In other words, I abdicated.

The dictionary definition of abdicate is “fail to fulfill or undertake (a responsibility or duty).” The option of regarding a problem as unsolvable is attractive because we feel relieved of responsibility, plus it is easier than actually trying to do something.

But abdicating is a losing strategy in most cases. Instead, look for ways to mitigate the effects of the underlying problem when the root cause is outside your control. You may not be able to fix the underlying cause, but you can lessen the effects on you and your organization.

It was interesting to watch how event planners dealt with the pandemic shutdown:

- Some simply canceled their events.

- Some postponed them - sometimes more than once.

- Some got to work on figuring out how to hold the events remotely.

The canceled events felt like the organizations had surrendered to an unsolvable problem. But those who looked for ways to mitigate the situation were able to achieve their goals of providing the same (or similar) value in a different format.

Their ability to mitigate made me realize there were still opportunities available. So I ended my self-pity party (abdication) and got to work creating a virtual studio so I could still work (mitigation).

You or your organization may be facing tough problems with root causes you can’t control. A few examples include:

- A lack of available job candidates creates a staffing shortage problem.

- Supply chain issues cause equipment acquisition lead times to become longer and less predictable, creating multiple problems for you.

- An innovative new competitor disrupts your industry and cuts into your market share.

A useful approach is to change how you define the problem. You may define a staffing shortage problem as “There are too few people looking for jobs.” That focus is on the root cause which is outside of your control. Instead, you can define the problem by its effect. “We are struggling to fill our positions.”

Then ask the question, “Why is this a problem?” or “How can we mitigate this problem?”

To clarify - you DO need to identify root causes, but if the root cause is not in your control, then your focus should be on looking for ways that you can mitigate the negative effects of the problem .

Think well - live well.

- Steve Haffner, speaker and mind performance strategist

Want to learn more about improving your decision making performance?

Click here for my free book, 7 Strategies for Making Better Decisions
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