Bernard Roth, a professor at Stanford’s d.school and author of The Achievement Habit, postulates that in order to get unstuck with a particular problem you are facing, you need to change the way you think about the problem. In order to that, you need to change the question you are asking. Let me explain – often when we think we are dealing with a question, we’re actually only focusing on one of the many potential solutions. For example, a common problem I hear people talk about is losing weight. The question that they have essentially posed to themselves is “How do I lose weight?” If you think about it though, losing weight is a solution to a much bigger issue. So how do we identify the bigger issue? Professor Roth suggests that we ask ourselves, “How would I benefit if I had a solution to my problem?”
Let’s take losing weight as an example, “What would losing weight do for me?” Potential answers could include: I would feel more comfortable in my clothes; I would feel more attractive and sexy; I could run faster on the tennis court or I could go dancing without sweating profusely (or whatever activity you engage in); and I’m sure there are more potential benefits, but let’s keep it at these for now. Looking at the potential benefits of losing weight, let’s say the one that strikes us the most is because we want to be more attractive and sexy. Since that essentially goes deeper, let’s try that out as the question for our problem: “How can I be more attractive and sexy?” Do you see that by asking this question it opens up many more possibilities for us? One solution could be to lose weight, but we could also brainstorm many other solutions, such as to get a new, more flattering wardrobe, or to get stronger by working out, or to always look my best, even when running to the grocery store, etc. There are so many more solutions open to us for the root cause of our problem because we changed the question we were asking.
Let’s take this through one more example. Here is another one I’ve heard recently, “How do I publish a book?” Publishing a book is a solution to a problem, not really THE problem. So let’s ask ourselves what would publishing a book do for us? Potential responses are: I would feel more accomplished; I could share my voice with the world; I would have more credibility in my profession; I would have another stream of income; etc. Depending on which one you relate to the most (or several of them depending on how far you want to take this), you could ask yourself: “How do I share my voice with the world?” or “How can I have more credibility in my profession” or “How can I have another stream of income?” Do you see how this opens up so much more brainstorming opportunities to solve your true problem? Sure, publishing a book would be a potential solution to all of these questions, but now you have so many other options to choose from if you are feeling particularly stuck in this area.
You’re call to action for today is to identify the most nagging problem you’ve been facing that you feel stuck in and take it through this process. I guarantee this will open up your thinking to different possibilities and will motivate you to tackle the issue. What are you waiting for? Get to it!