Leadership Wired Blog

No Problem? No Progress!


"The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem." — Theodore Rubin

What’s your perspective on problems? Do you know in your head that they should be expected, but wish in your heart that they could just disappear? That’s how most people think about them. They make plans with the expectation that everything will go smoothly 100% of the time, and then they are surprised when problems come up.

The issue with that approach is that it’s unrealistic. And like Theodore Rubin says, that creates its own additional problems. I believe it’s better to expect problems and look for a new way to approach them. Since problems are going to come up, how can we see them differently?

Years ago, I came up with an acrostic for the word PROBLEM that I used to arrest my thinking and change my perspective. This empowered me to prepare for problems, approach them creatively, and focus on finding solutions. I hope it does the same for you.

PROBLEMS are…

Predictors – Often, facing a problem opens your eyes to other issues that may come up. What can this problem tell you about what’s likely to happen further down the road?
Reminders – What are your values, goals, and priorities? A problem can make those crystal clear. By embracing those reminders, you can find a solution that you can implement with integrity.
Opportunities – Seeing a problem in this way motivates you to face it with confidence and optimism, because then it’s not something to be avoided, but rather embraced.
Blessings – Problems are not all negative; sometimes they point us in a more beneficial direction. Or they result in an outcome that’s better than we’d planned.
Lessons – Asking, “What can I learn from this?” leads to personal growth. Seeing problems as lessons frees us to use them as stepping stones to learn something new.
Everywhere – Expect problems and you won’t be as tempted to try to avoid them. The first step in creatively solving a problem comes in accepting the reality of it.
Messages – What can a problem tell you about yourself, your teammates, or the situation? Searching for a message in the problem takes your focus off of the negative and allows you to learn from the situation.
Solvable – This makes the difference between progress and stagnation. Seeing problems as solvable frees you to use your creativity as you take it on.

Albert Szent-Gyorgyi said, “Creativity is to see what everybody else has seen, and to think what nobody else has thought.” Change your understanding of problems, and you’ll be able to see solutions where others see dead ends. This will open doors of opportunity to grow and overcome adversity. By expecting problems, accepting them, and approaching them with creativity, you are better equipped to solve them and make progress in life.


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