We mistakenly believe school ends when we graduate. Be it high school or college depending on your circumstance. As an adult, life becomes a much more difficult school. Confusing us with problems and obstacles. Popping test quizzes on us every time we need to solve an issue. Sometimes we get it right and many times failing miserably only then forced to try again.
Our familiar habit is to focus only on solving the problem. The solution becomes our obsession. The quicker the better. Because problems or obstacles are frustrating and energy draining. Introducing stress in our lives together with a growing feeling of helplessness.
What we never do naturally is to think first about how to solve a problem. Looking for the constraints to better understand what cannot be done. Thinking through what really needs to be accomplished when approaching a difficult issue. Figuring out what steps are needed before a solution will appear.
Skill in executing this requires a framing of the problem up front. Trying to understand the different dimensions of an issue before attacking it. Requiring more than just simply patience waiting for inspiration from above. Skills that require practice and pattern recognition that can only be found in experience.
There is a truth that is hard to see until you are much older. How big and wide your world is will impact greatly the quality of your decisions. All of us walk in smaller circles than we think. For we only have so many hours in the day to immerse ourselves in life’s adventures. The wider our world, the more objective we tend to be. When our world is small, problems fester and ignite our emotions reducing our ability to clearly solve them.
So where can we turn for help? By finding mentors, reading widely, and/or listening to diverse podcasts (or even YouTube videos) for a start. Seeking out people who have experienced more, traveled more, accomplished more, suffered more, faced greater challenges or have much deeper subject matter knowledge than we do. It’s as simple as this.
In hearing their stories, it is easy to forget that each of them are simply people just like us. But something about them is always different than who we are. This is key. You won’t learn from people who see the world the way you do now nor from people who have only lived within similar experiences as you have. They must be different in some way from you to learn.
When seeking outside guidance, it is never to let them make our decisions. For having them simply give us a solution is not where their value lies. Rather it is in their generosity of time. Sharing with us how they think about things. This is where their real value lies.
Listening closely to hear what is important to them in discussing an issue. Finding out how they go about solving a problem. Being surprised at what obstacles they foresee we might face. Especially when they are different than the ones we believe are in front of us. Weighing the lessons from their experience against what we now face. Challenging us to better see what exactly we don’t know nor understand.
Learning that issues, problems, and obstacles all have options attached to them. They help teach us that there are always more than one answer or approach depending on what is important to accomplish. Helping us by sharing how they go about generating options before deciding on a solution. Sharing with us where they see uncertainty lie. Forcing us to see our blind spots. Bringing to the forefront the concepts of risk and leverage to consider as we continue to find a way to solve an issue.
There is so much more groundwork that we need to cover before making decisions. Especially ones that we don’t have a lot of practice with. None of this is meant to scare you into thinking that you should not be decisive. Far from this.
What we need to remember is to be thoughtful and mindful of how we go about making decisions. For better understanding what we don’t know together with first thinking about our process and tendencies is important to becoming better at crafting more effective solutions to any situation we face.
By always seeking out more experienced voices to learn from, as often as we can.