Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Ask The Right Questions, Solve the Problem

Luke 18:18 (NKJV) "Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, 'Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?'" 

A young wealthy man had a problem. Something was missing in his life. So he went to Jesus and asked Him, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?"

Knowing the man's real problem, Jesus gave him the typical rabbinical response, "Follow the Law." 

The young seeker answered and said that he had done this his entire life, but still something was not right in his life. Jesus was waiting for this comment and cut right to the heart of the matter. He told him to sell everything and follow His leading. The cost was too high for the young man so he walked away in despair. 

When faced with difficult problems, we need solutions, but how do we identify the best answer to our situation? How do we solve our problems and know that we are making the right changes?

“Read the question.” 

These words were written at the top of the exam's first page in my Organic Chemistry class at Georgia Tech. I wish I had taken time to let those words sink into my my head. I wish I had taken time to let those words sink into my my head. Instead I jumped right into the test, worked the problems, finished ahead of everyone else, turned in my paper, and smugly walked out knowing I had aced the exam. When my paper came back, I was shocked at the "D-" written in red pencil at the top of the page. There was also a note  - and a note from the professor, "Read the Question." Apparently, I had not read each question carefully and there were a number of trick questions designed to not only measure the our knowledge of the subject, but to train us to think clearly. 

That incident changed my entire approach to solving test problems and also difficult personal problems. In addition it helped me raise my grade in that class to a high "B" even with that first bad grade. The need to understand the problem has stuck with me and has become my guiding principle when solving complex issues. 

Too often we do not understand our own issues and problems, nor listen clearly to what others say.
We don't take the time to fully consider all aspects of problems we face in relationships, business, politics, or scientific issues. As a result we work to correct symptoms without ever facing the root problem. Just as a child finds a hammer and believes everything in the house requires hammering, we find a solution and look for a problem to which it can be applied. For Washington's politicians, their hammer is money. Whatever the problem, send money. In this day and age, nobody fixes things anymore, they throw it away and get a new one. This is true of computers, cell phones,  and relationships. Rather than find out what is wrong and fixing it, we throw it away and get a new one.

If we are to solve problems, we must identify what  went wrong and understand the real problem. Once we are able to define the problem clearly, the solution or solutions often become obvious. Solution are not hard - often the problem itself is so complex. Then we fail to spend the time and energy to get to the root of an issue. As a result we end up with a "D-." on our report card.

The biggest example is seen in bureaucracies. There are some that believe that the solution to every problem in business, healthcare, the economy, and relationships is more government regulation. Regulation is the hammer - the panacea - and everything must be regulated.
Even in our own lives we keep looking around for that magic hammer that will solve all of our problems in our relationships, finances, and careers. So we attend every webinar, read every new book, and look at what worked for someone else and try to apply it to our particular problem without a careful understanding of our individual problem. "How To" books are the largest sellers on Amazon. "How To" videos get the most viewing on YouTube. 

You cannot solve a problem if you do not understand the problem. But if you fully understand it and can clearly state the issues, the solution will usually become obvious. When we truly understand the problem, the solution or solutions become obvious.

Steps to Problem solving:

James 3:17 (NKJV) But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.

1.   Ask the right questions. 

Get at the root cause of the issue. 
One prayer that I have found God answers is, "What am I doing wrong?"

Get beyond the symptoms and find out why the symptoms exist. Symptoms are not the problem, they are the result of the problem. If your knee hurts, don't just take pain meds, determine the source. If your business is failing, identify what may be wrong, products, production, marketing, etc. Then look at where that can be improved. 

My first experience with a business consultant was very early in my career. He came around and asked questions of everyone, including me. Later when we received his report, it was obvious he just regurgitated our answers. The best way to find out what is wrong in any situation is to ask questions.

2.  Consider available solutions

Once the root of the problem is identified, it is time to consider a variety of solutions. Do not just pick up someone else's hammer. Consider even the wildest of ideas. This will help stimulate your creative juices.

3.  Evaluate potential solutions. 

Evaluate the potential solutions based upon James 3:17. Is the potential solution based upon a pure heart? Does it give you a feeling of  peace in your spirit? Are you willing to yield your rights? Will it yield good? Is it non-partial? Is it without hypocrisy?

4  Select the best, cost effective, solution. 

5.  Take Action on the solution

6.  Be flexible. 

If the path you have chosen is not working, you may have missed the root and are treating the symptom. If that is the case go back to step one. Do not just give up and throw in the towel. Solve the problems.

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