August 2016

Arrive With A Solution

2016-08-16T14:54:02+00:00 Categories: SandBlog|Tags: , |

While you may feel like a smarty-pants worker to be the first to discover and inform your boss of a problem, don’t alert them without also being able to offer a potential solution.

Anyone can point out problems. Finding something broken without a suggested fix can position you as part of the problem. It is when you arrive with helpful recommendations that makes you part of the solution.

October 2015

What Is A Problem?

2015-10-07T12:39:14+00:00 Categories: SandBlog, solve|Tags: , |

A simple way to define the word ‘problem’ is: a situation that needs attention. Wikipedia authors describe one as “…any situation that invites resolution.”

That’s a nice way to put it – ‘invites resolution.’

A lot of folks are afraid of the word “problem.” To simply use the word – in relation to you or your business – is considered declaration of some sort of failure.

So, we sugar-coat the situation, re-phrasing it as a ‘challenge’ or ‘opportunity.’

Spilled Milk

While I support optimism, over-sweetening a situation can prevent people from realizing how bitter the problem may be.

No, don’t cry over spilled milk, instead figure out what knocked it over, and how to avoid spills in the future. Addressing a problem’s root cause – not ignoring it – will allow you to find the solution.

Image Source: Little People Blog

November 2014

Better Problem Solving With Framing

2015-01-14T18:12:41+00:00 Categories: SandBlog, solve, think|Tags: , |

When you’re looking to innovate, take advantage of an opportunity, or solve a problem… one of your first steps should be to define precisely or “frame” that opportunity or problem. Your frame is how you narrow and pinpoint what you choose to solve. Better framing leads to better solutions.

Think of it like a picture frame, it has in the center what you want to feature.

This old, wooden tugboat needs a lot of work. Among other things… an engine, new windows, paint… However, the priority is to fix the huge hole in the hull. That’s our frame.

It doesn’t mean things outside the frame won’t be addressed, however that big hole is the priority and our current area of focus.

But, let’s be honest. Determining the right focus isn’t always as clear as the hole in this tumbledown tug.

So, how can we really know what the frame should be?

One way to determine the right frame it to keep shifting perspectives. Take a look at the situation using different frame types, and test until you’ve found the right focus area.

You see movie directors doing this, forming a box with their thumb and index – framing to see how the scene will look on the screen… They keep shifting the perspective until they find what they want in the scene.

We do the same thing with problem solving. However, instead of shifting the position of our hands, we shift: time, people, risk, resources, and our perspective.

Time shift

How would this look from the future?

  • It’s x months from now this decision worked well. What would we have accomplished?
  • How would we have framed this x weeks ago?


People shift

See it from someone else’s point of view.

  • How would our employees frame this?
  • How would a client define the problem?
  • How about the industry? The competition? Outsiders?


Risk shift

Explore it from a conservative to aggressive perspective.

  • If we were unwilling to take a risk how would we define the problem?
  • If we were a bunch of riverboat gamblers, what would we say about this opportunity?


Resource shift

How you would think about this if you had the ranges from no resources to unlimited.

  • If money were no object, how would we define the problem?
  • If we had to figure this out on a shoestring, how would we frame this?


Perspective shift

Think: Brick, Wall, or Cathedral? Test whether we’re looking at this decision from the right perspective.

  • Brick – should this decision only affect small, limited-focus procedural steps or changes?
  • Wall – should this decision be focused on a limited part of an overall, or organizational issue?
  • Cathedral – does this decision affect the organization as a whole?

Next time you or your team is faced with a challenge – even when the problem behind that challenge can seem fairly clear – try a few different frames before you settle on the final approach.

You may find different frame changes the look of the whole picture.

February 2009

Solve Your Problem, Not The Symptom

2015-01-14T18:38:17+00:00 Categories: Sand for Your Inbox, solve, think|Tags: , , , |

Remember as a child – or perhaps you have a child at home – when asking one question, it often leads to a string of additional questions? How come? Why? Why is that?

This is simply a way of of trying to understand the root answer, the root cause. As adults, this string of questioning can be very valuable in helping identify the root cause of problems at work and home.

This month, I offer a simple method that will help you get to the root of a problem instead of simply treating symptoms.

Ask Why? And Why? Again

Finding the Root Cause

Trying to fix symptoms instead of addressing the core problem can be dangerous. You spend time, money, and resources making the pain go away. However, while things may feel better, behind this false sense of security still lurks the original problem. What’s worse, it may have become bigger and more complex.

An effective way to dig down to the root cause of a problem is to ask a series of “why?” questions. Ask “why?” or “why may this be occurring?” about the challenge, and then again for each of your responses. These rounds of questioning dig under the surface to reveal root issues.

Here, let me give you an example regarding problems I’m having with my premium, fresh-squeezed Lemonade Stand.

Main Issue: Sales are down at my lemonade stand.

First, I will ask “why?” five times about my main issue.

Why are sales down? 1: There is poor visibility.
Why are sales down? 2: People don’t need/want premium lemonade.
Why are sales down? 3: Competitors are selling lemonade for a cheaper price.
Why are sales down? 4: My stand is in a bad location.
Why are sales down? 5: Fresh lemonade is no longer trendy.
Why are sales down? …

So here you can see I’ve identified five potential main issues. (You should keep going until you’re comfortable you’ve sought all the potential issues).

From here, we want to take each to a deeper level. I recommend at least three to five rounds for each of the five problems already identified.

(Yes, it seems like a lot of work, but it’s better to figure it out here, on paper, before spending money. And it is MUCH cheaper than spending money solving the wrong problem).

So, I’ll start working out the first two as an example. This time, I ask why about each previous response.

Why? 1: There is poor visibility.

Why is there poor visibility?
I don’t have a proper sign.

Why don’t I have a proper sign?
I spent the money on the stand not the sign.

Why did I spend the money on the stand?
I don’t really know about advertising.

Root Issue: I lack strong advertising skills, I need to take a class or get some outside help.

Why? 2: People don’t need/want premium lemonade.

Why don’t people want premium lemonade?
It is perceived as too expensive.

Why is it perceived as too expensive?
People are fine to get it cheaper elsewhere.

Why are people fine to get it cheaper?
They don’t recognize the difference between
my premium lemonade and the cheap stuff the competition sells.

Why don’t they recognize the difference?
I haven’t explained my quality message anywhere.

Root Issue: I’m realizing I’m not telling my story well enough.

Now I’ve got a better idea of what is behind some of the problems I am having and know where to focus my energy. If I continue, I may discover additional issues that need to be addressed.

Additional Tips:

  • “Why” is a magic word that will break a problem down into smaller, more workable chunks.
  • Ask “why” at least five times. Or even better, until you hit a wall. The statements at this level will reveal your root issues.
  • To get a fuller picture, instead of just asking “why” only once for sub-issues, ask multiple times. (For example, I could ask ‘Why are people fine to get cheaper elsewhere?‘ a few more times to reveal more than simply ‘they don’t understand lack of quality.’ Perhaps it is about convenience or better selection elsewhere as well.).

Handy Templates:

To help get you started, I’ve created a downloadable template:

I’ve also prepared a completed example:

I recommend you try this approach on a problem you’re facing at home or at work. Let me know how it goes for you!

November 2007

Problem Solving with a Ghoti

2011-04-14T00:07:59+00:00 Categories: SandBlog, solve|Tags: |

When I was a kid, I had a book filled with facts and trivia about science, nature, humans, inventions and more. It was printed on rough newsprint paper and was as thick as a phonebook. One of the entries that I often recall asked (and answered) the question:

What is a Ghoti?

A small pointed beard on the chin worn by men? Nope. Ghoti is fish. No, not a type of fish. It is an alternate spelling of, and is pronounced the same way as, “fish.”

How can that be? And what does this have to do with solving problems anyway?

First, how is ghoti pronounced fish?

    GH makes the F sound, like it does in the words lauGH or enouGH.

    O makes the I sound, like in the word wOmen.

    TI makes the SH sound, like in the word naTIon.


Neat, huh?

So, what does this have to do with problem solving?

We tend to see problems the way we first approached ghoti. We classify it with familiar, broad rules and swiftly make our pronouncement.

However, when you take ghoti apart and examine the pieces, it says something different.

Bringing it all together…

Look beyond immediate conclusions. Break it down – the problem, your customers, a project – into smaller chunks and examine alternate solutions. It may sound completely different than you expected.

Give a person a ghoti and you feed them for a day.
Teach a person to ghoti and you feed them for a lifetime.

This post was originally published by Idea Sandbox on the MarketingProfs DailyFix blog.

September 2007

Inbox Sand : September ’07 : Bricks. Walls. Cathedral.

2011-04-07T21:12:30+00:00 Categories: SandBlog|Tags: , |

I don’t know if you already receive it, but on Friday I sent out the September installment of our eNewsletter, “Sand for Your Inbox.”

This month I provided a technique to help you be a better problem solver – specifically a way to ensure you’re solving the right problem. (The last thing you want to do is spend time fixing the wrong thing).

Click the link below to read the entire story.

“Bricks. Walls. Cathedral” – September Inbox Sand

By the way, if you want to have future issues of Sand for Your Inbox delivered directly to you, you should become a member of the Idea Sandbox exclusive mailing list. (It’s free!)

Let me know if you have any questions or comments.