Beware being the problem solver

Problem

I have spent the better part of 40 years solving other people’s problems, it’s in my DNA. In the first part of it, the problems were most likely with the Tax Office or ASIC (probably the Corporate Affairs Commission back then). Later I went on to help people with their businesses, both in terms of compliance and also with problems surrounding the business itself. In fact it is this last bit where the fun was and is for me. In more recent times, I have been assisting people with much more personal problems around their financial dreams and aspirations and how to achieve them.

One of the things I have learned over the years is that we need to be careful about jumping straight into problem solving mode. There are a number of reasons why we, as problem solvers need to beware:

  1. “Gravity Sucks”

Gravity SucksWhat is described as a problem isn’t really a problem at all – its just the world. Life would be so much easier if we didn’t have gravity. Forty flights of stairs? No Problem! Tall Buildings at a single bound? Easy. Gravity is just reality in fact. It is a given, we can’t do anything about it, so there is no point in trying to solve the gravity problem. There are many occasions where when asked, the biggest problems people are facing are just the world. Tax rates, interest rates, rent costs, economic recession, are all environmental factors that we all face, but about which we can do little. Rather than trying to “solve” these problems, both the individual concerned, and me as a colleague, adviser, friend, mentor need to focus on those things that we can solve.

  1. Rubiks Conundrum

RubikThe individual concerned doesn’t want the problem solved The guy with the Rubik’s cube doesn’t want you to come and fix it (certainly not by peeling the little labels off). The lady doing the LB crossword doesn’t want your help. In business and in life generally, there are rewards for working things out yourself, for solving your own problem, for finding a way out of the maze, for creatively finding a solution to the puzzle. We call this satisfaction. By just coming along and solving the problem for someone, we may have removed a problem that they didn’t want fixed. This was brought home to me recently by my young son who has spent what seems to be weeks fixing a car. When I asked him if he wanted my help, he gave the best answer he could, “Thanks Dad, I want to work this out for myself, if I can’t how will I learn anything?”

  1. “The cure is worse than the disease”.

The individual is not going to like the solution you give them. I can solve most people’s cash flow issues, by encouraging them to spend less; most of us can lose weight if we eat less and move more, the solution to a difficult employee is obvious, we can cut our financing costs by buying a cheaper car. Many of our”problems” are of our own making, through choices we have made, and often we can’t have the desirable thing without the “problem”.

  1. “Victim Syndrome”

Misery Is A ChoiceLets face it some folks are just miserable, and happy being that way. Even if you can solve the problem, it could be that their lot will not improve. Worse still, chances are that solving one problem will only lead to them moving on to another. It is here that we need to examine our reasons for being a problem solver. For me, whilst my biggest driver is in making other people’s lives better, there is also satisfaction in solving the problem itself. IF the only reason you offer help is so that you can make the other person happy, you are likely in for a fall. We all know people who move through life in a fog of misery, and no matter how hard we try, we re unable to remove them from it.

So next time you immediately leap into problem solving mode – gravity or no gravity, it might pay you to pause and consider whether any of these factors are involved. I know you want to give the answer to 35 across, that you are a wiz with a Rubik’s Cube, and that you lost 20kg in four weeks by only drinking water. I know you can likely solve the problem in front of you, but should you?

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