What if you had a team of people who, when confronted with a problem, organized around creating a pathway to be consistent with fulfilling the vision of the company instead of going around complaining and blaming others? Let’s take a look at how we as humans look at problems and how a simple change in our language can transform a problem into an opportunity.
Have you ever broken a promise?
It can be as simple as a promise to have a proposal submitted by 5pm. It is 2pm on the day it is due and the Internet goes down.
This shows up as a “problem” or “issue” for me. Some of the things I might think are: “I’m never going to get this done on time”; “Why isn’t the internet working? This is so unfair!”; “Why is everyone in the IT department so incompetent? How am I supposed to do my job if they can’t even be bothered to do theirs?”; or, “Why did my boss tell the client that we would have this done by 5pm? Because of her we are screwed.” I might be optimistic – “It’s fine, the internet will go back up soon” or “We can just submit it tomorrow, it’s not a big deal” – but in truth I’m really anxious. I think: “I need to get this submitted by 5pm or I’m in big trouble!” or “If I don’t get this proposal in by 5pm will I get fired?”
So what does any of us do in such a situation? A problem needs a solution, but where do we go to look for solutions?
Typically, we go to the past. How did I handle this before? “Well, last time I spent 2 hours on the phone with IT and they still couldn’t fix it.” Or perhaps I yelled at my computer, threw something, and drove to the nearest Starbucks where I used their Wi-Fi to finalize my submission. All while muttering profanities and blaming everyone and everything in my path.
This is exactly why organizations don’t change and why the same “problems” occur time and time again. People stay exactly the same because we base most of what we do in life — how things seem to us, what actions we take and what actions we don’t take — on the past.
We live our lives thinking that life shouldn’t have problems and when a problem comes up (i.e. the internet going down) we think “something is wrong here.” Instead, we can accept that there are naturally going to be obstacles in life and when they appear, we will overcome them.
So, since you can’t see a “problem” in the physical world, where do we start?
We begin with asking and determining what actually happened. A “problem” is an interpretation around what happened, not the reality. If what happened seems to you to be a problem, you need to ask: “What am I committed to, what promise did I make, that makes what happened seem to me like a problem?” – “How is what happened inconsistent with the fulfillment of the vision of the company?”
Instead of looking at it as a problem, declare a breakdown (or setback).
“The internet is down and I am declaring a breakdown against my promise to submit the proposal by 5pm.”
Why do this? Declaring a breakdown demonstrates your commitment to transform a breakdown into a breakthrough. This leads to a pathway — what are the actions I could take that, if taken, could translate this breakdown into a breakthrough?
“Because of my commitment to submitting proposals on time, next time I will give myself enough time to work on the proposal prior to the due date. Or, I will put a structure in place for what to do when the internet goes out so that I am accountable for my commitments.”
Transforming a breakdown into a breakthrough begins with dealing with what is showing up as a problem and declaring it as “what is happening.” This gives access to new ways of thinking and acting that create a pathway to a breakthrough.
What if you had a team of people who, when confronted with a breakdown, organized around creating a pathway to be consistent with fulfilling the vision of the company instead of going around complaining and blaming others? Would you have less breakdowns? Maybe, maybe not, but you would have different breakdowns instead of the same breakdowns occurring over and over again.
This week try leaving problems behind and taking on creating breakthroughs. Let me know what you discover.
High Performance Leader | Business Consultant& Coach | Sommelier | Fulbright Scholar