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Stop trying to solve the problem

Posted by  Mark Schenk —January 3, 2007
Filed in Business storytelling, Culture

Early last year Shawn and I delivered a workshop on narrative techniques in Hong Kong for a group of Masters students who were engaged in projects for several clients of the university. About two-thirds of the way through the workshop one of the students asked “when do we get to the stage where we can tell the client what the answer is?” This literally stopped us in our tracks – we were so accustomed to working on the basis that complex problems have no single correct answer that we hadn’t explicitly explained this and we had bumped headlong into a prevailing management mindset.

Jack Vinson refers to a recent post from Bruce MacEwan titled Vision, Decision (And Reservations) as follows:

Not only do you need to articulate what to do and why, but you also need to articulate the reservations you have about the particular course of action.  What does that give you?

  • The reservations enlist genuine support, changing “We’re going to do this so shut up and get on-board,” to “We’re going to do this so long as….”  It makes  your decisiveness and your vision realistic, in other words.
  • And, surprise, admitting things might not be perfect enlists support.  You’re not omniscient, and claims to the contrary alienate rather than attract.  Decision; vision; reservations; speaking each individual’s language.  Leadership.

Good advice. We generally find with complex issues that once you go into ‘problem solving mode’ you start heading down the wrong path – trying to prove your decision is ‘right’. Much better to encourage debate about the issue and help people to understand it and why a particular path was chosen. As mentioned in an earlier post, our advice to clients often includes the admonition ‘stop trying to solve the problem’.

Mark Schenk About  Mark Schenk

Mark works globally with senior leadership teams to improve their ability to communicate clearly and memorably. He has been a Director of Anecdote since 2004 and helped the company grow into one of the world’s leading business storytelling consultancies. Connect with Mark on:

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