My Korean Restaurant Dilemma and What It Has to Do with Problem Solving
I’ve been thinking about problem-solving recently and the tendency we have to look to the subject of what we want to resolve.
“I need a solution to this difficult client problem.”
“I need a new business idea.”
“I need to work on my presentation skills.”
Here’s the Pattern
We look at the thing we want to work on. It seems sensible to us to ‘think’ more about what’s wrong or how we could come up with a new perspective. We make lists; we prioritise ideas, we to try to figure it out.
What I’ve noticed, though, is that the more we focus on something, the harder it can be to get new ideas about the very thing we want to solve.
I know this can look like a paradox, but there’s a gulf of difference between coming up with a new way to tackle the thing you want to solve, and having a completely new idea.
Here’s What Happens
When we look at an existing problem, we are looking at the problem from only one perspective.
As Einstein says (or whoever said these words that have been credited to Einstein!),
“We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”
The Korean Restaurant Problem
I was out with some family and friends recently. We’d gone to a Korean restaurant and one of my friends is a vegetarian. We asked for the best recommendation for my vegetarian friend and the waiter pointed to one of the choices and told us we could have that with or without meat. That was it, one choice. Take it or leave it.
Now we could have looked at other variations on the menu, perhaps asked for some new combination of appetisers or something from the menu.
That’s very different to starting over and asking my friend what she would like to eat if she could have the chef make her anything at all.
Problem-Solving Versus Innovation
Sometimes we need to resolve something quickly and we turn to what we already know. We reduce our options, we tweak and look more intently at the thing in front of us.
When we’re looking for innovation, however; a leap in performance or productivity, or the solution to a complex or challenging problem, this approach will only reduce the choices in front of us.
The truly new ideas, the things that give us exponential results or even eradicate a problem entirely come only from new thinking.
Those solutions can’t be ‘figured out’ because they come from somewhere beyond our conscious thought. They require space, they require emptiness, they require trust in the process of creativity.
The Idea-In-The-Shower Moment
We’ve all have it — those ideas that come in the shower, when we’re out for a run, while we’re doing the ironing… we know it works, but do we allow it to be our go-to process?
Many people I meet still believe they are in control of this process; that their conscious brain can somehow come up with a better idea than the unconscious, the world beyond what we know and see in the moment.
Ideas need space to gestate, they come from nothing, they come when we aren’t looking. Yet we fill our heads and our time with all the thinking we can possibly cram in about the ‘problems’ we are experiencing.
It’s only when we let go of this, when we value the space, when we actually create space and let go of attachment to the problem, when we allow ideas to flow again and again that we get something brand new.
Am I saying not to worry about things? Am I saying never to try to find solutions to problems? No, not at all. Sometimes there’s an easy fix to a simple problems and a little intellectual input is all we need.
But, when we get those thorny issues, the big challenges that, if resolved, could be game changers for our business, the wider world, or for us personally, then we need to adopt a different strategy.
We need to give over our intellect to the blank page, the space of new thinking. That’s when the wonderful shows up.
And it always does, my friend, because that’s how the idea creation process work. Don’t think you have to ‘do’ anything at all.