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Challenges vs Problems

Left side thinkers see the world as a problems.  Right side thinkers see the world as opportunities.

While both words have a common focus, change, they come about the solution with vastly different baggage.

  • Opportunity = potentially positive outcome that raises our fight instinct.
  • Problem =  potentially a negative outcome that raises our flight instinct.

Obvious right?  Not if you listen to the news or most executive directives.  The language tends to sound like problems to solve.  That is, of course, unless a CEO is speaking to the board or Wall Street, then it’s opportunities to address.  Why is there so much doublespeak?  Simply put, when we want something executed without question, we say solve this problem.  When we want to open the floor for input and collaboration we address opportunities.

In other words, we have a fundamental usage opportunity I want management to change right now.

Notice I did not say “problem”.  Does that sentence sound odd given it’s a directive?

Words are very powerful and program others around us.  If teaching our youth and executives to code has any direct benefit, we should start with our spoken language and how it changes the reality we perceive. To accomplish this goal, you have to use a programming method to parse your communication into a desired effect.  Use words that project your desired outcome AND cultural outcome.  Check out this book on how important this is.  One can conclude that it’s why large companies struggle with the the concept of change.

Opportunity Identification and Entrepreneurial Behavior -John E. Butler

To put it bluntly:  Problems are things individuals define as variance to a smooth a predictable outcome.  That forms the basis of left side thinking and is typical in large corporations.  Or, in autocratic startups.  Opportunity is what individuals define as change which creates new expressions.  That is the basis of right side thinking.

Solution: If you want your company to be more nimble. Stop programming everyone around you to see everything as a problem.  What you say to your board should be what you say to the staff.  If you want your company to be less chaotic, reduce the amount of opportunities but don’t frame the entire process as a problem.

More simply:  Stop saying the word problem.

Here is a practical experiment to test the validity of my argument.

  1. Find a topic in your company that could be seen as an opportunity or a problem.  Set the meeting up with an invite that specifies the following;  you will post the topic, allow 15 min. for discussion and you won’t be speaking at all.
  2. Call a meeting about the topic and post it on a wall.  Say nothing.  Utter not one word.  Practice a Noble Silence.  Let the stakeholders open the discussion and end the meeting in the allotted time.  Allow on 5 min extension if needed.  The only time you speak is if you’re asked for more time.
  3. Observe exactly what happens and how the company addresses the topic
  4. Reconcile the findings in a post meeting review where you can then discuss the opportunity accounting for all levels of understanding

Here are just a few questions that might arise after this little experiment.

  • If everyone is absolutely silent, all practicing a Noble Silence what would be the outcome?
  • Can you transmit knowledge in total silence – non verbally?
  • If everyone frames the topic in terms of a problem, how does that make you feel?
  • How will you reward them if opportunities and solutions align?

Change the way you program your organization today.  Parse your communication with a direct sense of the outcomes you want.  Shape your language to embed your values and strategic goals with tactical words and actions that:  “talk the talk … walk the walk”.

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