Managing Problems You Can't Fix

by Paul Williams

Managing Problems You Can't FixProblems. Challenges. Opportunities.

Whatever you call them at your company, we want them fixed. Our gut reaction is – come hell or high water – to find a solution. However, there are times when there is no fix… You’re stuck with it.

For example, your business may be experiencing a challenge with the current “economic condition” in the United States. The challenge with the downturn/recession is that as an individual business there is not a lot you can do. You have to deal with it and wait it out.

Another time when we face challenges beyond our power, is when doing SWOT analysis. You can manage the Strengths, and Weaknesses and you can exploit the Opportunities. However, the Threats are out of your control… you’re stuck with their reality.

So, what can you do?

Your options are to…

  • find a way to live with the problem, or
  • find ways to flip the situation so it is seen as an asset versus a deficit.

(1) Living with the Problem

At first, this sounds fatalistic; not a ‘victory’ situation. However, the realization that you can’t fix something can be liberating. It frees you to focus resources on things you can change. You manage recognizing the problem is simply part of your playing field.

(2) Flip from Deficit to Asset

A second option is to find a way to work the problem to your benefit. Change the deficit to an asset. This is called asset-based thinking.* Okay, so customer traffic has slowed at your business, maybe this is your opportunity to shift your model from a focus on quantity to quality. Instead of relying on new customers from new traffic, perhaps you should look at your existing satisfied customer base. Can you reconnect with them and create higher satisfaction and incremental sales? There are a slew of approaches once you turn the problem on its head.

Brian Clegg and Paul Birch in their book Instant Creativity recommend examining your situation in two stages to “make your problem state desirable.”

Ask first:

  • How could you change the world to live with this problem?
    (This creates your first set of solutions)

and then:

  • How could you change the world so the problem goes away?
    (This creates a second set of solutions)

They recommend taking the results of these two questions and combining to determine potential ways to manage the situation.

While not all problems can be fixed, at least you can reduce your angst and find a way to flip the problem to benefit from it.

*Incidentally, you can learn more about asset-based thinking at the “Asset-Based Thinking” website of Kathy Cramer and Hank Wasiak.

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Paul WilliamsPaul Williams is a professional problem solver at Idea Sandbox. He can help you create remarkable ideas to grow your business. You may read more at his website and find him Twittering as @IdeaSandbox.

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  1. Thank you, Paul. I especially appreciate the alternatives regarding making the problem state desirable. Not many people think this way. Great article. Shannon

  2. Something in this article reminded me of the acronym CIA when used to ‘deal’ with the stuff that happens around us.

    C – can I Control the situation? If the situation does turn out to be controllable then do so and get on with life. Most likely it isn’t (we can’t even control our own breathing, heart rate etc for more than a few minutes) so get on with life…

    I – can I Influence the situation? Always (yes, always!) a matter of choice. A little fella called Ghandi decided to influence the Brits out of India when others gave up. Conversely you might decide not to influence the situation (I did/do not agree with the Iraq War but decided not to go on the million man march in the UK). If you choose not to influence then accept and get on with life…

    A – am I prepared to Accept the situation? (See Iraq above) If I am going to accept the situation, and if I cannot control nor choose to influence then I have no other choices, then accept it fully and get on with life…

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