right problem


“If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the
problem and one minute resolving it.” Albert Einstein

“I’m not returning until you fix it,” band leader Count Basie told a club owner whose piano was always out of tune. A month later Basie got a call that everything was fine. When he returned, the piano was still out of tune. “You said you fixed it” an irate Basie exclaimed. “I did, came the reply. “I had it painted.”

Today, people need to pause and examine whether they are doing business as usual in a world that increasingly does not reward doing business as usual. They need to seriously examine their answer to the question:

Are you solving the right problem?

Is there a more significant one you are overlooking?

A well-defined problem often has its own solution within it, and that solution is usually obvious and straightforward. By defining problems properly, you make them easier to solve, which means saving time, money and resources.

I like to use Michael Coopers ‘Problem Definition Filter’ when seeking clarification.

Explore the current situation

Paint a picture in words by including the impact it is having, the consequences of not solving the problem, and the emotions the problem is creating for those involved.


Once you have examined and clearly explained the situation, draft a simple problem statement by filling in the blank: The problem that we are trying to solve is                 

Ask yourself

“Why is that a problem?” If the answer is another problem, then congratulate yourself for moving from the ‘presenting problem’ to a deeper problem. Then ask yourself again, “Why is that a problem?” Do that repeatedly until you either land on what is obviously the source of all the problems you’ve found or you identify unexpected consequences of not solving the problem.

“Are you solving the right problem?”

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