The Problem with Problem Solving

Quote of the Week

“The way we see the problem is the problem.”
~ Stephen Covey

The Problem of Problem Solving

by Michael Neill

A couple of weeks ago, a marketing expert was shotgunning me with suggestions about what I needed to do to once people had signed up for Supercoach Academy. After listening to him for awhile, somewhat confused by the array of to-do’s he was putting forward, I asked him why he thought I needed to do all those things.

He looked at me curiously. “To prevent buyer’s remorse – after all, research has shown…”

What followed was an in-depth explanation of why this was so important, and suddenly I understood why I hadn’t been understanding him.

“The reason this hasn’t been making any sense,” I explained, “is because you’re trying to help me solve a problem I don’t actually have.”

A few days later, a client was explaining to me his concerns about his big break – his first gig in front of over 1000 people.  He wanted tips on how to find the “extra” confidence to make his performance “really, really, really good”.

I told him that I could share tips with him, but what would make the biggest difference was to have fun and not try to make this performance any different from any of the ones he had done that had led to this opportunity.

As I explained it to him, here’s how the problem-solving cycle usually works:

  • Something happens. (In this case, he got offered a great gig.)
  • We imagine all the bad things – “problems” – which might happen as a result of it. (In this case, what would happen if he suddenly lost his nerve in front of all those people and “blew his big chance.”)
  • We then “problem-solve” by doing things to prevent the bad things we’ve imagined from happening. (In this case, try to learn confidence tricks and techniques to “ensure” that nothing will go wrong.)

The problem is, apart from the original event, nothing’s actually happened except our over-reaction in the physical world to the problems in our imagination!

He didn’t quite seem to get what I meant, I told him the following story:

Imagine that it’s the Wild West and you are surrounded by hostile Indians. Your only hope is if the cavalry comes to save you. Just as you are about to abandon all hope, you hear hoofbeats in the distance and see a lone rider coming towards you at a gallop.

He pulls up beside you, leans down from his horse, and in a voice dry and crackling from the trail, says “I’ve got some bad news and I’ve got some good news…”

“The bad news is that the cavalry’s not coming. The good news is, this isn’t the Wild West and there aren’t any Indians.”

He laughed, and called me a couple of days later to tell me the gig had gone phenomenally well.

What can we learn from all this?

There will never be enough techniques to solve problems that don’t actually exist.

Have fun, learn heaps, and relax . . . while life will always have its ups and downs, coping with them is inevitably much simpler than you think.

Copyright 2010 Michael Neill, author of ‘You Can Have What You Want’. All rights reserved – read more tips at

Coaching Call to Action

Where are you imagining problems? This week look at the opportunities on your plate and see them as positive outcomes that are a reflection of the good work you do, your experience and your reputation. A shift in perspective is sometimes all it takes to create even more opportunities