Changing Perspectives

March 4th, 2005 by Steve Pavlina

One problem-solving technique you should master is changing perspectives to redefine the problem.

The way you define a problem is often the key to solving it. Take a current problem from your life that you’re having difficulty solving. Then ask yourself: How can this problem be redefined as a financial problem? A health problem? A time management problem? A human resource or staffing problem? A technology problem? A prioritization problem? A communication problem? An education problem?

Here’s a simple example. Let’s say you’re a guy who really wants to have a girlfriend, but you’re becoming frustrated by a lack of progress in this area. How have you been defining the problem? As a problem meeting the right person? How else could you define it? Maybe your real problem is your career, which forces you to work in a male dominated industry — might the problem be a lot easier to solve if you worked in a female-dominated industry? Maybe your hobbies keep you homebound and alone, so you have to go out of your way to meet new people instead of naturally encountering them in the course of your normal life. Maybe your communication skills are poor, turning people away before they get a chance to know you. Maybe you’re putting everything else first in your life, and you’re not giving this problem the attention it requires. Maybe your finances are so poor you can’t afford to go out much.

Consider how the problem would change if you were to tackle it via one of these alternate definitions. What would happen to the problem if… you were a masterful and confident communicator? your income doubled? you worked in a totally different industry? you moved? you made it your #1 priority in life? you recruited a partner to help you solve it? you read 20 books on the subject?

Some problems that are really tough to solve via one route will more easily succumb to another approach. For example, many problems can be solved just by throwing enough money at them. While obviously money can’t solve every problem, money can hire a personal assistant, a nanny, a housekeeper, a private tutor, a personal coach, a personal trainer, etc.

A simple perspective change can open up a whole new world of possible solutions. When you consider only one perspective — one limited way of defining the problem — you automatically rule out an enormous number of potentially viable solutions. But blanket the problem with a multi-perspective attack, and your odds of success increase dramatically.

Often we fall into a pattern of being stuck with a single favorite perspective. I.e. if all you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail. My personal weakness is technology. I love solving problems via technology — a little PHP and MySQL can automate just about anything — so I often get stuck trying to solve problems via technology when they’d be more easily solved another way. It’s hard to break the favorite-perspective addiction, but when you start thinking through what it costs in terms of overall effectiveness, that helps provide the push needed to branch out.

You can use this approach with business problems too. Reframe your current big challenge as a marketing problem, a sales problem, a product development problem, a financing problem, a hiring problem, a “not firing” problem, a focus problem, a procedures problem, a values problem, etc.

Sometimes you’ll find that a multi-perspective solution is best. You may see that there are two or three perspectives which individually aren’t sufficient, but together they can provide a complete solution.

Pull out one of your big hairy problems, and try it for yourself. See what the problem looks like from different angles. What would happen if you threw money at your weight loss problem by setting up a home gym and hiring a personal trainer? What if you threw people and brainpower at your financial difficulties by forming a mastermind group? What about throwing education at your spiritual troubles by studying the lives of people you admire?


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