Monthly Archives: May 2014

The Whole Truth

Yesterday I sent off a solution to a client about a really tricky and heavy personal relationship problem. The kind that affects multiple people’s lives for years to come. I felt really good about having gently loosened the threads to find the through line and give him a clear path that might not fix things entirely (because you can’t control other people), but would give him peace of mind that he’d walked the direct path.

He wrote back to me, thanking me effusively for showing him all the sides in such an analytical and clear way, and affirming his own emotions about it so he didn’t have to be bound by them while he worked toward a solution. Which was awesome. And then he said this: “There were a few omitted details and a major negatively impacting event that might alter (the way this plays out).”


You know how when Olivia Pope finds out that you left out something major, she just stares at you and then figures out how much she’s going to hurt you once she cleans up your problem? Yeah. I was staring hard through the computer screen at my client.

If you’re working with me, don’t leave out important things, whether big or small.

I have no idea what my client’s omitted things were, but I guarantee that if he’d told me what they were, the solution I gave him would have maintained the same tone, but would also have gotten closer to an easy, unburdened path for him.

Last week I wrote about how I unstick problems. But that’s actually just the theory of how I do it. How I actually do it is that I go into a room in my mind with the problem, and the problem itself sort of turns into a heat map, and I walk around inside the territory of the problem and look for the stuck spots and the movable spots. And that’s where I dig in and shift things around. If I don’t know what the actual territory of the problem is (because you left something out), I can’t do as good a job. And I really want to do the best job possible solving your problem.

Why do people leave things out? Because they’re embarrassed, I think. Sometimes people have done things that are naive or stupid or mean-spirited or just plain bad. And they don’t want to tell me about it. But you should tell me about it, for the following reasons:

1. I’m a service provider. You’re paying me to solve your problem, not to make you godparents of my kids or nominate you for Concerned Citizen of the Year or let you into heaven. Who cares what I think of what you did? I’m just trying to help you make it better.

2. I have done an awful lot of things that are naive, stupid, mean-spirited, and/or just plain bad myself. Even if I wanted to judge you, I couldn’t judge you in good conscience, unless you have no remorse and want to keep on doing it. (In which case I’d just tell you I couldn’t solve your problem, and we’d part ways.)

3. If I know what really happened, solving your problem gets a lot easier, and the solution I give you is better.

So you should tell me all the key parts of your situation. Even if you’re not sure how they all come together, or which part is the real problem. And then I won’t have to give you the “I’m going to hurt you” stare when you tell me my solution was almost-but-not-quite.

Ready to just tell me what’s going on, and what you need to hand me to worry about so you can take a break from worrying about it? You can find me at

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How To Unstick Yourself

I started offering Flash Consulting (I solve any problem in 24 hours  (for $250) on a whim, because I have a talent for taking what feels like  a complicated situation and refining it into something simple that has clear action steps. As I started solving people’s problems and sharing a little bit about the situations I was encountering, people started asking me about my process. I had to think about how to explain it, because it’s just the way my brain works, but I’m going to try to explain how I go at the tangled and untangle it, or find the stuck spot and unstuck it.

1. Understand that there are always stable parts and moving parts of any situation. Usually when you have a decision to make, you assume that there’s only one moving part (yes or no, stay or go, black or white, wrong or right). But in any situation there are always parts that can’t change (a contract you’ve signed, a relationship you’re in, some developmentally appropriate behavior, some other parameter of the situation) and parts that can move (how you deliver the items you’re committed to delivering, attitude about performing an action, your response to someone else’s action, the metric you use to define success). Identify at this point what you think are the stable parts of the situation and what are the moveable parts.

(I get a little buzzing feeling when I find the moving parts.)

2. Figure out what the actual problem is. If your problem is about something someone else is doing, that’s not the real problem. Example A: “I need my kid to sleep through the night” is not the real problem. The real problem is that you’re not getting enough uninterrupted sleep yourself. Your child sleeping through might not fix that (insomnia!), and you could get uninterrupted sleep even if your child doesn’t sleep through (you sleep while someone else deals with your kid!). There are a number of different ways to get yourself uninterrupted sleep and only some of them involve your child’s sleep. Example B: “I need my supplier to shorten the time it takes to deliver my order” is not the real problem. The real problem is that you’re late delivering to your clients because you’re waiting on an order from your supplier. The solution to that problem is to adjust your own order process to account for the supplier’s time. That might mean developing a better sales prediction model or altering the way you pay your supplier or are paid by your clients, or any other part of your process that gets you what you need when you need it. In both those examples the thing you think is the problem isn’t under your control AND it isn’t the core of the issue.

The heart of this is that there is ALWAYS a way to fix your problem. And there is rarely a way to control someone else’s behavior. Those two true things combined mean that the way to fix your problem has a lot more to do with you than with others. That’s what I focus on.

(When people hire me for a Flash Consult I have to figure out if they want me to solve the problem they present me with, or dig into the real problem if that isn’t what they’ve identified. Sometimes people are delighted when I give them a solution that solves their actual problem that they hadn’t realized was the actual problem. Sometimes people have become so identified and enmeshed with what they think the problem is that if I give them a solution that isn’t what they expected, they aren’t happy.)

3. Look for the emotion (pain or delight). You can come up with A solution, but if it doesn’t eliminate the pain in a situation or create delight, it’s not THE solution. The right solution creates a positive emotion or a lack of a negative emotion. Often the emotion results from conforming to or not conforming to your personal or company values. If you have a situation in which you’re making money but aren’t upholding one of your other company values, it’s not the right solution. If you are upholding your values but aren’t making money, that’s not the right solution. (If you’re a company that doesn’t have “making money” as one of its values, you should get out of business.) If you have a solution that conforms to an external idea of what you should do but doesn’t conform to your personal values, it’s not the right solution.

(If I feel uncomfortable suggesting something, that’s a sign to me to keep working to find the solution. If I suggest something and the client feels icky uncomfortable instead of bubbly/challenged uncomfortable, that’s a sign to me to keep working to find the solution.)

4. Evaluate which parts are stable and which parts are moving. Now that you know what the actual problem is and where the emotion is in the problem, re-evaluate what you thought had to stay stable and what you thought had to move. Sometimes it’s a total inversion of the way the scenario looked when you first identified it.

If you’re doing this in a meeting, there’s going to be some naysayer who pops in right exactly now to tell you your flipped version of what stays and what moves can’t possibly work. This person is your best friend. Cede the floor to them and listen carefully. They are helping you find the holes in your plan. Your response to what they say isn’t going to be, “You’re right, dammit. We can’t do this. Let’s pack up and go home.” Your response is going to be, “Good point. We need to look at this angle and change this piece to avoid that. You just saved us $100,000. Thank you.” (I LOVE pessimists.)

(If you work together with the naysayer enough, eventually you two become Sherlock and Moriarty and sharpen each other’s skills.)

5. Sacrifice non-essentials. You knew what you thought was essential when you first looked at the problem. Now that you’ve examined what the true problem is, are the same things essential? Maybe not. Make as straight a path as possible to get to the solution to your problem. You can come clean up the non-essentials later, once your big issue is resolved.

To work through these steps, often I draw a diagram so I can block out what all the pieces are and how they relate to each other. My drawings are messy and incomprehensible to anyone but me, but they get things straight in my head so I can make recommendations. Other times I write down a narrative and as I write through these steps toward the climax and resolution of the story, that’s the recommendation.

Solving people’s problems is a giddy kind of fun for me. I hope seeing some of my process helps you untangle your own situations. If you hit one that you can’t unstick, you can find me at

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