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 flashcons.com.