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The Problem with Thinking about Problems

If you are a leader today, then you work to solve problems.  You work to remove obstacles to productivity and to be a positive influence for success.  You know you need to do this daily.  That’s just what you do.  So, it is good to gain more understanding of problem solving types.  Get better at seeing the nature of them and what leadership approach works better to solve it.  Bottom line for leaders, time is well spent when learning how to solve problems better.

It’s amazing how uninteresting life might be if we didn’t have any problems to solve.

Good problems are fun and habit forming.  They address success in business and learning how to grow with flexibility and stability at the same time.  Other problems are not good or interesting.  Problems can be big interruptions to feeling fine, confident and ‘in control’.

A sense of “in control” today for a leader is like an illusion that is critical to psychological safety.  Our constantly changing environments bring on a loss of balance.  There are times when suddenly, a new problem appears, and we go a little off kilter.

Cognitive Threshold

You may sense how individuals each have their own cognitive and emotional threshold of how many problems they can deal with, and handling the weight of them that they can carry. Most everyone has experienced brain lock. That’s when your brain has reached the ceiling for how many details it can handle and is often associated with emotional shutdown or even resignation (I can’t do anything about it).

It is helpful to sense and know how close you are to your threshold, since other people will not detect when you are disabled with unclear thinking.  Some people, when faced for too long with ongoing sets of certain types of problems, are at risk for burn out too.

Sheer emotional drain and physical stress is brought on by lack of trust, certainty, clarity and assurance.  Yet, our collaborative environments are characteristic of these weaknesses, especially apparent on highly creative technical teams.  But this syndrome can be found on any team at one time or another.

We see these emotional shutdowns every day at work.  Even simple problems can exist within complex relationships.  Sometimes people get so frustrated and triggered that what might be a simple solution is very difficult to implement.  Individuals can carry multiple sets of assumptions that cloud clear their intentions, even to themselves.  Unclarified assumptions complicate understanding and creates complexity in problems that can be overwhelming.

We find it useful to identify problem types. Spending just a little time working out what type of problem you have can help reduce overwhelm when a problem hits.

The following list of 5 problem types is prevalent in life and work, regardless of industry or business.  This simple structure can help you organize what’s coming at you, but also help you adapt with better thinking skills applied to the problem type.

 Five Problem Types to Identify:


Is this a simple problem?

A complicated problem?

A complex problem?

A chaos problem?

or…A Polarity?

1. Simple

With simple problems, leaders need to skillfully ANALYZE.  Simple problems need to be resolved by a single right best answer.  Once thought through and committed to, a leader can hold everyone accountable by providing clear steps and procedures, and continual quality oversight.