wrong problem

The Wrong Problem.

It’s an interesting fact that many people look at a problem and think “there’s no right answer.” There are, in general, three reasons for this response: the person doesn’t have all the available information, there really are no right answers, or the person is looking at the wrong problem.

A young man knows that he’s failing a class, and needs extra credit to achieve a passing grade. In order to get extra credit, he’ll need to talk to the teacher. The choice is obvious: ask the teacher and possibly be declined the extra credit he needs or he can say nothing and fail the class.

“We fail more often because we solve the wrong problem than because we get the wrong solution to the right problem.” – Russell L. Ackoff

The real problem with the above situation isn’t the student, his work, his grade, or his teacher. It’s the way he looks at the options. One is a potential failure and the other is certain failure. So of the things in this situation that can be changed by the student, what should be addressed first is the options he’s choosing between. Both of the options above are based on the student’s fear, rather than on passing the class – hence the look at the wrong problem.

The choice is obvious: take action to pursue extra credit, or do nothing and hope someone offers unsolicited help.

Nothing about what he can do has changed, but he has successfully faced his fear of bias, which makes the real problem more obvious.

It’s easier to accept failure when you can say “well, I wasn’t really trying.” To have tried and failed is frightening from the perspective of going into the attempt, but is it ever scary looking back on something you tried to do and didn’t succeed? In general – no.

When you next find yourself facing a problem that seems to have no “right” answer, ask yourself if the problem you’re looking at is the problem you’re actually trying to solve. Is the problem that the weed-eater is out of cord, or is the problem your unfamiliarity with how to load the cord onto the stupid machine? (We’ve all been there once or twice.) In a lot of cases, you’ll find that both problems are solvable, and solving them will be much easier once you know which problem you’re addressing first.

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