When faced with challenges, setbacks and roadblocks, its easy to get caught up in the negativity. Often, the gut reaction is to stop trying -- to allow a problem to get the best of you -- or to move quickly to create a band-aid solution that will undoubtedly need to be re-addressed at a later date.
But by making a simple change to the way you reflect on and approach problem solving with a simple question, you can radically transform the trajectory of your organization and fast-track your personal growth.
The One Question
As a leader of several student organizations when I was attending the University of Connecticut, I attended countless skill-building exercises, meetings and trainings put on by Student Activities, designed to help me become a better leader and to effectively balance my studies with my organizational responsibilities.
In one session in particular, a professional speaker came in to talk about overcoming obstacles and maintaining mental health when you have so much on your plate. Many of the examples, stories and lessons the speaker shared have since slipped from memory, but one phrase in particular stuck with me.
Whenever you're faced with a challenge, the speaker advised, ask yourself "how is this a good problem to have?"
For weeks after the session, I found myself asking this question, not just internally but out loud. I asked this question not just of myself, but used it aloud when problem solving with my friends, my mentees in the Academic Achievement program, and my team at the daily student newspaper. The results were transformative.
It may sound like a platitude -- a trite "find the silver lining" reminder designed to make a bleak situation feel like hopeless -- but the implications of this outlook are much more far reaching than momentary positive thinking.
The Power of Asking
Asking "how is this a good problem to have" calls you to not only find a positive in an otherwise negative situation, though it certainly can help refocus your attention and put you a better mindset for efficient problem solving. Asking this question calls you to find an opportunity in your obstacles, the potential in your problems, and to not only resolve an immediate quandary but to create an effective framework for avoiding and overcoming challenges in the future.
Mathematician Rene Descartes saw the power of this mindset, saying "each problem that I solved became a rule, which served afterwards to solve other problems."
When we solve problems with a mind for growth opportunities, we aren't merely identifying a one-off solution to an individualized issue; we're identifying larger trends that can have wide-reaching effects and applications.
How is your website crashing a good problem to have? When you update the infrastructure, you'll be able to capture a larger audience and increase your sales.
How is this feeling of being overwhelmed and stressed a good problem to have? Once you hone your time management skills, implement new tools to save time, and more effectively manage your business and tasks, you'll be able to do more business than ever before.
How is a poor performance review a good problem to have? You now have a very specific list of skills to focus on and the support of management to spend time honing those skills, creating a path to personal growth and stellar future reviews.
"Every problem is a gift," Tony Robbins says. "Without problems, we would not grow."
Asking "how is this a good problem to have" is not merely the idea that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger, but that we can actually use problems as opportunities. We can not only survive them, but thrive in them, and be better off for having done so.