Scope the Problem First

Some of my colleagues have objected to my disparaging connecting the dots thinking. They think I’ve caricatured the strategy to make my point. They’re probably right.

What I am really criticizing is a particular form of laziness. The kind of laziness that always wants to cut to the chase, to skip to the last chapter where we discover who the killer was, that just wants the answer.

We all want to skip over the boring parts. We get in trouble when the important insights are hiding in the boring parts.

There’s the classic joke about the hikers who encounter a bear in the woods. One stops to put on running shoes. The second hiker scoffs that “you can’t outrun a bear”. The first hiker answers “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you.”

There are rarely simple solutions to complex problems. Few would argue that point. What’s harder to address is the pressure to ignore the complexity in a problem when there’s a tempting simple solution at hand. How much of the sales copy and sales pressure that we encounter consists of efforts to label the problem at hand as one that matches the solution being offered?

Curiously, this tendency cuts both ways. My initial conversations with prospective clients often begin with the client telling me what the answer is. “We need a mobile app”, “we need to move to the cloud”, “we need a CRM system”. The specific answers evolve over time, but the pattern persists.

“What problem are you trying to solve?” is the starting point I strive to move the conversation to. Some cynics will interpret it as an attempt to extract more fees from a simple situation. But, it’s essential if you want to get an answer that ties to the right questions.

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