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Why You Should Forget Everything You Know About Problem Solvingby@benoitmalige
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Why You Should Forget Everything You Know About Problem Solving

by BenoitMaligeApril 16th, 2024
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Master problem-solving with a fresh perspective by unleashing First Principle Thinking. This comprehensive guide offers a step-by-step approach to tackle challenges with excitement and turn them into opportunities.
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People often approach problem-solving like a locked box, searching for a key in the dark.


Picture this:


You are a consultant, on a business trip. You are getting ready for an important presentation with important prospects in an hour. You feel ready, you have prepared for this, and you decide to go through your slides one last time to make sure everything is smooth.


Your computer decides to crash an hour before your meeting and takes with it your notes and presentation.


After the immediate panic, you try to turn it back on, but you realize that you won’t be able to make it work before your presentation in 60 minutes.


So your brain starts scanning for solutions you encountered before. It immediately flips through old files for something similar:


  • You once had your phone die, and you were on vacation. It was inconvenient, but you didn’t have a presentation in two hours.
  • You remember once having deleted a folder from the cloud storage before. You ended up discovering that the cloud service had a “deleted items” feature.
  • You wait for that "aha" moment, but end up stalling. These past scenarios are similar, but they don’t apply here.
  • You don’t have time to go to a store and back, you can’t call IT to recover the data.
  • You start to panic. You feel trapped. Stress levels are shooting up, and breathing shallows.
  • It's becoming so overwhelming that your brain starts to freeze.
  • This impacts your ability to think clearly, and feeds into the loop that you created for yourself.
  • You are making it harder and harder to find a solution. Like I have, 100’s of times in my life.


Things don’t have to be that way.


Au contraire my friend..


Now, when I am faced with a new problem, I get excited.


I have a process that I go through every time, it’s clear and predictable. This is what I want to share with you today.


By the end of this blog, you’ll have a clear roadmap on how to handle problems, carry a systematic and unbeatable approach to tackling them with excitement, and even turn them into lucrative opportunities.


This will first sound counter-intuitive, but To Solve a Problem, You Must First Forget.



Problems are fun, they are like a maze.


It’s not about working harder within the maze; it's about stepping above it to see the layout.


But to unlock your potential to solve problems, you must first throw away the keys of assumptions.


The key is to break down the problem into its most basic form of understanding.


You must deconstruct it to its most basic elements, challenge the assumptions, and peel the onion. You must get down to the truth.


That’s the hardest part because once that’s done, you can:


  • reconstruct it.

  • forget it.


- And the answer will appear on it’s own.


It feels like magic, and that’s the magic trick I’d like to teach you today: We’ll use what’s known as First principle thinking.


“If first principle thinking is so effective, why isn't everyone using it? It sounds like just another buzzword that Elon Musk throws around?”


Why is it that most people are not fit when they know that working out consistently, eating healthy and under daily caloric needs will automatically result in them being in great shape?


It’s not about the knowledge. It’s about applying the knowledge - repeating it until it becomes second nature.


This is where knowledge differs from widsom.



This works with simple problems. This also works with much bigger, complex problems. This works in every area of life.


Once you learn the framework, practice it on the simple things. Challenge yourself to break down everything, forgetting assumptions.


Question everything. Not for the sake of rebellion, but for the sake of a better understanding.


Treat it as a game, because:

  • It’s more fun this way.

  • Everything is, in fact, a game that can be beat once you learn and apply the rules.


It doesn’t matter what problem you are trying to solve. This works on every kind of problem.


It can be digging out of debt, rebounding from a job loss, or recovering from a personal betrayal. It can be discovering that your computer died less than an hour before a critical presentation with no way of retrieving your slides.


Once you get enough practice, you will become a person that can solve problems.


Once you solve enough problems, people will notice and start seeing you as the problem solver.


Once you get noticed by enough people, some will start paying you to solve their problems.


And this, my friend, is the very nature of business itself: Solving problems and getting paid for it.


The bigger the problems you can solve, the more you’ll get paid.


So trust me when I say that I’ve learned to love problems. The bigger the problem, the more excited I get.


1. Thinking Simple, Solving Big

The good thing about being human is that billions came before us, and billions of them asked the same questions you and I have today.


There is no question that has never been asked, no thought that has never been thought.


Over two thousand years ago, Aristotle defined a first principle as “the first basis from which a thing is known.”


A first principle is a basic assumption that cannot be deduced any further.


First principles thinking is a fancy way of saying “think like a scientist.”


Scientists don't assume anything…


..Especially not common knowledge, which comes in two forms.


  • Common knowledge you get from asking others or finding information. Like stuff you read in books or hear from friends.

  • Common knowledge your brain just uses on its own because it's the shortcut it takes to conserve energy — as we discussed this in the previous blog.


Through his study of Epistemology, Aristotle makes the point of warning problem-solvers never to accept common knowledge unquestioningly.


Epistemology is the theory of knowledge. It’s the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion. It helps you understand the nature of knowledge itself.



When we apply this to problem-solving, we end up with First Principle Problem Solving.

This is your key to problem-solving.


2. The Problem Solver’s Guide

Here is the framework to follow:


First, you need to be able to mentally visualize the problem in its entirety. If you can’t do it in your head, take a piece of paper and pen.


Draw circles, boxes, and words. It doesn’t matter how it looks.


This key is to get it out of your head and make you realize how this “big” problem fits on a piece of paper.


Now, when you have it in front of you, you see the entirety of it.


Ok, now it’s yours. You own it. Time to dissect it.


In our instance, the problem is that you have less than 60 minutes to craft a new presentation and feel ready to present. You have no computer, you don’t have your notes. You have nothing but the knowledge acquired when preparing it.


Now let’s dissect what the presentation is for.


You are presenting today because the clients are interested in purchasing consulting services from you.


What is a consultant and why do people want to hire a consultant?: Someone with a new perspective, and critical thinking, able to help see the path and get to places faster.


Let’s recap.


You have 60 minutes to come up with something that needs to impress your prospects. You need to make them feel confident to hire you. You want to show expertise. You don’t have a computer or slides to work with.


Let’s continue breaking this down.


What makes a presentation successful? It’s memorable.


How do you make it memorable? People remember how you made them feel, not the words you used.


Let’s recap again. Here are the simple objectives of your mission. You need to:


  • Have them trust you.

  • Appear knowledgeable.

  • Establish a connection and have them feel comfortable enough to do business with you.

  • Have them visualize the results they would get by working with you.


Let’s take these concepts to their most basic form, breaking them down into one word.


  • Trust

  • Knowledge

  • Connection

  • Results


Now that you have the most basic assumptions, and the expected result you want. It’s time to.. take a break.


Yes, you heard me correctly. Don’t dwell on the problem, don’t start working on the solution. You already did the work to lay out everything on a piece of paper.


You have laid out the most basic principles of what needs to be accomplished.


You know what you need to do. Figuring out how to do it will come to you naturally.


So, go do something else. Go on a quick walk, grab a coffee, or play a game on your phone. Watch a 10-minute video. Anything that is not related to what you are trying to accomplish.


You have to let your brain take this new information and create new neurological paths on its own.


3. Say hi to the Default Mode Network Activation

Taking a break is an essential part of the process. Not letting this happen will never unveil the magic, such as:


  • Shifting Focus: When you decide to take a break and do something unrelated, you shift your focus away from the problem. This allows the prefrontal cortex to relax.


  • Default Mode Network (DMN) Activation: With the DMN active, your brain continues to work on the problem in the background, without your conscious effort. This subconscious processing will lead to the formation of new neural connections. It will integrate of pieces of information that you provided it with.


  • Eureka Moment: The anterior cingulate cortex and the right hemisphere of the brain, will suddenly piece together a solution that wasn't apparent during the focused problem-solving phase.


  • Formation of New Neurological Pathways: This is when new synaptic connections are formed. These connections represent the "new neurological pathways" that embody the solution or creative ideas that come to you during or after the break.


So let your brain do its job. Come back to it 10-30 minutes later.


The answer will appear. It’s like magic, but it’s not.


You realize that the best way to impress them and inspire confidence, but also stand out, is by not having the same, boring presentation that they have seen from the other prospects.


Without a screen, you will be able to have a “conversation”. You will establish a real human connection.


You already know your talking points. You have studied them countless times.


Another idea pops into your head. You remember to treat everything like a game.


So you have the brilliant idea to turn this presentation into a game.


You don’t have a lot of time, so you write these words on a piece of paper for each talking point. Each individual word is a strong message you want to convey and build rapport on.


Trust

Knowledge

Connection

Results


One piece of paper for each word.


You will go to the meeting, and place these in a bowl. When entering the room, you will place the bowl in the center of the table. You then will introduce yourself, and ask them to pull out a piece of paper, read it out loud, and have them tell you what this means to them.


After their initial shock, they will start talking. Once they do, you will now have a basis of their values, which you will agree with (hopefully), and tell your story and why it’s also important to you.


If it’s Trust, give a powerful and true story of why you need to have trust with your clients, how you establish trust, and what trust means for you. Explain that trust is a non-negotiable for you to work with someone.


Go through the remaining pieces of paper, and you will end up with a unique, deep, and informative conversation. The prospects will feel understood, heard, and comfortable. You will establish a genuine connection.


You now have an extra 30 minutes or so to relax. Use it to get into your flow state. Prepare yourself mentally however you like to do it, or just relax some more.


4. When Problems Turn Into Wins

You see, by doing this, we don’t just fix the problem. We also seize the hidden opportunity that the problem is presenting us with.


Every problem you encounter, big or small, always has a gift associated with it.


This is giving you the chance to look at things differently. This is allowing you to improve, find a better way, and change the way you do things.


If you didn’t lose your slides, you would have probably gone through your usual pitch, likely repeating what your competitors say — a story your prospects have already heard three or four times.


You already worked on the presentation, so there should be no problem remembering the big lines and selling points. The technical details will not differ from your competitors, everybody has the same information.


But while the information is the same, your delivery will be novel and memorable.


With this new approach, you will be able to talk about it without sticking to your original notes.


You will be more present.


You will not have a screen for people to look at, directing their attention solely to you talking.


They will be more engaged, and your words will be more impactful.


You will be able to establish a true connection.


Sure, your prospects might initially be confused by the absence of slides, and they may find it odd to pull out a crumpled piece of paper from a bowl at the start of the meeting.


What I can assure you is that they will most certainly be impressed by how this presentation stands out from 100% of the presentations that preceded it. It will be unique and effective.


There's a good chance you'll make that sale. And if you don't, it's likely because your values didn't align. This is better to know before starting a business relationship.


Embracing problems is opening the door to hidden opportunities.


Using the first principle thinking framework will remove all assumptions, guiding you to the core principles required to see the bigger picture and come up with a new, innovative, unseen solution.


Every problem presents an opportunity. Embrace them. Welcome them. Seek them.


5. Thinking Ahead: Your Next Steps

Start applying first-principle thinking to your daily challenges. Look at each problem not as a blockage but as a puzzle. A question waiting for a deeper answer.


Break down the complex into the simple. Question the obvious. Rebuild with clarity.


Let this be your practice, your new habit. Because habits shape who we are and who we become.


Effective problem-solving is not about individual instances of insight, but about cultivating a consistent approach and methodology toward tackling challenges.



So, challenge yourself. Today, tomorrow, every day. Embrace the problems you encounter as opportunities in disguise.


You must do this on an ongoing basis.


Practice until it excites you. Seek out problems. Enjoy the challenge.


You'll become the go-to problem solver. Recognized. Respected.


People will start to notice. They'll call you. They’ll pay you for your skill in solving complex problems.


Remember. This is business at its core: Solve problems - Get paid.


The bigger the problem, the bigger the paycheck. Embrace this. Excel at it. And watch as your value skyrockets

Thank you for reading.


Until next time,


Ben.