Why MANY smart people won’t solve their REAL problems?

Have you faced this situation before: You were stuck with a problem for a long time and one day somehow, you solved a different problem and the current problem automatically vanished?

If you have faced this situation, don’t worry. You are not alone. Getting stuck that way is a standard practice for many smart people.

How do I know this?

From my consulting and from my mini-research projects.

The Pattern

At work, I am blessed in many ways. I get to meet with many smart people every single day. The conversations are deep, engaging, insightful and last but not the least “stretching” – stretching my own imagination and creativity.

When I do consult with some of these smart people, it is usually about brainstorming to come up with new possibilities to get out of a “stuck” state. Interestingly, many smart people won’t even admit that they are stuck. Some of them even worry that admitting to be “stuck” may mean that others would think they are not that smart after all. As we have talked about before, getting stuck is a part of moving to the edges. Moving away from the person’s comfort zone and actually stretching oneself to grow. So, in that respect, getting stuck is not a BAD thing. It is choosing to stay there that’s bad.

During these consulting sessions, there is a pattern. More often than not, we end up solving a different problem than the problem they came to discuss with me in the first place. Did they know about the core problem? You bet, they did. So, why did they move away from solving that core problem?

Well, that happens to almost every smart person, including you. Let’s dig deeper into the source of that problem.

The Problem

Here is the result of my mini-research on the topic:

First, the good thing. You were NOT stuck because you didn’t know what the real (or core) problem was. You were able to notice the problem and identity it quite quickly. It is what happened immediately after you noticed it, that has the key to the source of the stuck state.

Here is a typical scenario:

If you were like most smart people, you not only noticed the problem, you almost immediately identified a potential solution for the problem. You didn’t stop there. You took the new path identified by your solution. Unfortunately, there was a roadblock on that new path too – a new problem. That didn’t stop you either. You knew how to get out from there. You quickly moved in another new path and things were going fine for a while. But, you hit another roadblock not in one place but all around you. This time, the roadblock was different. Others (read Boss, Spouse, Government, Economy etc.) were prominently involved in the roadblock. It didn’t matter whatever you did, others had to change for you to get out that stuck state. You don’t give up. You start on a journey of changing people to see what you are seeing. You want to make them to look at the world through your eyes. You are now on a crusade, determined to make that change.

If I have to generalize it, here is how it goes: You encounter a problem. You find a solution for it. Go on that path and encounter a roadblock. Find a solution for it. Keep repeating until you encounter a roadblock where external forces that you have limited control on are at play. Now you feel victimized and are “stuck” on a totally different problem.

Ok, what happened to the core problem?

What problem? You ask. The core problem has gone to the background and the new roadblock has become a problem way bigger than the core problem. After a while, you even forgot what the core problem was and why you were trying to solve it. Then, one day (usually after a long time) someone or something triggers (more generally jolts) you to wake up and take stock of your life and notice the “core” problem and that changes everything.

Right now, at this moment you may be focusing on the derivative at the expense of the core. Shift that and suddenly the world will look different.

The Proposal

Now, what do you do when someone close to you is a victim of this problem. Remember that they are smart and that makes it hard to simply point out what they seem to have forgotten. It will hurt their ego and the first thing people do when something hurts their ego is to defend themselves or their position. Then we are in another rat hole.

What has worked very well for me with my consulting clients is the kid-glove approach. I say something like this – “John, the clean slate approach has worked very well for me in the past. When I get stuck in a state and go to my mentors, I go to them thinking I really don’t know the answer to this question so let me be open to what comes out of this discussion. So, if you don’t mind, for the next 45 minutes or so – let’s assume that you don’t know the solution to your situation. Actually you do – we both know that but let’s pretend for 45 minutes that you don’t. Let’s see what comes out of the discussion. Fair?”

Most often, this will put their guard down and they are more open to listening and brainstorming. By the end of the discussion, we have together done our job if we have identified the core problem that is the cause of the symptoms that they came to discuss.

Good luck!