Albert Einstein is often quoted as saying that if he had an hour to save the world, he would spend the first 55 minutes identifying the problem and the last 5 minutes solving it.
Einstein apparently never said this. But the point is still important.
Often we are so eager to get into problem-solving mode that we don’t know what problem we’re solving.
The impulse to fix things is a well-entrenched habit of the high-achiever.
It feels productive to fix things, to check off the boxes on but to do that first, to mark things done and move onto the next. It feels like progress.
Fixing looks like work — or, at least, what we imagine work should look like. It keeps us busy, in motion. When we’re fixing something, or solving the problem, it feels like we are going somewhere, and getting somewhere.
But if we’re not fixing the right problem, then are we getting to the place where we really want to go?
The habit of fixing things is — like many habits — a means of escape. It’s escape from the actual hard work of uncovering the real problem that needs to be solved.
Identifying the Real Problem is Hard
It’s hard because there’s not a lot of doing involved; it’s not full of motion; it doesn’t look busy. Determining the actual problem requires stillness and space to let things settle and see what rises to the surface. It requires living in a space of questions — a place of uncertainty and ambiguity.
It’s also hard because having the “right” answer is often how we got ahead earlier in life. This is how you score well on tests and do well in school. But in the real world, in creative and entrepreneurial pursuits, the money is in the questions.
Before you jump into “fix it” mode, make sure you identify the real problem to solve. Or even if there’s anything that needs to be fixed at all.