On a warm Spring Day, as a Freshman in High School, I sat staring at my Western Civilization final exam.  I was asking myself, “Why do I need to know these answers?”  They’re already there, in the back of that big textbook I’ve been lugging around all year (mind you, this was before computers and laptops).  I have more important things to think about, such as Summer break and puberty.  And so, it began…my quest for a rationale reason to all of this.  You see we are raised in a solution-oriented world, and to me it doesn’t make sense. On a bright, but chilly Winter day, as a mid-level manager in my big Pharma job, I sit staring at my computer screen, struggling to populate the template that is in need of my annual goals.  There’s that feeling again.  The same one I’ve had since Freshman year of high school.  “Why do they want me to give them goals?”  It feels like they want the answers, which they do, because we live in a solution-oriented world.  Please tell us specifically what you will accomplish in exactly the same amount of time that it takes the Earth to circle the Sun.  And yes, we will shower you with guilt and remorse for those that you do not deliver on.


Then one day, it hit me.  I was working to articulate a juicy challenge that I wanted to address via Design Thinking.  Design Thinking is a human-centric approach to problem solving, where the key is identifying the right problem.  Sure, I was seeking a solution, but I was obsessing over the problem and that’s when I realized I was sent to the wrong world!  Surely there must be an Alternate Earth, on the opposite side of the Sun!  One which we cannot see, because it we aren’t looking on the other side of the Sun.  One where people think in completely opposite ways to us.  That’s where I was meant to live.  Aha!  It is not the solution that matters, it is the problem! If we are problem-oriented vs. solution-oriented, then we love problems.  But how can that be?  Problems are bad.  Solutions are good.  Problems are evil.  Solutions are wholesome.  Solutions drive everything, they lead us to the almighty bottom line! Ha.  Not in the Alternate World.  In the Alternate World, problems are cherished.  Solutions are just an outcome.  Problems are surrounded with beautiful music and optimism, and they are always present.  They are part of life.  Solutions do come along with some nice fanfare and polite smiles, but everyone in the Alternate World knows that these solutions are relative. They have a lifecycle and are often short-lived, and think about it, they will eventually lead to new problems anyway.  In the Alternate World problems are everywhere. They are like air – plentiful and critical to life.

Challenges vs. Goals

Instead of creating “goals,” in the Alternate World, we create “challenges.”  Beautiful, juicy challenges that sum up the best problems facing our situations.  Instead of articulating a clear outcome (code word for solution), we have challenges that we will take on so that amazing and unexpected solutions can come, and the bottom line is never a concern. Freshman, and all students in this world, are not taught to memorize solutions that have been found, they are taught to be visionary problem-solvers, because problems will always exist.  Solutions that have been found are readily available via the internet, but problems are omnipresent.  In both of our worlds, robots are a growing solution to many of our problems.  Yet, in our world the proliferation of robots has many people trying to solve for the new problems these will possibly cause.  In the Alternate World, they stand ready to address these new robot-induced problems, and they trust that the next generation will be such great problem solvers themselves, that whatever comes will easily be addressed.  We can stress over unforeseen problems, or we can teach our children to be amazing problem solvers, so that they can take them on as they come.  Sure, kids will get a taste of history, science, math and all the other flavors of life, but in the context of problem solving.

Love Those Problems

A problem-oriented world makes so much sense.  It is why Design Thinking and other innovative methodologies work so well.  When done properly, they lead to incredible solutions because they are spawned by incredible problems.  So, the next time you are struggling to create goals, or stressing to come up with a solution, just pause.  Close your eyes. See yourself buckled into a revolutionary form of space craft that will transport you around the Sun to the Alternate Earth.  Once there, enjoy the confidence and happiness that surrounds you.  Then, obsess over the problems that are at the heart of what you do. Embrace them and apply some Design Thinking or similar methodologies.  There is a sincere likelihood that the outcomes will be amazing and unexpected (and will create an entirely new set of problems, which is so cool)!