Often the problems that need your attention the most aren’t seen but felt

“Skilled strategists are happy to look at analysis and data, but they are also able to identify and focus on a critical challenge or opportunity and then create a way to address it.” Richard Rumelt /TheCrux

John Dewey said that the most reliable source of new ideas is ‘reflection’ and ‘felt difficulty’.

Don’t disregard it because that’s the best way to find puzzles that need your attention the most.

Describing how to identify the crux of a problem, he says:

“Experienced designers can be seen to engage with a novel problem situation by searching for the central paradox, asking themselves what it is that makes the problem so hard to solve.

I added the emphasis because asking what makes the problem so hard to solve is the diagnosis. It’s the step between experiencing the problem and testing a possible solution.

That’s why much of problem-solving, he explains “is a combination of imagination and knowing about many other designs, copying some elements of each.”

All gnarly problems, as Richard Rumelt calls them, have these characteristics:

  1. They’re not obvious instead there’s a sense of things going wrong or of opportunities just around the corner.
  2. There are competing goals, ambitions, desires, and priorities which can’t all be satisfied at once.
  3. Your options and alternatives aren’t straightforward and must be imagined.
  4. There are multiple iterations of the same facts and only weak connections between action and reward.

How do you form the habit of looking at the world in systems?

  1. Collect: Keep a list of problems, issues, and opportunities. Make sure that you’re looking at the whole issue.
  2. Cluster: Organise problems and opportunities into groups.
  3. Filter: You’ll always end up with more stuff on your list than what you should give your attention to. Filter problems that need your attention first.

It’s so important to appreciate that problems that need your attention the most seem obvious only after you’ve put in the work to put your finger on them.

No one solves a problem they cannot comprehend and hold in their mind.

Richard Rumelt