You can’t solve a problem if you don’t know what it is, so the first step towards a perfect solution is a perfect definition: what is the actual problem?

A good way to define a problem is to restate it multiple times without using the same words until you hit the nail on the head.

Take a classic problem: ‘Our meetings suck’.

We can all appreciate the sentiment but the diagnosis ‘they suck’ won’t get us to a solution, so let’s restate it a few times and see what happens:

Our meetings are too long
They‘re unproductive
We don’t design meetings to work
We involve too many people
The same people do all the talking
Reporting dominates everything

Now we’ve got something to chew on. Suppose there’s a version that sounds close to the truth, say, ‘we don’t design meetings to work’. Let’s repeat the exercise with that as our new starting point, like this:

We don’t design meetings to work
There’s never an agenda
We don’t include people we need
The timing’s inconvenient for most of us
No-one reads their notes beforehand
We go over the same stuff every time

Any mystery as to what needs to be fixed? What other solution would you need for a problem like ‘there’s never an agenda’ other than ‘get an agenda’? And while we’re at it, how about we try ‘include the people we need’ or ‘change the timing’ or even ‘read the damn notes’?

Now you see the truth in the old saying: a problem well defined is a problem half-solved.

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Written by Jason Clarke

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Celebrated author, adventurer, gold medal Olympian and popular TV chef; Jason is none of these things. He is, however, one of the most sought-after creative minds in the country. As founder of Minds at Work, he’s helped people ‘think again’ since the end of the last century, working with clients across Australia in virtually every industry and government sector on issues ranging from creativity and trouble shooting to culture change and leadership.