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Solving Problems by asking the right question

Imagine you are neck deep in a swamp. The slime is lapping at your chin and your legs are knee deep in the sticky bog. Can you get out, and back onto firm ground, in a single step?

The answer is no! If it took you a dozen steps to make your way into the murky mire, then it will likely take you at least that many to make your way back out again. There are usually only one particular set of circumstances that will allow you to extricate yourself from a bog in one single step – and that is if you are only one step in.

One of the reasons that people have difficulty in extracting themselves from sticky situations, is they are looking for a single-step solution to a multi-faceted problem. Also, problems often look more unsolvable than they actually are because of our natural tendency to seek a one-step solution – a quick fix – and when we ask the question ‘CAN I GET OUT OF THIS NOW?’ (with a single act) – our 4 lbs of grey problem-solving hardware comes back with a resounding answer – NO! And so we see the problem as insurmountable.

And all of that is because we are asking the wrong question. If instead, we ask the question ‘CAN WE IMPROVE OUR SITUATION BY 5%?’ – the answer will almost always come back – YES! We can nearly always improve our situation by 5%. Having money troubles – don’t eat pizza or rent videos for a month and save the money. Now you’re 5% better off. Having relationship troubles – kiss your loved one before you leave the house and buy her (or him) a small gift for no reason (with the money you saved from your ‘pizza abstinence’ – 5% better off! And so on.

A couple of 5% improvements and the whole problem begins to unravel at an exponential rate. Because a problem at 75% strength s=often seems very solvable – but a problem at 100% strength seems insurmountable.

Want to improve your pattern – or sweep an opponent properly – ask the right question. An initial speed-appraisal may fool us into believing that the problem is not solvable. But can we improve our situation by 5% – almost certainly!

Ask the right question.

See you in class
Master Bartley

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