In business and in life, clear and accurate problem definition is an essential prerequisite for effective problem solving. This may sound obvious, or even trite, but this simple truth can be overlooked by those with pressing needs and a bias for action.

What do I mean by this? A very simple, dramatic example: Megan is preparing the family dinner when the phone rings. Though she is only momentarily away from the stove top, the sausage dish she is cooking bursts into flame. The fire frightens her and fearing it will quickly burn out of control, she grabs a pitcher of water to pour on it…and if she does it will be an enormous mistake. One must not use water on a grease fire. Doing so will cause the grease to splash, will likely create serious injury and will risk spreading the fire further. In effect, it will not solve her problem. Quite the contrary. It will likely create additional ones.

In this example, Megan did not correctly define her problem. Fortunately, most situations aren’t this dire, and typically don’t require split second decision making. We often have more time to reflect on our needs. Still, the stakes involved in proper problem definition can often be quite high. As a result, knowing how to properly articulate and communicate a problem and how to recognize what help looks like is very important. In the example provided, Megan needed to safely and quickly extinguish a grease fire. Understanding this, would likely lead to different solution options than a less precisely worded problem statement.

In business and in life, do you take time to understand and define your problems and your needs before you try to solve them? And when you do, do you recognize what help should look like for you?

By Chuck Frey

About the author

Chuck Frey Senior Editor, founded and served as its publisher from its launch in 2002 until the partnership with Innovation Management in 2012. He is the publisher of The Mind Mapping Software Blog, the definitive souce for news, trends, tips and best practices for visual mapping tools. A journalist by trade, Chuck has over 14 years of experience in online marketing, and over 10 years experience in business-to-business public relations. His interests include creative problem solving, visual thinking, photography, business strategy and technology. His unique combination of experience and influences enables him to envision new possibilities and opportunities.