The One-Sentence Guide to Problem Solving

Photo courtesy Linkedin.

Here it is again:

“Don’t solve problems. Listen, and help people.”

In my years of experience in many companies and many roles (including, for credibility’s sake, Lyft, Groupon, Bain, Accenture and a bunch of others as clients), nothing has served me better than that sentence. It has become my credo.

My early career as a suited consultant taught me about scientific management-style problem solving: Ask questions, form a hypothesis, gather data, design the solution and then pitch it to everyone, until the executives, clients and implementers all agreed.

It was hard work, and felt good, but didn’t necessarily create lasting change.

Later in my career, in large, fragmented companies with many decision makers at all levels, I’ve had to practise a different way of working: listening and helping.

Instead of making it about me, I make it about everyone else.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Spend a lot of time with people around the organisation. Find out who needs help — usually an underserved team outside the spotlight that nobody is paying attention to.
  2. Find out what’s difficult in their lives. Ask them directly. Better, walk a mile in their shoes and experience it. Keep probing until you find out not just what’s the core difficult thing, but exactly what solution they need to fix it. (And it’s not usually what they’ll first tell you.0
  3. Get them to tell you how the solution would help. What would they avoid doing? What more would they be freed up to do? How would this help their team and the company? Ask, and let them sell it to themselves.
  4. Make the solution. Give it to the one person or sub-group most in need.

This process does two things: a) it helps someone, which is enough in itself, and b) it creates a fan.

No longer are you running a project in a vacuum. You’re helping other people, and they’ll love it. You get thanked — genuinely.

And best of all, your new fan will spread the word about how helpful you are, and you’ll get to help others, too.

Originally published at on April 22, 2019.



I write about intense language learning, skill development, and intentional culture shock at

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