Albert Einstein once said: ”If you give me an hour to save the world, I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and 5 minutes finding the solution.”  We all know that story, right? But, would you know what to do in those 55 minutes?

Business problems are complex. Most of the time they are very hard to solve. Whether you’re an entrepreneur, CEO, product manager or a strategist, you have certainly been in a situation in which something so simple or so obvious seemed incomprehensible; when your perfect solution, used and proven so many times before, didn’t work.

The question is why we keep failing to find the right solution. Why do all those, allegedly simple problems, trouble us so much?

The trouble with problem solving

When dealing with a problem, most of the time we start from a predetermined point of view or even a dominant idea of a possible solution. Such ideas define our course of action and make it harder for us to change our mind.

We encounter situations like these all the time in everyday life, when we are ill, in relationships, in sports. How many times have you tried to see what is the cause of your poor backend?  Most of us would start working on things we are familiar with: a grip or a swing or timing, on the most obvious, on what has been staring in our face all along. And most of us would end up treating symptoms.

Such assumptions give solutions that lead nowhere. On a tennis court the worst that can happen to us is to go home disappointed. But imagine how harmful and costly that could be when it comes to complex business problems – dealing with supply chains or launching a product in a mass market.

Avoiding assumptions

Let us meditate over a problem for a moment. Once we notice a problem, a gap between the current state and a goal has been created. As the problem becomes more complex, it’s getting harder to articulate the gap. Therefore, in order to solve the problem, the gap has to be clearly articulated. We have to accurately and adequately define the constraints, the current operations, the goals and to examine all the symptoms. If we spend time upfront defining a problem, we’ll be able to determine whether or not the solution we’re considering is the right one.

Einstein was right. In problem solving, whether in science or in business, we spend most of the time examining, researching and trying to figure out the cause. It is necessary to understand and define a problem before you are able to solve it.

Problem solving is a process. It usually lasts more than we want to. It includes the act of defining a problem, diagnosing it and providing solutions. None of these stages can be avoided. The truth is that we can’t cure if we don’t know what causes the ailment in the first place. It is only by luck that we will be able to accurately diagnose the problem that has not been previously defined and it is equally by luck that we will be able to find the solution without a proper problem diagnosis.

Problem definition and diagnosis are usually neglected for various reasons. They frequently take more time than finding a solution. They require additional work, research and thinking. However, it is quite possible that we will not be aware that we are skipping them. We see obvious symptoms and end up fixing them instead of finding an explanation for them.

On one hand, a clearly defined and diagnosed problem often contains its own solution within it. On the other hand , the lack of a clear problem statement and diagnosis prevents innovation and waste our time and money.