This week we’re getting practical with some tips you can use when you’re facing a challenge. Whatever organization you’re in, or what role you have, if you’re a Manager, Director, or Vice President, a big part of your job is finding creative solutions to challenges. Here are a few ways to work on them:

Questions Rather than Answers
This first approach comes from Hal Gregersen, from a video lecture he did with Amy Edmondson. He calls it the “question burst.” Rather than jumping into solutions for a vexing problem, in this method, you start with questions. Spend a good 15 – 20 minutes identifying all of the questions that come up when you think about the challenge. No solutions. No long preambles or explanations. Just clear, concise questions.

For example, this week I’m facing the challenge of deciding whether to take on a new project, at a time when I’m already pretty busy. My question burst raised the following:

  • What is the project about? Am I interested in the topic?
  • What is the project scope? Do the project goals and timeline feel do-able?
  • What could I learn from it? How will it help me advance my thinking in areas that matter to me?
  • What experience do I already have that I can draw on? What will be new to me? Am I excited about gaining experience in those new areas? Do I have the bandwidth for that amount of “new” right now?
  • How much time will it require? When? Will I have to work nights and weekends to fit it in?
  • Who else is involved in the project? How will their work relate to mine? How hard or easy will it be to coordinate with them?

Doing that work, I’ve uncovered some underlying concerns and wants. I now have a better understanding of what I could learn from the project, how I can use what I already know, and how the project fits in with my existing commitments. An added bonus – I’m much better prepared to gather the information I need from the client to make the decision.

Could Rather than Should
Our second tip comes from Daniel Pink, from one of his Pinkcast episodes. When facing a dilemma or challenge, people typically will ask themselves, “What should I do?” Pink suggests instead asking, “What could I do?” Should is a narrowing down word, good for when you’re ready to make a decision. But if you’re not at that stage yet, asking “What should I do?” can actually leave you feeling stuck. It’s as if you have to come up with the right answer right away. Instead, “What could I do?” is a question that evokes multiple possibilities and broad thinking.

Applying this to my example above, if I asked, “What should I do about this project?” the answers that come to mind are either take it or turn it down. On the other hand, if I ask, “What could I do about this project?” now my mind opens up to other possibilities. Maye I could see if there’s someone I could partner with to help carry some of the work? Or I could see if the client has any flexibility about when the project is done? Or I could ask if they have someone internally who could do some parts of it, rather than outsourcing the whole thing. Asking “What could I do?” opens up a world of possibilities.

Clarifying Wants and Conditions
The third method comes from my coach and friend Lisa Toste. With this approach, you start by asking, “What do I want in this situation?” The trick here is to let yourself think about all of the things you would want, without necessarily limiting yourself to what you think is reasonable or possible. Too often, I see people limiting their range of possible solutions to a challenge by setting unnecessary limits on themselves. For example, far too many people believe that wanting a promotion and wanting a good work-life balance are mutually exclusive. So, they don’t even allow themselves to acknowledge that that’s what they really want. That’s the kind of thinking that can leave you feeling stuck. So with this method, the idea is to think about what you would want if you could have it all. The answer might be:

  • I want a promotion and a pay raise.
  • I want to lead a team.
  • I want interesting, challenging work.
  • I want to be able to spend evenings and weekends mostly with my family, with little to no job encroachment.

Then, with your list of wants in front of you, the next question is: What has to happen for me to have everything I want?

Here’s where you start to define the conditions and steps you can take to make your vision a reality. So if you want everything in the list above, then some of the conditions would be:

  • I need to get better about saying no, setting boundaries, and prioritizing.
  • I need to work for a boss and a company that support work-life balance.
  • I need to make sure I’m in an organization where the resources are aligned with expectations.

These questions invite you to be clear about what’s important to you and then get creative about how to make it happen.

If you’re interested in finding ways to solve the challenging problems you’re facing in your career so you can have more of what you want, my team and I would love to help you get there.

You can reach out to us by booking a call at We look forward to talking with you soon.

Here’s a video if you prefer to watch and listen to me talk about this topic:

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