Problems and Opportunities
Starve the problems. Feed the opportunities.—Peter F. Drucker, regarded as the founding father of the study of management
Problems and opportunities are two sides of the same coin.
Your brand is the solution to the problem of how the world sees you and your business.
Alligators and Anarchists
Problems and opportunities can make anyone feel surrounded by alligators and anarchists. Too many obstacles isn’t that different from too many positive choices–both have to be tamed and sorted and decided upon based on their value and viability.
Problems and opportunities are places where the beginning is not the most prudent place to start if you want to make a difference and a decision happen quickly.
Start in the Middle
One way to make problems and opportunities more manageable is to divide and conquer–by starting in the middle. Whether it’s the deal of a lifetime you’re deciding on or you’re trying to unravel a poorly handled relationship, find a way to place the situation in front of you and take a long look at it.
- Look for the core of the matter. Often there is one idea, event, or assumption upon which all parts hinge. If you can identify that, you know what you’re working with. In a problem solving situation, that’s what you want to fix. For a brand or an opportunity, the core idea is the goal you’re seeking. If you find you’re not seeing it, try tearing away everything you feel is unimportant or unnecessary.
- If you can’t find the core, find a hot spot–a compelling detail, an assumption, or an idea to focus on. Make that your focus. Obsess on it. Describe that hot spot in painful detail–especially its impact on the problem, brand, or opportunity. How does changing that hot spot affect the possible outcomes? Repeat the process several times to get a feeling for your problem, your brand, or your opportunity from the inside out.
- Then do the opposite–put the problem, your brand, or the opportunity in the middle and look at it from several viewpoints. Imagine you are a musician, a mathematician, a construction worker, a writer, an architect, a dancer, a psychiatrist, your customers, your parents, and your kids. How would each role see the matter differently? How does each new view that change the options of where you might take the possible outcomes?
At this point, STOP.
Give your mind time to rest. Any brain would need a chance to take in and sort all of the information you have just gathered. While it’s doing that, do something totally unrelated.
If you’re worried that you need to keep fixing the problem. molding your brand, or moving on the opportunity, take heart that you’re not losing time. You’re actually stopping yourself from wasting it. To ease that feeling, make an appointment with yourself to come back to the discussion–at least two hours later. Your brain will show up prepared for the meeting, You’ll get more done after this break. I promise.
When your thoughts have gelled, use the Content Development Tool to organize your ideas and the support for each one in a fashion that you can look at and share with confidence. Now all that is left to do is decide which option is the best for you–or to repeat the process if you want to take the idea a level deeper
Divide and conquer from the middle. That’s the reason my older brother–the middle child–always saw so many options and won so many arguments. Hmmm. Maybe he’s the one who taught me this problem-solving skill.
Please don’t tell him. He takes credit for more than half of what I am already.
–ME “Liz” Strauss
Some word associations to jog new ideas . . .
Try connecting one of these terms to something it wouldn’t usually be connected with.
Phrases that Use the Word Middle
Middle Man . . . Middle Atlantic . . . Magic Middle . . . Middle Ground . . . Middle School . . . Middle English . . . Malcolm in the Middle . . . Middle-Earth . . . Middle East . . . Middle Pillar . . . Middle Temple . . . Middle West . . . The Mighty Middle . . . In the Middle . . . Stuck in the Middle . . . Middle of Nowhere . . . Middle of the Road . . . Middle Years . . . The Middle Passage . . . The Middle Colonies . . . Middle Start . . . Middle Appalachians . . . Middle Age . . . Voices from the Middle . . . Middle America . . . Middle-age Spread . . . Middle Rhine Valley . . . Middle Class . . . Middle Manager . . . Middle Name . . . The Middle Ear . . . Middle C . . . Middle Jurassic
Synonyms for Middle
average . . . central . . . center . . . centre . . . equidistant . . . eye . . . halfway . . . heart . . . hub . . . in-between . . . inner . . . intermediate . . . intervening . . . junior high . . . mediate . . . medium . . . mid . . . midriff . . . midsection . . . midstream . . . midway . . . on the fence . . . uncertain
If you think of more, please add them in the comments . . .
Ideas and enthusiasm are contagious!
–ME “Liz” Strauss
Tape Recordings in Our Heads
Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.
When you read you begin with ABC, When you sing you begin with do-re-me.–the character, Maria, sung by Julie Andrews in
The Sound of Music by Rodgers and Hammerstein
Put a sock in it, Julie.
Turn off all of the tape recordings in your head that tell you what you’re supposed to do. They just get in the way. Unique problems require unique solutions.
Beginnings Are Often Irrelevant
Starting at the beginning is a fine thing–if you’re telling a story, teaching a lesson, or giving a presentation. In those cases, feel free to sing right along with Julie Andrews. If that’s not what you’re doing, turn off the tape recorder in your head that says, “Start from the beginning.”
Some things don’t have a beginning or if they do, the beginning is irrelevant. Who cares about how the fire began if you need to get out of the building NOW? You can worry about how it started later. When you’re strategizing a business plan for the future, how your grandfather built the first widget is probably irrelevant, even if it is how the company began.
When you’re creating something new, problem solving, or envisioning what could be, information is nebulous and coming from many directions. The challenge is to order it and give form–not to find the beginning.
Write a Three-Course Meal
If you think of an article as a fine meal, the middle is the main course. That’s where the fine dining is. It’s the centerpiece. The entrée takes the longest time and the most care. The executive chef is the one who plans it and prepares it. Put your best effort there–where it counts.
Use the FIOTB–Content Development Tool to gather thoughts that will make the middle outstanding and delicious to read. Once you’ve got the entrée underway, you can decide on the appetizer and the dessert. Maybe the beginning will be a question that you’ll answer at the end or maybe it will be a story that you’ll reflect on, the middle–the entrée–of your three-course article will help you decide what form the beginning and the end should take.
Great Writing Strategy–Great Brand Promotion
There’s added value in presenting your information as a three-course article. Starting in the middle establishes an important foundation and allows you to concentrate on presenting the information that’s key to your story, your brand, and your business.
- Course 1: Give readers a taste of your topic. This gives you a chance to capture their attention and focus their minds on your ideas. You can draw them in and prepare them for what you are about to say. By starting in the middle you already know what that is. So writing this part is much easier.
- Course 2: Serve up your ideas with facts and details to support them. By starting in the middle, you can spend your time polishing the finer points and placing your brand in the best light for readers to discover its value on their own.
- Course 3: Leave your audience satisfied with tidbits of why your ideas are important to them or give them reason to reflect back on what you said. Show that you fulfilled your promise. Let your audience savor the fact that your article was a service to them, and they’ll understand why coming back to see you is a good idea.
You’ve promoted your brand, your business, and your blog by writing an article from the inside out. Not bad for an hour’s work.
–ME “Liz” Strauss
I started in the middle with Writing 🙂
More Start in the Middle Ideas:
Branding and Problem Solving and a Start in the Middle Idea Bank are on their way.
If you have a situation, roadblock, or a problem you’d like to tackle with an Outside of the Box solution, please leave a note in the comments, or E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll keep your confidence and reply as best I can. With your permission, I might tackle your problem in an upcoming article–other folks might be looking for a new approach to the same kind of difficulty.
Because thinking outside of the box is unstructured, it can can lead to “swiss-cheese solutions”–answers that have holes in them–things that we just didn’t think of in our unstructured thinking. So I find that using structured tools relieves the stress of checking to make certain that all bases have been covered.
Content Development Tool
Ironically using boxes makes it easier to think outside the box. I use this content development tool to make sure that I have considered a topic from every direction before I start getting it ready for any audience. This tool works equally as well for planning an interview, a brand, an article, a small meeting, or a major presentation.
Purpose/Getting Attention: What does my audience want to know?
- What are my main points and ideas?
- What facts and details support them?
Presentation/Keeping Interest: How is it that I will show and tell them?
- How will it look?
- How will I say it with simple elegance?
Brand YOU/Reader Satisfaction: Why will they be glad they listened?
- Analysis, predictions, interpretations
- What value-added will leave my audience feeling satisfied?
Whether you’re inside or outside of the box, you need to know the what, how, and why of the information you’re offering any audience about any topic. That’s why I’m sharing this tool before we begin talking about getting ideas and solving problems.
I use it all of the time. It’s here now, if you need it.
–ME “Liz” Strauss
Got the Idea. Now What Do I Do with It?
Editing for Quality and a Content EditorÃ¢â¬â¢s Checklist
Introducing Power Writing for Everyone
Why Dave Barry and Liz DonÃ¢â¬â¢t Get WriterÃ¢â¬â¢s Block
There Is No Box
There is no box. There never was one. We just got taught to think inside one. You see, it was a management issue. With so many kids to teach at once, it’s more productive to teach one way of thinking than to manage a room full of creativity. . . . So when we weren’t looking, many of us learned the fundamentals of problem-solving, how to color inside the lines, and a way of thinking about things that isn’t all that different from a mime inside a box.
Just like the box that the mime pushes and touches even though you can’t see it. The box that we think inside isn’t real. The way to get out is easy enough–just stop believing in the box.
Life Without the Box
Life without the box is so much easier. It’s as if you now can use all modes of transportation available rather than always having to walk. The resources of your brain are freed up. Even better, it’s a lot more fun, once you get used to it, because thinking outside of the proverbial box involves playing with ideas not just thinking.
DaVinci knew it. So did Einstein. Most inventors couldn’t find the inside of the box if they tried. All great thinkers–folks we call geniuses–know that there’s nothing new to be gathered by staying where everyone else is doing their thinking. So let’s get on with getting out of it.
What You’ll Find Outside the Box
Every day, I’ll offer a strategy and some ideas for approaching your business from a new direction. Each strategy will be flexible and realistic. I’ll show you how to apply it to writing, problem solving, or refining your brand.
To be useful, even thinking outside of the box needs structure, so I’ll be using a problem-solution format. Then within each solution I’ll offer three content subsets: Information, Presentation/Form, and YOU/Function. Those three subheads come directly from What Is Content that Keeps Readers?
So, if you’re ready, I am. Enough with this introduction, let’s let the games begin. Everyone can think like a genius. It only takes a little practice, and a firm commitment to throw away the darn box.
–ME “Liz” Strauss