Friday, September 23, 2011

Two Questions to Get You Unstuck

Had a perplexing and complex problem recently, which really had me up the proverbial creek sans paddle.  When I remembered something I had read some time ago from David Allen.  He suggested asking these two questions when in such a situation:
1.  What is our desired outcome?
2.  What is the next step?
And this helps.
The first question is a broad one.  Where do we want to end up?  What is the aim of this project, this set of tasks, the solution to this problem?  If we were planning a trip, we'd answer it by saying "We want to arrive in Denver by 5pm on the afternoon of the 15th." This question establishes the goal, the point at which you would say "There, did it, I'm satisfied." 
The second question is a very near-term, tactical question.  What is the very next step I need to take?  What is the single action I can take now which moves me closer to the outcome?  What specific, single thing must I do in the next hour?  For our trip, we'd answer it by saying "I need to get on-line an book a flight to Denver on the 15th and make my reservation today."  Or I might say "I need to compare the price and time of flying to the price and time of driving to Denver, this afternoon." 
I applied this to my perplexing problem.  The first question settled the nature of the tension I felt; two competing agendas were clashing and I stated how each could be satisfied.  The second question then became obvious; a conversation with stakeholders in each of the two competing agendas.  Suddenly, I was unstuck and moving.
Try this, as you keep learning.


Patrick Adams said...

Joe...your post got me thinking! I definetly see this as a constant issue when problem solving. It can be difficult to get going again when one gets stuck...but when you break it down into smaller chunks, it helps one see the end of the tunnel and get moving again! Thanks for the insight!

Strategic Thinking Workshop said...

Just asking these 2 simple questions are great. Really can make you think.