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Work the Problem

By Lynne Wester


Often times, as a consultant I am put in some very interesting positions and dilemmas for non profit fundraisers. One of the ways I cope with these issues is to look at every situation as a problem to solve. In the last few years I have even borrowed a phrase from one of my fave TV shows, NAVY SEALS, and it’s “work the problem”. In addition to the work the problem mantra I have been applying my skill sets in a variety of ways. Recently I’ve been reading Adam Grant’s new book, Think Again. It has really helped me figure out why my work the problem mantra works so well in consulting. I literally look at the problem from every angle, throw out assumption and givens, and work toward a solution.


I’m a big fan of puzzles, jigsaw and other types. And it is my belief that every problem is a puzzle waiting to be solved. Often times, the problem that is presented to me by a client has deeper underpinnings or an origin that is not exposed. It requires deeper work to flip over the rocks, find all of the snakes that live underneath and root them out. Not all problems are as they appear either. Every time I hit a dead end, I re-think the solution and work on looking at it from a different angle. I think far too often people in our industry stop at the first no and the first roadblock. But it takes some determination, some mental toughness, and frankly sometimes a wee bit of stubbornness to work the problem and come up with a solution.


Each time a new piece of the puzzle fits and progress is made, we have to take those tiny victories and know that we are moving in the right direction. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. How do you solve a broken acknowledgment process? One piece at a time. It’s a humbling process and at times it’s one step forward, two steps to the side, or I have to get involved at levels that are unexpected. But step by step the solution becomes clear. Sometimes it’s about having confidence that there is indeed a solution.


So when do I feel like I’m failing or flailing? When the problem is outside of our control or the problem is a person. In NAVY SEALS, the TV show, they usually solve that problem by killing their enemy combatant. LOL. Well, we can’t do that in the nonprofit world. Dealing with people can be frustrating and at times its like a rock in your shoe, irritating beyond your wildest thoughts. So how do you work the problem when the problem is a person? Sometimes you don’t. And sometimes you work three times as hard to find a way through. Assessing people is a huge part of working the problem. You have to stand there in it for a while and work bit by bit to achieve success with them. You also have to know when to let go and let it be. Bless and release it—you can’t control people as easily as you can solve a puzzle.


What are the lessons you can take away from working the problem? Be persistent, be passionate and work toward a solution each and every day. If you can’t find a solution, don’t be afraid to ask for an outside opinion or view. You could be staring right at the piece you need to solve and not see it. Ever looked for the ketchup in your fridge? It’s RIGHT THERE!! Rethink and grab a different perspective and work the problem to its solution. Take one step, do that step well and then move on. Celebrate small victories along the way and don’t let people be the obstacles to your success. And if all else fails, watch some TV and take some time away from the problem in order to decompress and find a new path to a solution—may I suggest a show? NAVY SEALS on CBS.