Finding the thread

This is the key to my most commonly utilized problem-solving strategy. We have a tendency to always look for a quick and often dynamic solution to any given problem. The reason for this can be traced to our life as hunter-gatherers – when we often didn't have the luxury of being able to ‘ponder’ a problem over a cup of tea; to increase our chances for survival in difficult situations, our brains needed to ‘gulp’ down all the information available in a split second, and come up with a rapid solution – that hopefully kept us alive long enough to tell the story at a later date. My own observation is that we still, to a large degree, react to emergencies (read: problems) much the same way. BJJ example: Stuck under side control – we ask ourselves – ‘can we escape?’ and we put in one large effort, and then get the answer – ‘No!’ we cannot escape. SWAMP example: Neck deep in the quagmire, we ask ‘can we get out? – answer again – NO! FINANCIAL example: $100K in bad debt – we ask, can we fix this? – answer again – No! RELATIONSHIP example: Bad partnership – we ask – can we make this work? – answer again – No!’ Of course the answer is so very often No – because it did after all, take time for the particular problem to fully evolve. The real hiccup is this … in each of the above examples, we have asked the wrong question. The question should have been this – ‘Can we improve our situation by 5%? The answer to that question would probably have come back a resounding – Yes! If you want to rip a sweater in half – you don’t want to try to grab it in one large bunch and pull it apart – instead, you want to find the thread, that once pulled, begins unraveling the whole thing. There is almost always a thread – it is just a matter of finding it, and then focusing on it. Last thing to consider – and this goes unnoticed by almost everyone – if we have proven that we cannot notice small erosions in our situation (eg: gaining weight – bit by bit, over time – before finally asking one day ‘how did I get 40Kg overweight?) – then we have proven that we probably are incapable of noticing small improvements in our situations as well. So when we lose 1kg – we look in the mirror, fail to notice the improvement and so give up on our efforts. Getting people to notice their small incremental improvements is a very important part of high-level coaching/teaching. So don’t try to solve large problems in their entirety – instead, try to find the small thread that, once pulled, will start to unravel the whole thing. And secondly, once you start pulling that thread, notice that you are indeed, getting somewhere. There you go – that’s my Finding the Thread problem solving strategy – I hope you find it helpful. Best wishes: JBW


Matt Perkins said…
Nice post John. Thanks.
Waynemperry said…
I've heard you talk about this at a seminar before. I use this principle all the time when grappling but have never thought about using it for improving other things in life. Thanks John

ps. Just got your Mastering Armbars DVD today. Cant wait to check it out.

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