You Can’t Solve Problems with Instant Coffee

If you’re old enough, you may remember a time when the only thing “instant” was instant coffee – magic crystals that, when mixed with hot water, turned into actual coffee.

Today, however, almost everything is “instant.”

There are 24-hour news channels so we don’t have to wait until tomorrow or the evening news broadcast for the details of today’s events. A political protest, earthquake, armed conflict, volcanic eruption, or major sporting event can occur almost anywhere in the world, and thanks to satellite communications, in an instant, the rest of the world not only knows about it, but people are watching streaming video of the event as it unfolds.

The moment a head of state, politician, or celebrity says or does something noteworthy (or more often, not so noteworthy), it’s instantly recorded, reported, and repeated in the media.

We are living in an age that caters to instant gratification…where “fast” is often not fast enough.

So what does the need for instant gratification have to do with solving problems?

Because of our “instant” programming, we expect instant solutions to problems. And that expectation often causes us to too quickly analyze problems and too quickly come up with solutions.

Instant analysis; instant solutions; yield instant results. But, the results don’t last, and the problems, or variations of them, resurface.


In the rush to solve problems, the “real” problems are not identified. Instead, the analyses and solutions are focused primarily on the “observed” problems – which are only manifestations of the real problems. Consequently, solutions are aimed at the “effect” rather than at the “cause.” And, when causal relationships are not fully explored, or perhaps ignored, the resulting solutions (like instant coffee that is only vaguely related to “real” brewed coffee) are only vaguely related to the “real” problems, and their outcomes are temporary, at best.

Learn to look at problems as the “effect” – the outcome of a system, process, or other chain of events. Then, before looking for solutions, identify what precipitated the outcome – which link in the chain may have given way. Finding the weak link will start you on a path toward a real solution.

Once you’ve identified the weak link, you must determine what caused it to be weak. Was it weak to begin with, or did something happen to weaken it? Then, when you’ve determined the underlying cause for the weakness…look for its underlying cause.

You may have to dig down a few layers to uncover the root cause. Only then can you begin to develop a lasting solution for the “real” problem.

You do this by asking emotionally driven “Pain” questions. The first pain someone shares is what we call the surface pain, it is usually intellectual in nature, and is never the “real” problem. If you ask them to further explain and clarify and dig deeper, you will get the emotional issues or challenges they are facing, and not only will they get more emotionally involved in wanting to make a change (hopefully to your company), but you will get to the root cause.

It will take more than an instant to fully analyze problems. You must be willing to invest the time and look below the surface for the real causes for the weak links. It will take longer, but the resulting solutions will last longer.

If you are interested in learning more about Ken Guest, the Ruby Group and Sandler Training and the programs or training offerings available, please contact Ken Guest at 330.421.7347.

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