This appeared in print as part of the story “Best Laid Plans” In 2007, the City of Columbia’s visioning document suggested that council...
A couple years ago, a local banking executive was asking me questions about what I do.
“I help people and businesses innovate,” I told her.
“Hmmm,” she replied.
She was skeptical about the whole “innovation” thing.
“What’s wrong with just keeping things the way they are? I kind of like them,” she went on.
“We help others solve problems,” I tried again.
“Oh, we don’t have any problems,” she said, full of confidence (with a dusting of conceit).
This exchange has hung with me for the past several years.
Case in point: As frustrating as that exchange was several years ago, today, one of the Guiding Questions of What If…?360 is: “What if there are no problems, only opportunities?”
What if this isn’t just a “guiding question”? What if it’s true?
You know you’re hanging around an entrepreneur if the word “pivot” comes out of their mouth before they can tell you their name. Entrepreneurs are proud of their pivots. We wear them like merit badges on a scouting sash.
What if when an entrepreneur is talking about her or his pivot, all they’re really saying is: “Yeah, I had a problem. Yo, I solved it.”
So what’s the problem with problems?
What if “problem” is a word we use for change we don’t want, aren’t excited about, or — the worst kind of change — the kind we don’t understand?
What if we’ve been taking too mathematical of an approach to our understanding of what problems are and what they can do for us? What if problems don’t exist simply to solve them and then move on to the next? What if problems exist to learn from and then build upon?
Or, as Peter Diamandis puts it: “When you are faced with a seemingly impossible problem, sometimes you need to shift your perspective, question each assumption and see what crazy ideas may actually be the basis for a fundamental breakthrough.”
Take a second and reflect back on a problem you experienced. After you get past how much painful the problem was in the moment, see if you can track the other moments that followed. What did you learn? What did you start? What did you stop? Where are you now? You might surprise yourself after you collect all these little moments and weigh them against the pain of the problem in the moment.
What if changing your perspective on what problems are can lead you to getting more out of the “problems” you are bound to continue having?
But what if the greatest opportunity that problems of different shapes and sizes afford us is the opportunity to pull together, collaborate, and support one another?
Matt Murrie is the executive director and chief curiosity curator of What If…? 360. Email him at Matt@WhatIf360.com.