Dropping the Ball, and Picking It up Again

I was walking in the park the other day with my partner and our puppy when a super hard lob with the thrower landed our favorite ball right over a fence and into a junkyard. Through the gaps in the wooden slats we could see it but it would take someone with the arm span of a giant Pacific octopus to get it out.

We were kept out of the junkyard by a thick padlock and chain that a bolt cutter would have struggled through and spikey barbed wire along the top.

Damn. It was a good ball too. Great bounce, durable material and bright blue for these park occasions. Dog owners, you know what I’m talking about. I was ready to accept defeat and go but the partner had other ideas.

He found a branch that would fit through the slates. The first one was too short but the second one did the job and he was able to maneuver the ball back to us. Damn. Why was I so lazy about the ball issue? So ready to give up instead of applying a tiny bit of problem-solving?

What’s the big issue about a £2 ball? It’s the worry about not having a problem-solving mindset and letting bigger challenges and opportunities go because you’re in the habit of not putting the effort into coming up with a solution.

We can break problem-solving down into a simple equation.

Solution = Resources + Mindset

Resources can be tangible or non-tangible. Ideas are non-tangible resources and one of the most valuable ones there is.

Problem Solving Habits

If the road to success is made up of small steps and habits shouldn’t the same rationale work in terms of problem-solving? Could a year of finding the ball, or figuring out your accounts or learning how to attack something new lead to a habit that sets you up to solve bigger problems?

Like the 10, 000-hour rule of mastery, these small wins will add up to you being more of a problem solver.

What about applying this to a bigger problem, say getting new clients.

Resource = your skill, your product, your case studies, your website, your email list (even if it’s just one), etc.

A mindset could be confidence, it could be dedication, determination, resilience. It should be all three of these things.

Will you win every time? Hell no but it doesn’t matter. You’re a problem solver by habit and now by nature. You will get there in the end.

Being Known as a Problem Solver

Have you got those friends or colleagues who never see a solution? They only see a problem. They’re a bit of a drain on your psyche, aren’t they? You hold off telling them your latest plan or idea and you’ve stopped looking forward to having a drink with them.

Getting a reputation as a problem solver will get you ahead in many worlds. Certain industries, such as service design are purely about problem-solving. If you think you’re not in that game you are doomed to statis which in business terms is fatal.


In his book, Deep Work, Cal Newport talks about one of the essential skills for people in a future (present?) that will be governed by automation and technology and machines that learn faster than we do?

“The Ability to Quickly Master Hard Things”

How can we learn this skill if we can’t even master easy things? I.e small problems. I know that we’re all wired differently but problem-solving is a skill that we can all learn and when it doesn’t work we can learn from what went wrong.

Bigger Problems

There’s always gonna come a day when a problem arrives at your door. Maybe you meet people who never seem to have any problems at all. It’s just not true. They’re probably just following our natural-societal instinct to keep it to themselves.

We’re all flawed creatures living in a flawed system on a planet that may soon get fed up with our pollution and send a volcano eruption our way. Or something. The trick is not to aim for perfection, it’s to aim for being a brilliant problem solver.

The better equipped you are at solving problems the more pain-free a problem day (or a week, or month, or year) is gonna be.

How to adopt a problem-solving mindset?

1. Watch and analyze your system for weak spots. Start taking note of every problem that comes your way. Take note of every time you have the urge to walk away from something.

2. Start practicing on little problems. Opportunities are all around us; especially with the internet. Next time you reach for google to ask it a question, why not spent half an hour trying to figure out the answer yourself. Remember that the solution = mindset + resources. What resources do you have that you can work back from? Sometimes it will be too hard but the important thing is trying.

3. Now, reach for bigger problems. Politics, environment, business, personal life. We’re surrounded by issues. Why don’t you start a little side project? Apply some design thinking to a problem that is close to your heart. There we are, I nearly reached for google to look up a link to design thinking but I’ve been to a workshop so I should explain it myself. Design thinking is a methodology used by those designing new services that put the end-user at the forefront of the problem and doesn’t adapt the end-user around the service.

What do you think? Ready to give it a go? I am and I look forward to a problematic week full of solution potential. If you don’t hear from me again shortly it’s because my roof has fallen and the universe has heard my call for problems.


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