Saturday, October 23, 2010

Problems cannot be solved.

Some years ago ‘someone’ found out that we shouldn’t talk about problems. It was ‘better’ to call them challenges. So ‘everybody’ just swapped these words, and now everything was called challenges. Big deal.

I believe there is another way of looking at this:

A PROBLEM is a statement about something that you think is wrong:
"The machine at line 3 is broken". "I have 2 flat tires on my car". Etc. In essence the statement is just that. Can’t be solved.

A CHALLENGE is formulated in a sentence that starts with “How to…”
"How to fix the machine on line 3". "How to fix 2 flat tires when you only have one spare wheel". This opens possibilities to look for solutions.

A BOUNDARY CONDITION is something that you accept and stop worrying about.
"It rains a lot in my home town".

The figure shows the relationship between these aspects.

If someone states something that sounds like a problem, ask the question: “Will you do something about it NOW?” If yes, then formulate in a How to-sentence. If not, it’s a boundary condition. And this can change, of course, over time.

Example 1:
It rains a lot in my home town. Will I do something about it now? No – it’s a boundary condition.

It rains a lot in my home town and I get wet on my way to work. Will I do something about it now? Yes – How to get to work without getting wet? Lots of possibilities.

Example 2:
One Monday morning there are 2 flat tires on my car. Will I do something about it NOW? No – it just IS. So what is the challenge NOW? How to get to work. Lots of possibilities.

When my colleagues hear about it, they keep asking: “Aren’t you worried about the 2 flat tires?” No, I’ll worry about that Saturday, for now it’s a boundary condition. Saturday morning I make it a challenge: “How to fix 2 flat tires when I only have one spare wheel” Lots of possibilities.

Sounds simple? Train yourself on your problems, challenges and boundary condition.

Here’s the challenge in most peoples’ lives: How to stop worrying about boundary conditions.


  1. Hi Frode, thanks for the insight and the clear differentiation, which makes really sense. I'll use your model immediately next week during a short training session in my team! I'll stay tuned on your blog - Best, Andreas

  2. ... and this can change, of course, over time, as Seth Godin shows: