Newsletter #12: How Coffee Solves Problems (and an empty fridge)

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Immersion: Becoming drenched in the situation to experience it completely.

It’s a beautiful clear day, 28 degrees, and there’s a slight breeze in the air to take the edge off the heat. Perfect beach weather. So, sitting on your patio, sipping your morning coffee, you decide to spend the day at the beach.  You can almost feel the sand between your toes, and you can hear the sound of the waves lapping up on the beach. Then you get a phone call, and suddenly the day runs away from you and you don’t actually get a chance to spend the day on the beach. So you console yourself with the thought that you had your moment when you imagined your day in the sun, but is it really the same?

We adopt a similar superficial approach to solving problems in our work and businesses lives too. We identify the problem, think up a solution, and we’re happy that we’ve considered everything and so we begin to solve what we think is the problem.

But imagining a day on the beach is not the same as actually being there. When you’re sitting on the beach, you’ll feel the surprise gusts of wind on your skin, and smell fresh smell of the sea that you didn’t quite experience in your mind. Being there is so much more experiential than imagining you were there, and so your thoughts, experiences, and your imagination are in a completely different place when you immerse yourself in the problem than when you imagine it.

Now take the converse.

Being continually immersed in the problem inhibits your ability to think about solving that problem any way other than your current frame of reference. And if you’ve had the same problem for a long time, clearly, your approach to solving it hasn’t worked. But you’re always in the same place (physically), and so you’re constantly immersed in the problem, and you haven’t given yourself a different perspective to enable you to adopt a different approach to solving the problem.

Last week, I spent an hour with one of my entrepreneur clients. I met him at his office to discuss my proposals to solving some very pressing problems that he’s been battling with for long enough to cause him to call me for help. Around him was the constant chaos that was symptomatic of the problem plaguing him. Instead of continuing the meeting there, I moved the location to a different place entirely – one of my favorite places – a coffee shop nearby. The change in perspective was profound.

While my client was at his office, all he could think of was the problem, because it was almost impossible not to. The symptoms of the problem were all around him. The moment I moved him to a different place (physically), where he wasn’t immersed in the problem 24/7, he began to focus on the solution.

We’re often too close to a problem to identify that we’re in the repetitive cycle of hitting the same problem the same way over and over again, hoping something will change. Kind of like the way we hit the fridge over and over again, hoping that some time between the last time we took a peek and this time, we’ll find something that wasn’t there last time, but inevitably we’re confronted with the same leftovers that won’t satisfy whatever needs we’re hoping to satisfy. When you can’t solve a problem that isn’t going away, you’re too close to the problem. You’ve been immersed in the problem for too long. Take a step back, get out of the physical location.

A change in place causes a profound change in perspective.

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