Problem-Solving and Risk, Can You Meet the Challenge?

Problem-solving and risk are almost inevitable partners. Think about it. When you think of problems you need to address in your life, do you immediately think of the freedom you will experience when you solve the problem? Are you feeling giddy with the excitement of a new day tomorrow now that the problem is solved?

My guess is no. Rather, most people think of possible solutions to a problem and immediately trigger an inner response of risk. What if I make the wrong decision and ______ happens? Then what?

 I better just learn to live with this rather than rock the boat?

What does that mean anyway?  What does “rock the boat” imply?

problem-solving and riskI am guessing it implies that we feel the “risk” of upsetting people or systems, or disappointing share or stakeholders. Rocking the boat suggests that although change may be indicated, the status quo is worth a lot in comparison with the idea of falling out of the boat and landing in Class 6 whitewater. There is a nagging shadow thought of drowning in waves that relentlessly pull us under despite our best efforts to regain our breath.

Problem-Solving and Risk Involve 2 Basic Concepts

Psychological: The first concept is the thought of making a mistake. OMG! What if, in my efforts to solve this issue and bring about a solution that could be rewarding for the entire organization, I blow it?  If I make a mistake, how will I get a raise?  What happens to my potential promotion at work if this is the wrong decision?

Could I lose face? A relationship? An opportunity? Will I still be respected if I “give it my best shot”, “put my neck out”, and “go for the fences”?

Before you know it, and before you have tried anything, you talked yourself into inertia. You are going nowhere. And the problem is gaining momentum.

But this concept is linked to a much larger inner turmoil around problem-solving and risk. What will we do with ourselves? How will “I” recover from my own sense of disappointment in myself?  Maybe you feel ashamed or guilty as a result of the trouble your previous decisions have caused. If so, that misapplied sense of self-protection can highly influence your decision making today.

Logistical: The second concept is more about the consequences. While the first concept is more psychologically motivated, the consequences reflect on the logistics of an error in judgment. Will we lose money?  What effect will this have on our clients? Where would our family land if I don’t do this right?

Fear Motivated Risk Aversive Thoughts or Behaviors

The fear of risks, which implies the fear of failures, are sneaky and subversive. They torture our thoughts.


I am not suggesting we do this consciously, but rather, we bury all of the jargon in what appears to be “responsible thinking.”  Let me give you an example.

Spencer’s Story – Client with Risk Aversion That Had Nothing to Do with Perceived Risks

Spencer works at a vet clinic in Portland Oregon. He is the front office operations manager and has very little to do with pet interaction, but is focused on team and client interaction all day.   He has always loved pets problem-solving riskand grew up with several.  In fact, when Spence was in his early 20’s he made a decision he regrets to this day about his favorite kitty, Star.  Star had shown signs of something pretty severe for 2 days.  But Spence, being young and thinking everything bounced back as he does, put off taking Star to a professional. Unfortunately for them both, Spencer put it off one day too long.  After considerable deliberation, he decided to wait another day only to come home from class and find that Star had passed.  

With that backstory consider this. Spencer has a problem.  He loves the office job but he doesn’t make enough money working in the front office.  He shared recently with the two Vet’s who own the business that he would need to look for another position as he has a family to support. Their response surprised him.  Spence was offered a scholarship for study to become a highly specialized Vet Tech and handle a whole segment of their workload at the clinic.

Wow!  What an opportunity!  Within one year, without any tuition costs, Spencer could increase his income by 32%, build his resume, and even follow his career path towards a professional degree and practice of his own. Makes perfect sense. Except for Spence.  This is when Spence came to me. He was stuck. But why?  He had a perfect solution for pet-loving, highly motivated, good with people young family man.

Spence Took The Job, Right?

Wrong. Spence turned it down by doing a risk analysis.**** He evaluated the risks involved and felt that there were too many risks to warrant the decision.

 I wonder what you would have done?  I wonder what most people given the chance would have done.

Here are a few things on the list Spencer scribbled out on the napkin in the nearby cafe. While sipping a $5 latte, Spencer talked himself right out of a $15,000 income increase.

  • what will do we do for the year for extra income?
  • would my wife tolerate me working and then studying?
  • there is no guarantee I would pass the courses and get the certification I need.

problem-solving and riskTo be very clear, there is nothing wrong with this list.  It makes perfect sense. But what isn’t addressed in this list is Spencer’s buried guilt about a bad decision. Remember the decision he made about the life of his cherished kitty?  That event, although buried under the years of focusing on a wife and two small children, is ever-present and real in Spencer’s decision making faculties; his unconscious decision-making faculties.

****A risk analysis is not only listing the possible things that could go wrong. Many of those things are based on fear. The odds of them happening are far out-weighed by the odds they won’t. But if you are really into the fear, the potentials for failure are so real to you, that they are all you see, and you see them as almost a sure thing. In fact, you can feel the effects just thinking about it. (bad sign!)

To Solve Problems You Need To Know What You Are Dealing With

This is the most critical factor I find with new and emerging leaders and risk tolerability.  You are so well trained with MBA’s and can administer business – dollars, and cents with ease.  But that does not presuppose that you are equipped with the tools necessary to deal with people and sense.  Your own sensibilities can be your worst handicap in making decisions that involve risk.

Working with Spencer we were able to identify (using the second 6D Problem-Solving System concept, “decode”) what was the true risk.  Could he trust himself and his ability to handle the consequences of disturbing his long-held opinion of himself regarding pets?

Decoding the situation is essential to problem-solving. Even the risks described above, that make such good sense can be overtly influenced by a buried burden you carry, ( the organization carries) within yourself.


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