What You See (Part 2): The Solution

The expansiveness of solution possibilities can be a powerful source of ideas. But you have to see them to unleash them. Cultivate seeing a new way.

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[This blog post is one in a series focused on Collaboration. To read more, visit here.]

In the movie Patch Adams, there is a scene where Hunter Adams earns his nickname “Patch” and gains an abundance of perspective on problem-solving. Patch had checked himself into a psychiatric hospital due to deep depression and suicidal thoughts. In the hospital, he meets Dr. Arthur Mendelson, a brilliant mathematician. Arthur walks around the hospital holding up four fingers asking everyone how many fingers they see. Everyone always answers “Four” and he yells declaring them all insane.

Hunter Adams is determined to understand the solution, so he seeks out Dr. Mendelson in his room. After some berating by Arthur and then patching Arthur’s leaking coffee cup (thus the nickname) Arthur opens up. He turns to Patch and seeks to teach him how to see a solution. The answer was to “Look beyond the problem.” Arthur tells him, “If you focus on the problem you can’t see the solution.”

This way of seeing shifts how you approach the problem-solving process. I add to Arthur's idea a little. We need to see and understand the problem (see Part 1). We also need to look beyond the problem to get to possibilities. But we must also look through the problem to get to the solution. Looking through the problem gives perspective. Looking beyond is getting us outside the problem’s frame to the abundant possibilities for solving it.

Depending on the complexity of the problem, solution creation can take some time, so don’t give up. You probably want a better world more than you want to settle for the world as it is, so be patient and available to the process. To help you here, at the end of this blog, I will unpack more of the Simply Available approach described in Part 1.

What follows is helpful for any solution-creating process. But remember, this blog post is in a series on collaboration. As I describe this work, it is always with the intention that it is work accomplished in-community with others working to solve a shared problem.

Solution Creating 

What is out there? When you look around your community or at other communities, what solutions to your problem do you see already being applied? To discover you have to explore. Get out there! Online searches can begin your process, but see that information more as launching pads and not landing pads. Start there, don’t stop there. Phone calls, video meetings, and personal visits can take your discovery journey miles down the road. We have lost some of this community, interaction, and discovery over the past few years. Sit in conversation with those living the problem you seek to solve. What have they tried? What has and has not been helpful, from their perspective? We can’t know what is out there and what works unless we are out there.

What is successful? Of the possible active solutions that you find for your problem, where do you see evidence-based proof? For instance, if your town needs a way to aid unhoused families, is a shelter the only answer? Is it part of the answer? Have you investigated shelter approaches and found successes? Have you had conversations with some who have worked in shelters and would encourage other approaches?

What can we utilize? Even if you don’t see every element of a successful solution as your answer, there may be elements that would be helpful. It may provide insights for other creative ideas that you develop. Contextualize it to your problem and your community.

What can we learn? Beyond what we utilize from discovery, there are approaches you realize need to be avoided. One learning point will be that the prominence of an approach does not mean it is worthy of multiplying. Always ask, “Does it work?” If something a community has implemented is not working, find out why. Learn from them. What mistakes and challenges of other communities can you avoid repeating simply by being available to what others have experienced?

We often think there is “the” solution to the problem when there are many possible solutions. Seth Godin points out that invention goes beyond discovery. Inventions aren’t “inevitable.” They have to be crafted. If the available options found in discovery are not sufficient, create!

What are the “Discovery” gaps? Even when discovery is not sufficient to provide all of the answers, it is never wasted. Discovery is always revelatory; we learn things when available to them. What do you now know that must be an element to your solution because discovery showed you what happens when it is missing?

What needs to be designed and created? Beware of “seeing from a place of lack.” Sometimes different capacities need to be invited to the conversation to provide new ideas. Do you have entrepreneurs at the table? They are solution creators by nature because they look beyond perceived boundaries, and see options. Sometimes as experts in an area, we can become confined in our thinking and seeing, even jaded. If you truly desire the best options, don’t start by confining what lands on the table. See what a collaborative conversation creates.

One thing about creative space. Years ago I learned that not everyone should be at the brainstorming and creation table. Some people are “why we can’t” people. Eventually, we need them to help work out the details. Until then, protect them and the creative conversation by saying, “We are excited to have you at the table for phase two.”

Who has responsibility for what? Any given solution has multiple layers and moving elements. The complexity of a solution will determine the level of coordination needed for effective implementation. Herein is where collaboration challenges can happen. Some of us can quickly move to an “It’s easier to just do it myself” mindset. Depending on the complexity of the problem and its solution, that may be true. A couple of considerations here are sustainability and quality. At what sacrifice will you do this work alone? Not just your sacrifice, but the people and community who need the solution.

I often think of the word responsibility as response-ability. Who has the best ability to respond to that given solution factor? This is a capacity question, which again, has sustainability and quality questions to answer. Another way to ask it is “Who does this task fit best?” I might be good at it, but you are great!

Who is responsible for coordinating and facilitating? The first thought here is often more of a feeling; “Who is in control?”. Wrong question. That question creates a relational atmosphere that gets us nowhere helpful. Who has the capacity and is positioned best for this coordinating and facilitating role?

What is the expected sustainability of this solution? Is this just a stopgap solution on the way to a long-term one? Does your solution have a process that includes temporary factors for the individual or family on the way to the long-term solution? For instance, you might have temporary sheltering for the unhoused while helping move them toward temporary housing and eventually to permanent housing. All of those layers have sustainability factors to work out. The details matter.

What are the resource sustainability needs? Dollars, housing, volunteers, clothing, food, jobs, and so many more resources are ongoing community needs. For your solution to be sustained what resources must you have? What resources are helpful, but not necessarily a must? Some of these are about the individual organization, and some are collaborative. Discuss these details. They matter to the ongoing effectiveness of your solution.

What are the relational sustainability needs? Communication and time together are powerful. How are you going to make sure these happen? Communication prevents chaos, which can help keep you from being mad at each other. Seriously! We are human and human services work is high stress. Regular time together helps to develop and sustain trust and the quality of your work together. Put these relationship-building times on the calendar with rhythm and routine (First Thursday of every month at 10 AM), and be faithful.

Solution Testing

Like testing a solution on clothing or furniture, try out the solution you have created in a smaller area. Another way to look at this is as a pilot project or soft launch. These “test” ideas allow you to learn about your process, necessary resources, quality of relationships, context, and other significant elements. Like developing a franchise model, it is wise to get all of your systems, processes, and working relationships in proper alignment before pouring resources into scaling that model.

A smaller test area of focus also allows for a faster start-up and less of an impact if something doesn’t work the way you thought it would. This could be a smaller population group, a less dispersed geographic area, or both. How can you scale down before scaling up and still be confident your solution works?

The “Outcomes” section of CharityTracker is a way to begin building some data to help assess how your solution is working. Develop this collaboratively, determining the information you need to learn from those you serve. Outcomes aren’t just for grants and donor development. Positive community impact necessitates outcomes that are moving people and your community forward. Collecting data helps with telling that story.

Simply Available

This post is full of questions. I love questions and you should too! “Why?” you ask. Because we don’t seek answers without questions. I ask because I want to know. We ask in this process of creating and establishing solutions because there are answers we must have. Questions lead to exploration of the factors necessary for solution creation and sustainability. They take us down the trails that lead us to the information and ideas we need.

You hopefully did this Simply Available processing with the problem (see Part 1), now it’s time to be available to the solution as it emerges. The entire solution may land right in front of you with all the pieces in place, but that might be a miracle.

To be completely here in conversation. “Sit! Are you serious? We’ve been sitting and waiting long enough!” I hear it and I get it. Does your solution fully align with your well-defined problem? Commit to sitting simply available in conversation with others to process through the layers of our four solution elements, Discovery, Creativity, Responsibility, and Sustainability. Also, ask yourself, “Are you sitting with everyone who should be there? Who else needs to be at the table to help create this solution?”

To be keenly aware in exploration. Sit in the discovery realm for a while. I’m not encouraging over-processing. At the same time, jumping to conclusions leads to being woefully confused and frustrated, which extends the lack of success. Conversations as a solution-creating team, with your problem and the four solution elements puts you in the position to move toward action with knowledge, wisdom, understanding, clear intentionality, accuracy, and confidence.

Gain a sense of the solution needed by picturing a person or group of people living out the problem under consideration. It may seem strange, but close your eyes and let the video of that situation play in your mind. Open your eyes and take some notes along the way, then close them again to recapture the scene that was previously playing in your mind. Put yourself in a quiet space and allow plenty of time for this work. What do they need? How can you and your collaborators help? This is some “alone” work that everyone can then bring together around the table. Explore the emerging information until you see some possibilities for solving your problem, then move into the sorting phase.

To be deeply attuned to revelation. As you capture information through the sitting and sensing process, begin to sort through what has been revealed. This stage is important and helpful as you gain more insight. Avoid collecting information and then quickly moving to creating your solution. You will be tempted to do so, especially if you are by nature an activator. Before you are ready to move into Set and Step, the cycle of Sit, Sense, and Sort should run several times. Process what is emerging and being understood as you process your Discovery, Creativity, Responsibility, and Sustainability information.

To be clearly intentional in cultivation. The intentionality here comes from the on-purpose work of Sit, Sense, and Sort. Taking the time to process what you know about potential solutions to the problem leads to understanding what can be done to solve it. This is where full solution design takes place and sustainability is built in. You know the resources, relationships, processes, collaboration, and atmospheric conditions that need to be cultivated so that the action steps can be taken confidently.

To be wonderfully confident in mobilization. This is not false confidence, but a confidence that comes from having processed all of the necessary information, leading to the solution that is ready to activate. As you launch, be simply available to how the solution matches and solves the problem. What adjustments need to be made?

Simply Available is a way of being. Being simply available is a journey that both drills in for understanding and orbits up in growth and development. Utilize Simply Available throughout your solution-creating and launching process. At the beginning of your solution work, be simply available as you assess what you need to know and dig into. Be simply available as you are in the middle of discovering what is out there. I will continue to unpack and refer to Simply Available in future posts, helping to cultivate this capacity for living and being in the world.

There is so much here to explore and unpack further. Every week’s post will hopefully do that for you. I would love to hear from you about successes and struggles, ideas to explore, stories to tell, and challenges to consider.

Action Points

  • Be sure you have a clearly defined problem before developing your solution: What You See (Part 1): The Problem.
  • Is there a problem your community has already identified and clearly defined? Utilize the content in this blog post to help you develop your solution. Start with Discovery.
  • Don’t run. Be okay with the Sit, Sense, Sort journey. It gives you more of a chance of being wonderfully confident in your actions versus woefully confused and frustrated.
  • Don’t give up. Yes, defining problems and developing solutions is difficult and it takes time. Be determined. Your neighbors need you.
  • Practice being Simply Available personally. Cultivate it as a way of being and not just a process to follow.

Do you desire to strengthen your
CharityTracker or OasisInsight network to new levels of collaboration and impact? Reach out to Chuck today to schedule your conversation:

ED645C80-CA25-41C2-8B6E-A6E7FA346EC1_1_201_aDr. Chuck Coward serves as Community Impact Specialist for Simon Solutions, Inc. Chuck has invested over 35 years in fostering human and community development from a variety of places and roles, including as a pastor, non-profit Executive Director, Director of Development, businessman, consultant, university professor, The Struggle Coach, and the founder of Entrusted Foundation. Serving to make people and communities stronger is his great passion. Chuck is the proud husband to Anita, dad to four, and granddaddy to eight.

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