Problems in Language

Often times we get stuck in our thinking, seeing an impenetrable wall in front of us, and not seeing any way to get around it.

We see the wall as “The Obstacle” and we are stuck. It’s in front of us and you can’t get around it, so you’re stuck.

What is “stuck” though? It’s when you are pushing on something, and that thing pushes back just as hard.

If you could go through the wall, the wall would not be an obstacle.

But there the obstacle sits, in your way? And you’re stuck, and all of your efforts go right at the obstacle. How do I move it? How do I fix this thing?

What if there was another level of thinking to be applied?

An Example Scenario

A business owner needs revenue to increase but his systems aren’t yet ready to scale up to the level of production he needs.

Previously, efforts to increase revenue worked, but there were some customers who had bad experiences because of some of the edges.

Now we have a problem such as “We want to scale up, but customers will have a bad experience.”

To compound this, in his industry, bad experiences usually mean you don’t get a second chance.

As a result of this, before he can scale, he has to fix all the things that might contribute to customers having a bad experience.

If you pay attention, you will notice that “Scaling” has been conflated with “Customer Acquisition” has been conflated with “Solid Processes”. All of these are related, but they are not the same thing.

They’ve been placed on a single line, where the path towards getting more customers is the same as the path towards stable processes is the same as the path towards “scaling the business”.

And to be fair, there are overlaps.

But now stable processes are an obstacle to getting new customers.

Opening Up the Thinking

The first part of the process is to move from generalities to particulars. “How many customers had a bad experience?”


Because we are working with abstractions, and abstractions are things that we create from particulars.

The first step in any investigation is to get past the abstractions (i.e. conclusions drawn) to something closer to the facts of the situation.

Then, we can go deeper. “What kind of bad experience?”

Perhaps there are people who weren’t super impressed but otherwise weren’t angry, and they will simply not be customers with no further harm.

It turns out, in this particular scenario, about 50% of the new customers were retained, and the other relationships were managed well enough to not leave permanent damage.

The reality of the situation is that you can retain 50% of the customers you get to try you, and that’s something that can be improved.

But it can only be improved if someone works on it, and that only happens if you have money to hire.

Stable processes are not an actual obstacle to growth. It was simply set up that way.

Deeper Still

Why do we create these obstacles for ourselves?

Because there are things we all want in life. We want to look good, we want to feel good, we want to be right, and we want to be in control.

It can be legitimately dangerous to lose reputation, or to be wrong about how things are. Being out of control feels risky. We try to set our worlds up in ways that give us agency, and we often do that by constricting possibilities for ourselves so that we have manageable sets of things to deal with.

Have you noticed how much harder it is to be “maybe going to be fired” than it is to “be fired”? One is a state of uncertainty. It’s complex.

The truth is that we all develop sophisticated ways of dealing with what we perceive as threats to ourselves, and they often stop serving us at some point. We want certainty and manageability more than we want the best outcomes when those outcomes are on the other side of real uncertainty.

We create sets of beliefs for ourselves throughout our life that help keep the rails on life, but they constrain our perceptions of the sets of possibilities that are around us.

Pulling those beliefs up to the surface and seeing how we live out of them gives us access to change them, which can shift your world.

Reframing Problems as Situations

The truth of things is this. You don’t have a problem. You have a situation. And perhaps you don’t quite have “a situation”. You have many situations you could be in, all while the same reality persists.

A problem and a situation is in part something we create for ourselves by the way we speak about things.

Problems arise from “but”. It’s not a problem if you say “I need more revenue and I’m not ready to scale up production”. That’s just description.

As soon as you say “I need more revenue but I’m not ready to scale up production”, you have placed one thing in front of you like an obstacle.

And that obstacle focuses your attention on it. You have to solve that problem to get where you’re going.

When it’s just a situation, you can do something else with it. Maybe it’s fine. Maybe it can just be what it is. Maybe there’s something else you can do with that situation.

But when you create a problem, you can’t just be with all the parts and see what’s there. They can’t open up for you in any other way than to relate to them as a problem that needs to be solved.

And that gets you stuck. You stand in one place, only seeing one path forward.

But when you have a situation, and you let the situation just be what it is, you can maybe look around, and see there’s something you just can’t see with that lens.

It’s almost like opening up another dimension. The below video offers a powerful visual analogy for this.

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