How to Solve a Problem so it Stays Solved

What Ender Wiggins Taught Me About Avoiding Quadrant 1

In the movies, you know that moment when the bad guy goes down with one shot and the good guy turns his attention away too soon? You know what’s going to happen. It was just a flesh wound. Now the bad guy’s back, and he’s madder than ever. Our hero could have won once and for all if he’d just kept fighting a little longer.

Quadrant 1 happens. It’s not ideal. It’s not where we want to spend our time, but it happens. When a fire breaks out, it has your attention. You need to put it out before it spreads and causes more damage.

Once the fire is out, don’t leave it at that. If you go a little further, you’ll never have to face that problem again.

Photo courtesy of © Adobe Stock / auremar

Solve All the Next Ones, Too

At the beginning of Ender’s Game, Ender—just six years old—defends himself against a bully, Stilson. He fights back. Even after Stilson goes down, Ender keeps fighting.

For a moment, the others backed away and Stilson lay motionless. They were all wondering if he was dead. Ender, however, was trying to figure out a way to forestall vengeance. To keep them from taking him in a pack tomorrow. I have to win this now, and for all time, or I’ll fight it every day and it will get worse and worse.

Later, Colonel Graff asks him why he kept fighting. “You had already won.”

Knocking him down won the first fight. I wanted to win all the next ones, too. So they’d leave me alone.

Putting out the fire wins the first fight. Keep fighting, or you’ll find you’ve only put out a spot fire.

Quadrant 1 Debriefing

While the situation is still fresh in your mind, ask yourself a few questions. This whole process can take just a few seconds. If it’s going to take deeper thought and introspection, make that a priority over the next few days.

  • What happened? Be objective. Don’t assign blame. There’s nothing you can do about the situation if you see yourself as the victim of someone else’s problem.
  • Why did it happen? Keep asking why until you get to the real cause of what happened. Your new hire may have made a mistake that cost you a customer, but why? Were they not trained properly? Does the standard training not cover that situation? Or did they not complete the training yet? Or are they just someone that you should never have hired? Why did you hire them?
  • What is the better outcome? You know what happened. What would you like to happen instead? You don’t have to identify the perfect outcome, just a better outcome. Nudge things in the right direction and let a series of small, positive changes over time take you from better to best.
  • What would you need to do differently next time to keep it from happening again? Once you get to the root cause of what happened, figure out what you need to do differently next time to get a better outcome. You have more control over what happens to you than anyone else does.

Think like a time traveler. You’ve been sent back in time to put right what once went wrong. What is the critical moment that set events in motion? What is the gentlest nudge that would change the future for the better? The smaller and simpler the change you need to make, the more likely you are to be successful. Too bad Ziggy can’t help.

Figure out why the fire started. Learn a lesson, automate a task, update a process—change something or you’ll just be putting out the same fire over and over.

Quadrant 1 happens. Fires pop up no matter how careful we are. Let Quadrant 1 lead to Quadrant 2. Ask why fires keep popping up. Spend time on fire prevention. Don’t just solve the problem—solve it once and for all.

Question: What problem do you need to go back and solve for the last time? Share your thoughts in the comments, or on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

About

Colter writes software and blogs about personal growth and productivity. He lives in Silicon Valley (California) with his wife and children, recently took up golf, and watches mostly British TV shows.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. For more information, see my comments policy.