Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Solve for X

So, you've done your root cause analysis and know where your problem starts. That doesn't necessarily get you to a solution. Take our example of Bob, who can't afford his house but loves the school district for his kids (from the linked post, go read it if you haven't).

Knowing where his problem stems from doesn't get him immediately to a fix. In fact, there are a bunch of things he could potentially do to solve his problem, some more complex than others.

One of the most amusing things about writing these pseudo-business-related posts
is the copious amount of cheesy clipart available

In order to choose the right solution to your problem, you want to make sure that you're considering the full list of possibilities. One common process is brainstorming. There are many techniques but only a few basic rules:
  • Go for quantity
  • Write everything down, no matter how wild
  • Build on ideas you've already listed
  • Don't judge, debate, or criticize
  • Don't be too neat
Here's how:
  1. Figure out who needs to be involved. Maybe it's just you. But maybe you want to include other people who are involved or have perspective. Bob is certainly going to involve his entire family (including kids) in his brainstorming session.
  2. Identify and state the problem clearly and succinctly: "Our house is too expensive because of our school district."
  3. Take one idea at a time and write it down as a quick headline "Sell house and move." "Get second job." "I'll just quit school!" Don't judge or debate and never criticize -- this applies even if it's just you (we are often our own worst critics).
  4. Don't be too neat. This is a great exercise to do on a giant sheet of paper. This isn't a formal organized list, it's a wild tangle of ideas.
  5. Reach out for additional input.
Here are a couple of techniques to help get the ideas flowing:
  • Ask other people:
    • Role models -- what do people you admire advise?
    • Anti-role models -- what do people you don't admire advise?
    • Reinventing the wheel -- what have other people done in a similar situation?
    • Wisdom of crowds -- what do the members of your forum or email list say?
  • Approach the problem from a different angle:
    • Anti-solution -- what if you had to solve the opposite problem?
    • Parallel solutions -- what problems have similar parameters and how were they solved?
    • Failure -- if someone blew it and the solution didn't work, what did they do?
    • Be someone else -- what if money were no object? What if you had the opportunity to live out a dream? What if you were an entrepreneur? What if it were the 18th century? What if you lived in Europe?
  • Dig deep:
    • Connections -- draw connections to other parts of your life and see if it expands the solution set (your mother can't live alone any more, maybe you need to move to be near her anyway, thereby presenting the solution to your problem)
    • Automatic writing -- Preferably while in an altered state
    • Augury -- Look for omens related to possible solutions
    • Dreamwork -- If this is your thing
In the end, you should have a giant storm of ideas (see what I did there?) that you can work with.

Next step usually involves grouping or categorizing the ideas in some way. In our example, there's a set of ideas that involves moving and a set that doesn't. Then there's a set that requires changing schools and a set that doesn't. Depending on how your mind works, you can slice and dice the data in any way that makes sense. Some people like those big blobby mindmaps (I do not, so don't ask me about them), others like charts, Venn diagrams, cards they can shuffle around, and tables. Maybe you use different options for different solution sets.

In this case, I'd lay out the solutions in a table:

Once you're organized, it's easier to review the solution space and identify items that don't really solve your problem (don't move, but homeschool) or that are impractical (win the lottery).

Now it's just a game of prioritizing your options (what's more important to your family: the house or the school? do you all agree?) and seeing what's feasible (you can't really take on a second job because you travel too much and the school petition process is notoriously flaky).

Let's say you're down to a few likely options, but you can't tell which one is best. This is usually caused by a lack of information about the proposed solutions. And it's also usually when people start trying to create pros and cons lists for the solutions. But those kinds of lists never worked well for me. It's always too messy and I tend to emotionalize the comparisons of the pros and cons. And when you add in several different pro and con lists for different solutions, it can be particularly difficult to decide what looks better.

This is where it's time to reach into the problem solving toolbag. The following tools are for vetting the individual ideas in order to compare them more accurately. Note: these methods are great for any kind of analysis, not just problem solving. We'll be touching on them again in the as we get deeper into PMPM.

SWOT Analysis
SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. This is a well-known business analysis technique that can be easily adjusted for our personal and magical use.

These are laid out in four quadrants:

You use this template to describe a solution to your problem in more detail:
  • Strengths: internal characteristics that give it an advantage over others.
  • Weaknesses: internal characteristics that are a disadvantage relative to others.
  • Opportunities: external things that the solution could exploit for an advantage.
  • Threats: external things that could cause trouble for the solution.
Note, the strengths and weaknesses are internal and the opportunities and threats are external.

It goes without saying that you can lay a couple of Tarot cards out over the top of this list in order to expand your understanding of the solution. You might find that while you've found only a few weaknesses and threats for a particular solution, the cards are much more negative.

WEAF Divination
WEAF divination is based on an existing analysis tool called PEST (political, economic, social, and technological) which is supposed to allow you to define the wider environment that your solution will have to operate in. WEAF is based on this analysis, but stands for (water, earth, air, and fire).

When I first ran across PEST, I was intrigued at how the four areas of concern seemed to relate neatly to the four classical elements. So I adjusted the tool for magical and personal use. The goal is to understand the wider environment based on the four elements:
  • Social / Water: what are the emotional characteristics of the solution? Is is a least worst option? Will it make you happy? How will your relationships be affected by this solution?
  • Economic / Earth: what are the material characteristics of the solution? Is there a fiscal impact? Will it require a major change in your environment or career?
  • Technological / Air: what are the intellectual and technological characteristics of the solution? Do you need to learn more? Does the solution require some technology (whether mundane or magical)?
  • Political / Fire: what are the political characteristics of the solution? What's needed to force this solution into being? Will there be power ramifications, either with your own power or others'? 
I recommend starting in the mundane, with the things you already know about the solution. But in order to find out what you don't know, there are a couple of ways you can lay the cards.

First, write down the solution on a piece of paper or find or create a symbol representing the solution and place it in the center. You will place four cards around this solution to represent the four areas. Note, if you work with a directional/elemental correspondence, naturally use those positions (if Earth = North in your world, then the Earth card goes above your solution).

Using the classical direction / element correspondences... your mileage will vary of course

Now you can simply shuffle the entire deck and lay the cards, but there there are a couple of variations I've tried and liked:

Major arcana -- only read with the major arcana. Because you are looking at macro-level forces around you solution, the archetypal nature of these cards seem to work really well. 

By suite -- most tarot decks have a suit / element correspondence. If yours does, you can do a nifty trick where you separate out the suites and pull one card for each suit for each element. So I'd pull one Coins/Pentacles card for Earth, one Swords card for Air, etc. Again, use the correspondences you typically work with and that work with your deck.

Combined -- one major arcana and one suit card for each position.

One of the benefits to these variations is that you are working with fewer cards per area. This might sound like a problem (limiting the variability) but it allows you to do make better direct comparisons between readings for several different solutions.

The point of these techniques isn't to tell you which solution to pursue, but to give you more data about your top solutions. If you still can't make up your mind, try the following:

Other decision making tools
  • Straight divination -- just let that cards tell you (if they do, I've had a number of times where the cards seem to say "make up your own mind").
  • Decision / emotion -- make a decision and take a small, but concrete action toward it. Now, how do you feel? Got that sinking feeling? Maybe it wasn't the right choice.
  • Pendulum work -- if this is your thing go ahead and give it a try. I have a hard time not letting my subconscious interfere with pendulum work, but in this case that might actually be an advantage. Maybe my subconscious knows something I don't.
  • Visualization -- picture the solution being implemented. How do you feel?
  • Coin toss -- sometimes the reason you can't make up your mind is because there's really not much practical difference between the options. In the grand scheme of things, many of our decisions don't mean that much (even seemingly big ones like college major or job choice). Maybe you're sweating something you shouldn't sweat. Leap in where angels fear to tread and just chose one and go.
Usually, I find that thinking clearly about the problem and performing a root cause analysis point directly to the appropriate solution. However if it doesn't, then these techniques should help you figure out what to do. 

The key takeaway here is that it's worthwhile thinking about problems and solutions in a rational and organized way. Note that this is very different from just worrying about your problems. Worry is one of the least useful emotions (up there with jealousy) but it's still one we're prone to feeling. So most people avoid the worry by avoiding their problems. The nice thing about this kind of problem/solution methodology is that it allows you to fix things and also tends to short circuit the worry.

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