The law of unattraction and problem solving

The law of attraction implies that when you really want something the universe conspires to make it happen. The law of unattraction (an ALearningaDay creation) offers the counter point – “The universe makes something happen when you have put in your best effort and are ready to walk away.” 

The law of unattraction was born out of personal experience. For the longest time, I used to struggle with pushing a result through to no avail resulting in plenty of frustration. And, often, just as I’d resolve to walk away or actually distance myself, it’d come through. Why waste time in all the angst and frustration then?

I’ve been thinking about the law of unattraction again of late and its applicability to problem solving. We don’t have breakthroughs-on-demand on problems we want solved. Instead, they pop up when we’re in the gym, in the shower, or on a walk. The key, then, is to identify the problems we want to solve and give ourselves enough space for our subconscious to do the work.

So, take those breaks in the middle of the day, go for walks, and disconnect from the email flow in the evening to create more space. If the law of attraction isn’t helping you often enough, create opportunities for the law of unattraction to work its magic.

Happy to assist

I’ve regularly been hearing “I will be more than happy to assist you” said multiple times on a call to customer service across multiple companies.

The only problem? In many of these instances, they weren’t actually all that helpful. In a couple of instances, I got wrong information. In another couple, they didn’t tell me upfront that they wouldn’t be able to solve my problems. And, all of this took a lot of time.

Here’s an idea – instead of training everyone to say “I will be more than happy to assist you,” why don’t we just build help centers to focus entirely on solving the problem instead? Saying “happy to assist” three times doesn’t make the problem any better. And, my hypothesis is that needing to remember these lines often makes them forget the real issue.

Perhaps a better way to think about training would be to follow functional steps instead of specific phrases. The steps I’d follow would be a mix of questions and actions-
1. Have I understood the customer’s problem? (Repeat it to them if necessary)
2. Can I fix the problem on this call or will they have to go elsewhere? (If so, let them know now with an apology)
3. How long will it take me to fix it? (Let them know)
4. Fix it.
5. Do 1-4 with a smile no matter how irate or annoying the customer is.
6. Give the person sitting next to me a high five for a job well done.

This isn’t just a problem with corporations. It is tempting to fill our silences with customers with meaningless words and empty promises. So much better that we focus on solving problems and earning a well deserved reputation for getting the job done.

Small problems and big problems

Life throws small problems at us every day. They’re more than enough to keep us busy. However, it isn’t optimal to spend all our time solving small problems. When Toyota’s legendary thinker Taiichi Ono came to the same conclusion, he decided he would train the organization to look for the big problems using the five why approach.

Taiichi Ono isn’t alone in his approach to problem solving. Great thinkers over time have approached the world with a determination to understand the principles that govern it. That’s how Taiichi Ono and Henry Ford changed manufacturing. They dug deep into the hundreds of small problems in a manufacturing plant, understood the key principles, and developed frameworks that they then applied rigorously and tweaked with more feedback.

This is hard to do – no surprise there. So, how do you go about doing it? Albert Einstein’s approach was to just stay with problems longer. And he probably knows a thing or two about difficult problems.

The good news is that this approach can then be applied to every aspect of life. You can understand people better by understanding the principles that govern them. You can understand financial markets by understanding the principles that govern them. Ray Dalio’s Bridgewater Associates have made billions of dollars by doing this with unerring consistency.

Like any approach, this one has its downsides. When you begin applying this approach to understand people or when you help people through their problems, you can come across as very intimidating. That’s because digging deep requires you to ask tough questions and tough questions never fail to intimidate people. Additionally, a commitment to attempting to get to the big problems requires you to be open to consistently revisit your assumptions and approach to life. Most find that too overwhelming.

The final and most important pitfall is to do with ourselves. A commitment to constantly finding the underlying principles requires an assumption that most small problems are symptoms of a bigger problem. While that is largely true, it completely negates coincidences and outliers. In our desire to find patterns, we can end up falling prey to all sorts of false assumptions to explain a pattern that doesn’t exist. And, if we don’t guard against insularity and over-confidence, we might lose the ability to distinguish between reality and our perception of it. We will fail miserably without self awareness.

That said, the beauty of a principle-based approach is that when we put in the effort, we begin to understand and appreciate the inter-connectedness of this world and thus, begin to appreciate the beauty of this life. It is only when you learn the principles behind tennis do you really appreciate Roger Federer’s genius.

I’ve said this before and will say again – habitually ignoring the small problems and finding the big problems is very hard. Try the five why approach if you will and you will realize very quickly that the questions only get tougher as you make your way along the process.

And therein lies the tough part about digging deep and attempting to understand the principles – it doesn’t feel like a very rewarding process.

Until it does.