I love Google... in .39 seconds I can get 174,000,000 results to the query "definition of problem". The first result defines a problem as a matter or situation regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with and overcome.
So there you have it, straight forward... lets move on to get to dealing with and overcoming problems, as that's the fun part isn't it? - wait, maybe not quite yet. Lets talk about the so called "problem" for a moment as deep down we know that if we really don't understand it fully it will bite back and make dealing with it a real shit show.
Intuitively we know that complex problems are more of an issue than simple problems but how do we define this... I mean, is the complexity of a problem defined by the problem itself or by how easily the problem is solved? I'm not going to use any examples involving leaking pipes and duct tape as a viable solution knowing it's just a bunny hole for quality problem solving discussions and the utility of duct tape. However, lets say that the light bulb burns out in your lamp, which is now a problem - should be a simple problem to solve with a new lightbulb and "Bob's your uncle" it's now fixed. But what happens if it goes out again two days later... now maybe it's a more complex problem, involving a defective lamp or broader wiring issues. Determining what the problem is and the broader situation surrounding the problem is the foundation for effective problem solving and most definitely if creative thinking is needed down the road.
I think it's fair and practical to say that simple situations tend to require simple problem assessment and complex situations more complex problem assessment. So why do we hear this in business (which is very complex) ? "Revenue is down, we have a problem...we need some creative out of the box thinking!!"... and since I've heard this I will make the grand leap and say that it was not a one off statement in the history of modern business. The reality is revenue being down is not the problem, just the bi-product. The problem is somewhere else and probably rather complex and nasty with two rows of teeth. Maybe that's why we don't hear "Revenue is down, we have a problem, we need to know what we are dealing with". Back to my light bulb example - I bet you know of one or two people who would just keep putting a new bulb in the lamp every time it goes out or they just stop using the lamp all together because they didn't know how to identify the problem or worse don't really want to.
There is a certain fearlessness that comes with facing problems - most are straight forward and mostly inconvenient while there are some that can have great consequence. I'm currently reading a book called "The 50th Law" by 50 cent and Robert Greene that speaks to this so I'm certain I will have more thoughts on this at another time. A good read so far and worth checking out.
Creative problem solving should not enter the picture until a Problem is really understood.
I didn't want to get into the detail of problem and situation analysis per say but I most definitely want to emphasize that problems need to be assessed from both an internal and external perspective - for most of us this forces looking at situations differently and probably not in the way that we are used to. Assess problems thoroughly and differently (and bravely). Of course, this is easier said than done... and besides I have been thinking this way for 35 years and trained at the top school in the country - if only problems went to the same school. (figuratively not literally)
I love this movie clip as the problem is wild and only in understanding the problem as well as the detail surrounding the situation were they able to solve it.... a literal square peg in a round hole hole problem.
Good thing very few of our problems have life or death consequenses.