I’ve been a problem solver for most of my life.
I was an astrophysics major in college, trained to solve problems in math and physics.
I served on the Mars Exploration Rovers mission, identifying and preventing potential problems in the rovers’ operations.
I later became a lawyer, tasked with identifying weaknesses in my clients’ cases and finding ways to address them.
As an academic, I spotted deficiencies in existing theories and wrote papers to fix them.
At every juncture I would ask, What’s wrong, and how do I fix it?
But this isn’t always—or even often—the right question to ask.
As the saying goes, if you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If you’ve identified yourself as a problem solver—if you view the world as a series of problems to be fixed—you’ll find problems even when they don’t exist.
What’s worse, when we jump into problem-solving mode, we focus on what isn’t working rather than what is working. We look for weaknesses instead of strengths. We focus on the negatives instead of the positives.
The remedy is simple.
Instead of only asking, What’s wrong and how do I fix it?, also ask, What’s working and how can I do more of it?Bright spots are the areas of your life or business that are working well. Find them and amplify them.
If you have a productivity problem, think about the moments of your day when you are most productive and replicate those conditions.
If your sales efforts are coming up short, find the members of your sales team who are outperforming the rest, figure out what they’re doing differently, and spread those practices across the team.
If you get a C in one class, and an A in the other, figure out what was different about the second class—or your exam prep.
If your dog pees in your bedroom, find the bright moments when he pees outside and amplify them by rewarding that behavior with treats.
If you had an amazing day, look back on what went right and ask yourself, How do I create more moments like the ones I had today?
Amplifying what’s right can be more effective than trying to fix what’s wrong.