Interpersonal Edge: Time travel for express-lane problem solving

Dr. Daneen Skube, executive coach and therapist, recommends time traveling for express-lane problem solving – i.e., start at the end of the problem. And she responds to a reader who wants to tell people how stupid they are.

Q: My job has become increasingly difficult with complex problems every day. Do you offer clients any tools or processes to fast track problem solving?

A: Yes, the best way to get express-lane problem solving is start at the end of the problem.

We often start problem solving at the beginning and then get stuck in the middle with the obstacles. The brilliance of starting at the end and working backward is it’s far easier to go backward to your present moment than forward from the problem.

Think of this as an episode of “Back to the Future,” in a workplace version of the popular movie. If you use your imagination to time travel into your optimal future, you can then look backward at how you arrived.

When problems first present themselves, we often focus on all the ways the problem is impossible to solve. As we stare at the obstacles, our imagination is sidelined and it becomes difficult to think of solutions.

We can create solutions once we clearly identify the exact outcome we seek. By starting with our desired outcome, we avoid analysis paralysis. The more we stare at obstacles, the more impossible answers may seem.

When you use your imagination, you leap over obstacles and focus on your end goal. You’ll see where you want to end up and be able to backtrack to your present moment with the path to an answer.

Even in meetings, groups become stuck venting about a problem, obsessing about everything tried and failed, or despairing of ideas. This fog of despondence can obscure the possibilities that sit just out of reach.

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The express lane to solutions also allows us to effectively prioritize. While we stare at a problem, we see a horizontal line with lots of possible steps but no clear order. When we focus on the desired outcome, steps we need to take line up vertically and you will see what to do first.

Express-lane problem solving at work

Consider the problem of needing a new employee. Scanning applicants based on education, experience or enthusiasm takes a long time. Instead, you could imagine the perfect candidate. What is he or she doing? What makes him or her stand out? How is this new employee making your job easier? Notice how much faster this makes your screening.

My clients sometimes say they feel like they are “cheating” when they time travel. Our executive coaching sessions are easy once my clients define where they want go. Microsoft has the slogan, “Where do you want to go today?” My slogan is, “Here’s a road map to reach the vision you now know is where you want to go!”

Many of us have good intentions to solve the problems our employers pay us to solve. However, the pace of change and novelty of problems we face can discourage even the best employee. By time traveling to the future, you leapfrog over staring at the problem and bring all your attention into how you arrive at a moment you have already seen.

Now when you live your way into the answer you may even feel a sense of “deja vu,” since you already saw this solution. Once you start the express-lane technique for solutions, you’ll look at every problem as an opportunity to time travel. Happy trails on your new voyages to solutions!

The last word(s)

Q: When I see a problem, is there really a problem with just explaining why what people are doing is stupid? Why should I have to work hard to communicate when other people are doing dumb things?

A: Yes, there’s a problem, because once other people feel ashamed, they will fight you to the death to be right and the victim will be your effectiveness. Working hard to communicate skillfully means you get good results even when other people are not engaging their brains.

Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel’s “Workplace Guru” each Monday morning. She’s the author of “Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything” (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.

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