Someone else’s problem
This planet is brimming with minds full of potential that is barely being used. Inside each one of them lies the possibility of a solution to a problem that someone else is grappling with. Often, all that’s missing is the connection between the two.
Sites like Quora that crowdsource answers is effectively exploiting this insight. By publishing a problem, your hope/expectation is that someone out there will either know the solution already, or be interested enough to seek out or think through the solution for you. By reading through the answers the community offers, you vastly improve upon the work at hand.
Think of it as AirB&N for brains.
When the same process is monetized, through sites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo you come up with funds from those people whom you’ve convinced to buy into your dream project and turned an obstacle (lack of money) into an opportunity to connect and build an audience.
And almost all recommendation platforms work in this way. Yelp solves the problem of not know what restaurants are nearby and which of those is worth visiting. In fact, nearly every successful business has at its core a focus on providing a solution to someone else’s problem. Problems, before money, make the world go round.
One to one
But we are often presented with problems from real people in our real lives with whom we have some kind of real relationship. While strangers on the internet may be very good at solving your problem, we don’t always want to reach out to the whole world when we are dealing with problems that we are embarrassed about, or ashamed of, or have trouble even articulating.
It is exactly these kinds of problems, however, that other people can help most with. Sometimes it is much simpler for someone else – someone who doesn’t currently have the problem – to think it through and come up with some ideas for solving it. In my experience, I’ve often felt it was far easier to think through and give advice on someone else’s problem than do the same kind of work for myself. And I think I’ve helped a few people along the way, by truly trying to take on their problem as if it were my own.
Everyone has problems
There’s nothing particularly helpful about being told – or telling someone – that everyone has problems. But what’s interesting to recognize is that it means that almost every problem you have ever had, or will have, has been faced and dealt with by someone else. The answer really is out there.
This can have the opposite effect of reassurance if knowing that someone else faced and solved a problem you are finding difficult to master makes you feel worse for still having it. But it can also provide direction. If you can’t seem to crack the nut of your problem, maybe you can pivot towards seeking out and connecting with people who already have, or people who can connect you to people who have experienced a problem like yours.
A problem is a puzzle. Some minds like solving puzzles. Some are very good at it, or very good at certain types of puzzles. If your mind presents you with the kind of problem/puzzle that you are not good at or don’t enjoy thinking through, find someone who does. It is almost certain that that person is out there, if not in your immediate circle, than accessible through online tools like Quora, or Facebook, or LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.
The empty bowl
Your problem is your passport. Through it you have the opportunity to engage and connect with someone else for whom you do a service by giving him or her the gift of doing you a good turn. Just like the wandering monk with his empty bowl, you give people who choose to help you something as valuable or more than the help they give to you. It is a fair exchange.
We are all problem makers and problem solvers. My problem today could be your billion dollar business tomorrow. Problems create jobs for millions of customer service representatives in the world. They are the instigating factor spurring all innovation. The big problems – like refugee crises, wars, climate change, crime, etc. – are made smaller, and solvable, little by little the more individuals take on the responsibility to the best of their ability to try to solve them.
When you are presented with someone else’s problem – embrace it. The temptation may be strong to push it aside or pass it along to someone else, but accepting all problems that come your way as your own and seeking to solve them as if they were elevates both you and the person who’s come to you for help.