Learning to be Problem-centered

“The problem-centered person sees a problem as a statement about a situation, from which something has been left out. In other words, there is in this situation a relationship or consequence that has not been stated and that must be found.

"But most children in school are answer-centred rather than problem-centered. They see a problem as a kind of announcement that, far off in some mysterious Answerland, there is an answer, which they are supposed to go out and find.”

~ John Holt, from the book How Children Fail via Things I Dispised about My Education by Nabeel Qureshi

I can totally relate to this. In fact, I had something like this come up at work this week.

When people ask me questions, often regardless of how it’s phrased, my first instinct is to find the right answer to their question. To me the answer has always been the solution to the problem, and if I can find it, I win. When I can’t, which is very often, I tend to get flustered and, feel, well, inadequate. As you might guess, this isn’t a very good approach. A “right answer” isn’t what people are usually looking for when they ask a question or pose a problem. And that’s just the beginning of the problems with this way of doing this.

Of course, it’s pretty clear when you think about it.

Sometimes the question is just a question and the answer, if there is one, lies somewhere within the problem, waiting to be found. Not somewhere in the back of my brain.

Problems are meant to be explored. When it comes to work and relationships they’re also meant to be explored together. An answer isn’t always a solution.

This is something I struggle with at times. This is something I really need to remember.


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