"Instead of immediately jumping to action, press pause and analyze the problem critically."

“A problem well-stated is a problem half-solved" is a quote widely attributed to Charles Kettering, the head of research at General Motors from 1920 to 1947. Albert Einstein goes even further to say, “given one hour to save the world, I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and 5 minutes finding the solution.” While a bit dramatic, the message is still as important as ever.

When facing a problem, our gut reaction is usually to brainstorm solutions. Nothing outrageous there – on the contrary, decision-makers and people who take action exude leadership qualities. However, what are these solutions going to address if we don’t fully understand the problem? Could we make things worse by failing to consider every factor at play?

Here’s a simple example. A group comes to a river and needs to get to the other side. They start to suggest ways across. They can wade, swim, find a boat, build a bridge. But any of these solutions obviously depend on a variety of factors. Instead of brainstorming solutions first, they should be asking questions. Why are they crossing? Are they transporting anything? How deep is the river? How wide? Can they all swim? Are boats or resources to build a bridge available? The list goes on.

If they start wading and the river proves too deep or the current too strong, they must turn back or risk being swept away. If they begin building a bridge and run out of resources, they have wasted time and energy.

These questions may seem obvious in this simple situation. Yet as we know, most problems are anything but simple, especially when they involve a variety of stakeholders spread across multiple departments. When we take a problem at face value and throw solutions at it without considering all factors involved or the root cause, the solutions are likely to waste time and resources, or even create more issues.

This is an especially poignant topic now with the widespread adoption of Contract Lifecycle Management tools and legal departments rushing to implement this new technology. CLM promises to solve a range of problems and drastically cut legal spend. But rushing into implementing CLM or any new tech tool can be the same as rushing into a raging river. If you don’t take the time to really consider your unique problems, you may end up with a tool that does not suit your specific needs and in a situation where you have spent valuable time and resources to wind up stuck in the middle of the river.

How can we avoid this? The answer is simply to change our mindset on how we solve problems.

Instead of immediately jumping to action, press pause and analyze the problem critically. Just like when crossing a river, stop and brainstorm questions related to the problem. Why do I think that I need a CLM tool now? How many contracts am I dealing with, and how complex are they? What is my timeframe for implementation? Do I have team members that are tech gurus that can jump in and assist with implementation or will I need additional time and resources? What percentage of time are senior attorneys spending on contract review, and would a CLM tool significantly cut that time, or would it be more successful in freeing up time of junior attorneys? (if this topic interests you check out Kalexius article on time saving and contacting review tools). Can I leverage my legal ops network and their experience with similar issues to get useful insights?

This brainstorming exercise can be difficult to do alone or even as part of a team when groupthink sets in. Oftentimes a fresh perspective can be key to identifying overlooked factors. We will never know if someone has faced a similar problem in the past if we don’t take the step of engaging with them. Engaging colleagues from different departments and even different organizations can reveal previously overlooked factors.

It’s okay to slow down in order to understand what we’re dealing with. We may not be Einstein and may not be saving the world, but at least we can identify the problem and that gets us halfway to solving it.

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