Which Problem Are You Solving?


Which Problem Are You Solving? Ask for what you really want, not what you think you need.


A new message.

“Can I ask you a quick question? How can I compress a video?”

The message came from a corporate leadership coach I know. I was a bit surprised to hear her talk about video compression, so I asked, “Why do you want to compress a video?”

“Oh, it’s because I need to email it.”

“Why on earth would you need to email a video?”

“Well, I had to present my workshop virtually and now people are asking for the recording.”

This conversation happened in March 2020. The coach was used to hosting in-person events and had just, literally overnight, been thrown into the digital world.

The thought process is easy enough to trace back.

“People want the recording. I need to send the video. How? I’ll just email it.”

Trying to attach the video file, you can picture the error message …

“File too big to attach!”

The solution? 

Making the file smaller …

Which leads directly to the question she asked me. 

If you type the question into Google you’ll also understand why she asked me and didn’t just figure it out on her own.

It’s not a tech issue

Before you roll your eyes thinking that every child knows that you can simply upload the video to Youtube (set it to “Unlisted”) and email the link, let me share another story.

It’s not about being tech savvy.

When I first moved to Spain in 2004 I felt the urge to do creative work and started a sewing business. I specialised in made-to-measure flamenco dance costumes.

If you’ve ever seen a flamenco costume you know that the floor length skirts are fitted around the hip and then flare out to allow for the kind of movement that’s been mesmerising audiences for centuries.

Dancer: Estefania Martinez Puyol. Costume and photo credit: Anke Hermann

Dancer: Estefanía Martínez Puyol. Costume and photo: Anke Herrmann

“I want a skirt that’s straight like a pencil skirt and opens up below the knee,” would be a common client request.

Have you ever tried to dance in a pencil skirt? Trust me, it severely limits your freedom of movement.

So why would a dancer ask for a pencil skirt?

My response to dancers was always, “You don’t want a pencil skirt. You want a costume that doesn’t make you look fat on stage.”


Now that we know what the real problem is, we have a much bigger and varied toolbox: We can work with different materials, cut, color, texture etc. to create a costume that’s both flattering AND fit for purpose.

The thing is, most dressmakers will make the pencil skirt.

Most tech experts will explain how to compress a video.

And when you get what you ask for instead of what you really need, frustration is almost guaranteed – for both client and expert.

You do it too, we all do it

So why do people ask for the wrong things? 

Before you think, “How silly!” remember that you do it too. Well all do it.

When we’re looking for help we ask for what we think we need.

The coach who has never hosted a virtual workshop before asks for a way to compress a video because emailing the video is the only way she knows to get the workshop recording into the right hands.

The dancer who knows nothing about garment design and construction asks for a pencil skirt because she knows that pencil skirts are flattering.

When we don’t know much about a certain field or topic (or don’t give it much thought), what we think we need usually isn’t the best way to solve the issue at hand, it’s just the only way we know.

Asking for what we think we need also limits the help we can get. After all, most people will not ask what you’re actually trying to achieve.

They give you what you ask for. 

Sometimes you might wonder why you’re not really happy but can’t put your finger on what’s wrong.

Sometimes it becomes blatantly obvious that you spent a good deal of time, energy and money on a solution that doesn’t fix your problem.

For example, I’ve listened to plenty of people complaining about how much time and money they invested in having a website built that they’re not really keen to share with people.

What if you asked for what you really want?

Let’s try something different.

Next time, before you search for a solution on Google or ask someone for help, hold on for a second.

Ask yourself what you really want, and then ask for THAT.

Imagine the leadership coach asking,

“What’s the best way to distribute a zoom call recording to the workshop participants?” 

… instead of  …

“How can I compress a video?”

Imagine the dancer asking,

“I want a dance skirt that’s flattering”

… instead of …

“I want a pencil skirt.”

You’ll invariably find that Google gives more relevant and useful answers, and the people you ask can really help you.

Try it out.

“Tell me what you want, what you really, really want …” 

Let the Spice girls help you put that crucial little step between the problem you’re looking to solve and the questions you ask.

It’s a habit worth getting into.


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