We all have an inexhaustible supply of problems, whether at work or at home, it’s only a matter of time before the next one is rudely thrust upon us. Now, solve every problem with Jim Sholler’s, Solved in 7. In this groundbreaking handbook to life, Sholler starts by identifying the four ineffective risky behaviors that cause companies to bleed money, thousands of patients to die each year for misdiagnosis and personal problems to linger without resolution.
Then, he offers a simple framework to replace these mistakes with a clear path to solve any problem fast from professional challenges to personal crisis. Solved in 7 was put to the ultimate test when Sholler used it to determine the source of an extremely rare bleeding disorder in just seven minutes after the best doctors in Boston failed to do so for 13 years.
Jim Sholler’s known as the fixer for a reason, with Solved in Seven, you will be too. This is The Author Hour Podcast, and I’m your host, Frank Garza. Today, I’m joined by Jim Sholler, author of a brand-new book, Solved in 7: The Power of Discipline of Problem Solving.
Frank Garza: Jim, welcome to the show.
Jim Sholler: Thanks, Frank, and thank you for meeting with me and giving me time to talk about my book today.
Frank Garza: Yeah, I’m excited to dig into it and talk about your new book. To get started, can you talk about your background and how you were able to develop such good problem-solving skills?
Jim Sholler: You bet. I was always somewhat intrigued with the “How come?” and the why of things. Even as a child, I’m sure my mother would tell you she loves to call me, “How-Come-Sholler” because that’s just — everyday, she would explain something to me, and she knows at the age of five, I’d say, “How come, how come?” I would just keep going because I had to know why. I had to know more.
It just carried with me through I think some of the insecurities I had in early jobs and then even, on to my career at Fidelity. I just always had to know more, and when I was managing, a young manager, managing brilliant technicians that were infinitely more skilled in technology than I was, I was more of the people-manager part. I felt like I needed to have some way to demonstrate for them that I add value.
That I’m more than just office furniture, I can do something here and what I noticed was that my love of getting to the bottom of things eventually turned into them coming to me to say, “We need you to do that thing you do.” And that kind of became my brand as the fixer and it’s just—it was never really intentional as much as just that’s what I enjoy, so that’s what I kept focusing on.
Frank Garza: Can you tell me a little bit more about your career and what type of jobs you had?
Jim Sholler: Absolutely. Right out of school, I worked for Deloitte & Touche, and it was a lot of consulting engagements. And it was IT consulting. It was also eventually financial corporate finance, financial consulting, and in the IT consulting in particular, again, I wound up making a name for myself by bringing process and organization to things.
I like to say that I thoroughly enjoy bringing order to where there would otherwise be chaos. Eventually, I went from Deloitte & Touche on to Fidelity Investments and wound up working at Fidelity for 27 years. At Fidelity, I had a number of different roles spanning many disciplines, including operations, software delivery, project management, program management, and throughout the theme that was always running was the fixer.
I was always brought in to basically fix either operational problems or even organizational problems. In many cases, when something I was managing was up and running fairly well, they’d say a manager, a boss, someone else would come to me and say, “Okay, that’s running great, good job. We need you to come over here, this group is a mess, we need some help here.” It was very rarely, if ever, the people. It was the process.
It was what they were doing; it was how they were doing it. Those were the things that tended to need fixing, and I just really enjoyed doing that, so I finally, in the last three years before I was fortunate to have a voluntary buyout from Fidelity, the last three years I was in a great group called Fidelity Charitable and I had a manager who really understood the value proposition that I brought to the table and I didn’t really have a job description other than fix broken stuff. That was kind of my job description.
She knew I would seek out things in the operations area that just were not working as efficiently or effectively or as risk free as they should be, and I would dive into them, get them fixed, very little spent, and most of it was policies, procedures, and just doing things… getting to the root cause of what was wrong, fixing it and approving it going forward. That’s really what I did for my last three years at Fidelity Charitable was literally just finding and fixing broken things.
The Seven-Step Framework
Frank Garza: Okay, you’ve written this book now, Solved in 7 about solving problems — and it seems like this would be beneficial to a pretty wide audience — but did you have a more specific target audience in mind as you wrote the book?
Jim Sholler: Yes, it’s funny you said that. When I first started to write it, and I think this is part of a cathartic process of writing that you actually wind up taking a different journey than where I thought I was going. When I started, it really was to continue on with the corporate training space and I’ve trained people at Fidelity in this. I’ve trained some companies outside Fidelity and I really thought I was going to be documenting the process and using that to continue to grow my own training business.
As I started to write it more and more and mainly do research for the book, you start to see things which shock even myself, you know? Where you see things like 40 to 80,000 people die every year as a result of complications from medical misdiagnosis and that’s from a health line study a few years ago. I saw that number and I thought, that’s not acceptable — and knowing what I went through with my wife, really, what my wife went through when I was able to help her with, you start to realize that there is a huge audience in the diagnosis of, or the resolution of, undiagnosed medical disorder where people really need help.
We’re just not — our education system does not prepare us to be problem solvers and we tend to just rely on doctors, say[ng], “You know, they’re doctors. They know more than I, what value could I bring to this? I just need to trust them” and really, what I’m trying to do in addition to the corporate training is get through to these people in this space of medical diagnosis, challenging medical diagnosis that your own medical diagnosis is not a spectator sport. You have to get involved and what I’m hoping is, I can inspire people to realize there’s a different way and they should question what’s going on.
The doctors welcome the assistance, the better information, just anything other than just trying to mash diagnosing or symptoms and calling me to diagnosis and column B which doesn’t always work well. If I can hit 1% of the 40 to 80,000 people that die from misdiagnosis every year, that’s 400 to 800 lives, and that’s the reward I’m looking for; to hear that the book inspired someone, even if they don’t follow my seven-star process. If it at least inspires them to think differently about relying on other people, whether it’s corporate or medical, to solve their problems, and instead, they become a problem-solving leader. That’s the reward that I’m looking for.
Frank Garza: Okay, we’re going to get to your seven-step process in a bit but first I want to ask you about these four inefficient practices around problem-solving that you’ve observed.
Jim Sholler: Yes.
Frank Garza: There’s four of them, I want to at least dig into one of these, and the one I’m most interested in is “Stuck on the Wrong Problem”.
Jim Sholler: Okay.
Frank Garza: Can you tell me what you’ve seen with that one?
Jim Sholler: “Stuck on the Wrong Problem”, you’ll see it a lot of times. You’ll see this for instance with high tech individuals, software developers and also the medical profession where they get it in their head that they know what’s wrong. They dig in and start trying to research that problem.
You know, the problem is that X isn’t working. It just isn’t working the way it’s supposed to. They can spend hours, days, chasing that problem, that X isn’t working the way it’s supposed to. The medical case certainly in my wife’s situation, they’re convinced it’s a bleeding disorder, it’s a bleeding disorder.
What happens is when you don’t go through a step-by-step process to really focus on facts and questions and focus on trying to learn what’s right instead, you focus on what’s wrong. You prevent yourself from going back and restating or reviewing the problem saying, maybe that isn’t the problem, maybe it’s actually something upstream that happened, and all this time, I’ve been focused on, “Why isn’t this update working the way I wrote it?”
In fact, the update’s not working because something else, the fields weren’t created the way they were supposed to be created. That’s the challenge of being stuck in a problem that can really cause people to lose significant time. It’s not that the problem will never get resolved, it’s more about the efficiency and the time.
The Solved in 7 refers to both seven steps but it also refers to seven minutes. I want people to really ask themselves, am I resolving my problems on average, not every time but, on average, in seven minutes or is it in hours, days, weeks, months? How long is it taking you? Often, quite often, it’s because you get stuck on the problem and you don’t step back and say maybe I have the wrong problem.
Frank Garza: Okay, let’s move into this seven-step framework. We’re going to get into some of these steps in more detail and I’m going to ask you for some examples of when you’ve used this framework but for now, could you just give people a big picture overview of what that framework looks like?
Jim Sholler: Absolutely. The first step — and I think this is really what differentiates this process from other things that you might see online — and there’s a myriad of methodologies for problem-solving, and what I don’t see in any of them that I’ve tried to embrace is the first step is to build a team.
This is a leadership approach, and who are you leading, you know? You’re leading people to learn the root cause of the problem. It’s not all on your shoulders. You don’t figure this all out yourself. Step one is you want to build the team.
In the book, I go into the details about how many people are on the team, and it’s not meant to be a formal. You’re not posting job opportunities and hiring people. It’s either your doctors or the people you work with at work who might be the right experts but really, what you’re trying to do is just get the right people together who might have experience in the space where you’re trying to resolve the problem.
That’s step one, you got to build the team. Step two is you want to train the team and that’s important because what you want is to make sure that they understand what the approach is. What’s this all about? What are we doing here? This seems like a formal process. I’m okay with just researching this stuff myself. Why are we doing this?
What I find is when you walk people through the process, there’s almost a sense of relief that they see that someone is actually going to help them. We’re going to get a resolution for this, and I just need to kind of follow along and we will get to the root cause we need to get to.
That is the importance of really training the team on this. Once you have the team trained, they’re established, they know how this is going to work. Now you get into what you see a little more, and some of the other problem-solving methodologies that they tend to jump to the step, which is the problem statement; what is actually wrong with this? What do we think the problem is? And what I go though in the book is a detail about how do you write a problem statement?
The example I use is when you have a flat tire in the morning. If you write a problem statement that says, my tire is flat, that’s an observation, it’s not really a problem statement. As much as this sounds like a simple basic example, it really brings up the point that what the problem statement should be is an assessment of the functionality that isn’t working.
That’s the key that a lot of people miss in the problem statement that causes them to go down the wrong — the path of the wrong problem, as you were asking about a minute ago. The question really does need to be where, the problem really needs to be in observation about the function that’s not working. In the case of the flat tire, you want to say, “The tire is no longer holding air.” And there can be many reasons why the tire isn’t holding air but that really is the key of what the problem statement should be.
After the problem statement, you want to go into listing all of the known facts, and this is a key. During this discussion, you will have people throw out theories, you know, the proposal of what’s happening. Any theories we will talk about later, you can list those as questions but the facts have to be indisputable, non-negotiable, demonstrable, that is probably the most important thing is demonstrable facts.
It has to be in writing. One thing I run into a lot is someone said, you know, “Frank said that we couldn’t do it this way.” I need to hear Frank say that or I need to see Frank’s email or document or something that demonstrates that this can’t be done this way, and that is where a lot of things are actually resolved very quickly because you realize people were running with an assumption that something just could or couldn’t work the way they were saying it.
They never thought to just ask, “Are we sure about that? Is that really true?” and a lot of times when you push back, you find out, “Oh, that was an assumption, not a fact.” So, documenting all the known facts is absolutely critical and putting that lens on questioning, “Is this a demonstrable actual fact?” Once you have all the facts listed, you are going to list all known questions.
But the questions are tough because some people are just born with that CSI mentality. They just know how to hit at the right thing. We are not all born with that, so you really need to start to just think more with an open mind and understand that there is no dumb question. You want to question everything, any possible related. I have a few good examples in the book where there is an illness and you question, “Has the house recently been painted?”
“Has it been tested for lead paint? Has the water been tested?” I mean, literally, you want to think of everything possible. It’s cliché to say it, but there is no dumb question. Once you get the questions all laid out, then you want — here comes the fun part — this is the leadership part, you are assigning the questions to each of the subject matter experts accordingly and just asking them to answer the questions.
Don’t run off in a tangent; just answer the questions and come back. Those questions will be new facts, and that’s what brings us to step seven, which is what I call the “rinse and repeat” step, which is when you gather the team back — and you should be doing all of this, by the way, on a whiteboard or a virtual shared workspace so that anyone can look at it at any time and check your progress.
The rinse and repeat step, you are gathering the team back together, you are listing all of the new facts, discussing them, spend a few minutes discussing everything that you have learned, and the most important thing here is this is where you want to go back and reassess the problem statement. Are we still chasing the right problem? It is very common to realize that the initial problem statement was wrong.
That is not a bad thing. That is actually a good thing that you have now learned that the problem statement was wrong, so reassess the problem statement and then basically, you start to rinse and repeat as I said. You are going to list all the new questions that these new facts bring up, and at that point, you’re really just iterating through steps three through seven until the real root cause reveals itself.
You won’t be proving you are right, you won’t be guessing at the solution, but you will be — you’re really working towards learning and revealing what the answer is.
Frank Garza: Okay, great. So as I was looking through the book and reading through some of the example problems you gave, these first two steps: assemble the team, set expectations with the team. I wondered, is it ever challenging to get somebody’s buy-in to adhere to this process? Do you ever get somebody that’s saying, “You know, I don’t want to follow all of these processes. I don’t believe in this process?” Would you have — would you be able to offer any advice for me on what to do if I run into this or if that has even been a common problem?
Jim Sholler: No, it is a really good question and it absolutely does happen, and in particular early on — I am spoiled in that towards the end of my time with Fidelity, it is something I was known for so people would come to me and literally say, “We need you to do that thing you do.” So they were willing participants at that point, but you are absolutely correct and early on, people, they don’t need your help especially, I am not more technical than they are.
I am not even as technical as they are, so how can I possibly help them? So what it comes down to is first, you have to get the confidence in your own ability to use the framework. You don’t want to have the first time you use it be with a team of people who are already kind of coming kicking and screaming. So, I suggest using it on problems you’ve already solved, get yourself comfortable with how it would work, and then really what you want to do, like a lot of things, you want to pick the first time you use it with a friendly audience.
You know, pick a few people and just be honest with them and say, “Look, I am trying this. I learned this new thing, this framework. I am trying to take more of a leadership approach to resolve problems rather than just hiding in a corner myself until I figure it out.” One of the things to do is to — one of the best things to do is to use a problem that is on your shoulders. It is something you are trying to solve as opposed to seeking out other people experiencing problems and saying, “Hey, let me help you. I can solve this for you.”
You say, “Look, I am dealing with this problem and to resolve it, I need some help and I am going to try to use this new framework. Are you in? Are you willing to be one of the team players in this, and we’ll see how it goes?” And I think when you are reaching out to ask for help, people are much more inclined to join you and be part of the team and follow your new process than if you are kind of coming to them and with that, “I was told you can’t fix this, so I am here to help you.”
That doesn’t usually go well unless you have the established reputation for being the problem solver, but at first, I would welcome people in to help you solve your problem, and hopefully, they see the benefit of the approach and, best case, they may want to use it themselves.
The Framework in Action
Frank Garza: The book has loads of examples of how you use this framework, how you have seen others use this framework to solve problems. Could you please just pick one example that you could share with us?
Jim Sholler: Absolutely. So this is one of my favorites, and it definitely hit. The names have all been changed to protect the subjects, but it is one — I like to use this one because the book can come off sounding… just the concept, in general, can come off sounding very much like something you do for work, something that’s professional. This can’t help me in my personal life and, you know, I’d say quite the opposite.
The example I’d like to share with people on the power and the impact of doing this in your personal life is the impact of a teen who is tending towards telling mistruths or bending the truth a bit. And the example was an individual, a teenager not doing anything different than 90% or higher of the people who are once a teenager, not being truthful about where they’re going Friday night, not being truthful about what they are going to be doing, who they’re going to be with, where they’re going to be.
In this case, for this individual, it was just increasingly becoming a situation detrimental to the relationship with the parents, and something had to be done. Some of the bad behaviors started to rear their ugly head like, “Well geez, she or he wasn’t lying until they met this other person. It must be the other person,” you know? So they jump right to the blame and the immediate things you typically think of, “Well, they can’t hang out with that person anymore.”
Which would not only not solve anything but would absolutely exacerbate the situation and make it worse, so the parents immediately opted for the other option people go for, which is we are going to take the power away, and we are going to make you, “You are going to have to be home Friday and Saturday nights and you can’t do anything. You are grounded and you’re punished.” And all the no TV, no computer, no anything.
Those options, just as usual, didn’t really work out well and didn’t go anywhere else. So, fortunately, this approach was tried, and you have the challenge of trying to find a lever to use so that no one, if people don’t look at you and say, “We don’t work for you. You are not at work, Dad. We are not going to do this meeting thing with you.” So you have to find a lever, and in this case, the lever was, “Look, we’ll restore all of the permissions that have been taken away. All we ask was you sit down with us for half an hour.”
Maybe it’s seven minutes, maybe it’s half an hour, and give it a try. And in this case, they walk through the very first, the facts were documented. There have been mistruths told, and what you want to avoid in this process is saying “you told” because that is kind of an aggressive posture that you want to avoid. So really, what you want to say is mistruths have been told. So then you get to why, why do you feel it is necessary to have mistruths?
I mean, it seems like a radical concept bordering on therapy to say, “Why are you lying to us?” But really, just try and document facts, “Why did you feel the need to lie?” and the answer is, “Because if I told, you wouldn’t let me do anything that I actually want to do.” Fear answer, so then you go into, “Okay, now we have a new set of questions.” We have a new fact, there is a lack of trust here.
Why do you think we don’t want you to do these things? Well, you know, I don’t want you drinking and driving because we like you to still be alive for a few years. You know, we don’t want you at parties where people are drinking because you will get suspended and that will impact your future. You kind of go on the process of documenting facts, questions, and what you will see in a lot of cases is when you’re discussing it in this kind of framework approach, the emotions have been removed from it.
In this specific case, I reference in the book, none of things hadn’t already been said but they were typically said with a raised voice and emotions were high, so nothing either party was saying was actually heard by the other party. The message just wasn’t received. This was a way of putting a framework around it and everyone is calm, you are talking through it and what they realize at the end was we have a trust issue.
What do we do to establish trust? Let us put some ground rules in place that we can all agree on. If these many kids show up, then it is time to leave. If property is being damaged, I think everyone can agree it is not appropriate to damage someone else’s house when the parents aren’t there. So you know, the list was developed, and all parties agree that this was a reasonable list.
At the end of the day, the first Friday night rolled around and the honesty was shared, and I am sure it was hard for the parent to hear, “Yep, I am going to a party and there’s going to be kids drinking and the parents won’t be home,” and they just said, “Well, you know the rules, so we trust that you will adhere to the rules and we will see where this goes.” And in this case, it was literally the first Friday night out.
Things got a little crazy, and the child recognized that the number of boxes being checked on the list were getting high, so they grabbed their friends and said, “We have to leave. I promised my parents that all these things are happening we cannot be here,” and they left. And as they were driving down the street, they were passed by two police cars who went to the party they were just at and took all the names and all the kids that were still there were suspended, and it didn’t end well for everyone who is still there.
It just couldn’t have worked out better because it really showed the child in particular had a newfound trust and respect for the parents that they really just didn’t want — you know, they are just looking out for her best interest. It is not that they don’t want her to have fun, which was the original stuff she said. She goes, “You just don’t want me to have any fun,” and that message really hit home as two police cars quickly drove past.
Wow, they just really are trying to share some wisdom with me and make sure I make it through high school alive. So, it is my favorite example because, again, it shows this is not just about work. It is not just about medical illnesses; it is just solving challenges that we all have in our lives.
Frank Garza: Yeah, that sounds like it was a win-win for both parties. That’s a great example, thank you for sharing that. Well, writing a book is such a feat, so congratulations on putting this out into the world. Before we wrap up, is there anything else about you or the book that you want to make sure our listeners know?
Jim Sholler: The only thing I would say is if I really hope people read the book and that they are, if the first six chapters don’t inspire them to do things a little differently, the seventh chapter, which is the story about my wife’s rare bleeding disorder, will hopefully be the compelling story that motivates them to say, “Wow, this really could make a difference.” And on my website, it’s appropriately titled, solvedin7.com, I have the ability for people to come share stories.
Because, at the end of the day, I wrote this to help people, and the real reward for doing this is hearing the stories, that the champagne moment, as Scribe calls it, for me will be the first time someone reaches out to me to say, “Wow, we used this. We had this issue, a medical issue in my family that we’ve been trying to resolve forever, we were getting nowhere, and this changed everything we now know what happened.” I mean, that, to me, will be the ultimate reason why I did this.
Frank Garza: Jim, this has been such a pleasure. The book is called, Solved in 7: The Power of Disciplined Problem Solving. Besides checking out the book, where can people find you?
Jim Sholler: Again, the easiest way is through solvedin7.com to reach out for me. You can email me at [email protected] as well.
Frank Garza: Thank you, Jim.
Jim Sholler: Thank you, Frank. I really appreciated the time.
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