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Your problems aren’t big enough

I work with clients up to big things… Today I’m going to teach you how to do the same, by making their problems bigger!

One of my clients runs an aerospace company that is developing communication systems for outer space. 

One of my clients is a 20-year military veteran who runs a business helping large companies change the future of work. 

One of my clients has built a company that has won national parenting awards for their work helping thousands of parents who are raising complex kids. 

One of my clients built a $30 million business that she started in her 20s. She quit to reinvent herself as a singer-songwriter, who uses music to help fight for positive social change.

One of my clients spent 7 years serving in the White House, with President Barack Obama. She is now working on a new mission… “to increase Black wealth, elevate Black excellence and amplify Black leadership.” 

All five of these women came to me already engaged on a big mission. 

All five left with a far bigger mission. 

Several of my clients have PhDs, several coach billionaires, some are medal-winning Olympic athletes and some are Special Forces operatives. 

My clients already think big. They already think in unorthodox, contrarian ways. 

But they pay me to mess with their thinking… And they pay me to help them dream bigger than they’ve ever dreamed.

Your problem is that you’re not dreaming big enough

The temptation when you face a roadblock or challenge is to try to make your problems smaller.

But this can result in a focus on addressing symptoms and not causes. 

I regularly spend time making each of my client’s problems bigger

I’ll begin a Problem Magnification session by reading out loud this quote by Dwight D. Eisenhower:

Whenever I run into a problem I can’t solve, I always make it bigger. I can never solve it by trying to make it smaller, but if I make it big enough I can begin to see the outlines of a solution.

When you try to make your problems smaller, you miss out on innovative solutions. You are in the land of tips and tactics. 

When you make your problems bigger, you look at things with fresh eyes, you open the way to new thinking, you allow for deep creativity. 

Problem Magnification 

Successful coaches have an entrepreneurial mindset. Which is why I spend so much time hanging out with great entrepreneurs. 

And there’s a complex relationship between success and struggle in the life of an entrepreneur.

As entrepreneurs, we don’t celebrate for long when we solve a problem, we immediately begin looking for the next problem to solve. 

That’s not always healthy but it is how we are wired. 

My good friend, Daniel Priestley, helps entrepreneurs grow and scale businesses. 

He once shared 5 provocative statements about Problem Magnification, that I re-read at least once a year:

  1. As you “solve” entrepreneurial problems, they are almost immediately replaced with another problem on a bigger scale.
  2. The difference between successful entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs is the size of the problems they are facing—not the nature of the problems.
  3. Get yourself around people who inspire you to play a bigger game rather than simply try to put out fires.
  4. Rather than hoping to solve problems, start focusing on how you can take on bigger problems that will grow and expand as you do.
  5. Consider the entrepreneurs you admire most—my bet is that if you look closely you’d discover they have much bigger problems than you.

Upstream thinking

There’s a well-known parable about two friends walking by a river, who see a child drowning. They dive in to save him. But then they see another child in the water, and another, and another. 

One friend keeps diving back in to save each new child. The other friend says, “I’m going upstream to tackle the guy throwing these kids in the water.”

That’s upstream thinking—solving problems before they happen. 

Real vs recurring problems

Ask your clients to tell you the biggest challenge they are currently facing.

What’s the biggest challenge you have right now?

And is this a real problem, or have you dealt with similar problems before?

If the problem feels familiar, it’s a recurring problem. And you need to look upstream… 

Recurring problems ‘seem’ real. Their impact can be just as profound. But the only way to handle a real problem is to go to the deeper underlying cause. 

Unless you are willing to help your clients address their challenges at their deepest level, it is inevitable that the same issues will keep recurring.

If a problem recurs, you didn’t understand its root. You were working on symptoms, not the source. 

By the end of a Problem Magnification session, your clients should have their heads spinning with much grander challenges than they’d ever imagined. 

That’s upstream thinking.

Coach upstream

Most coaching is remedial in nature. 

Tell me your problem and I’ll help you fix it. Then tell me your next problem and we’ll fix that, too…

It’s downstream thinking. 

Your job as a coach to high-performing clients is to relentlessly draw out their genius. 

Your job is to help them upgrade the quality of their problems.

Your job is to help them live into more powerful questions. 

Are you helping your clients solve their problems or to live into their true mission?

One way to stop solving the ‘problems’ your clients bring to the table is to assume that the problems they think they have are merely symptoms. 

Be like the massage therapist who, when I explained about my back pain, worked on my ankles for an hour. I was frustrated because I thought they must have misheard me. But when I stood up, my back pain was completely gone. They had worked on the source of my pain, not the symptoms. 

That’s upstream thinking. 

Dive deeper into your clients’ dreams and desires than they’ve ever dared to go. Help them dream bigger than they’ve ever dreamed. Then help them get there—one tiny step at a time. 

Love. Rich 


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