It took me years to solve a problem that, in the end, was as simple as taking a ring off my finger. Learn what I learned from that problem-solving process.
I don't wear a wedding ring.
I have a happy family with a wife, daughter, dog, and cat.
But I don't wear a wedding ring.
I'm not out chasing tail, I just don't wear a ring. And most days I don't think about it.
It wasn't always this way. On one August day, my wife slid that tungsten circle around my finger as the overheated guests cheered, and we went on our way into our new life (which was exactly the same as the old life).
We were on our honeymoon the first time I realized I did not like wearing the ring. I loved the symbol, but I hated the ring. And so I set out to solve a problem. The problem was: The ring doesn't fit right.
So I got a smaller ring. After nearly losing the thing on my honeymoon, I went back to the jeweler and exchanged my ring for a better fit.
I could already tell my wife didn't like that I exchanged the ring we were married with, but she understood that I wasn't going to wear a ring that was too big for the rest of my life. Of course, I'm sure I would have grown into it some day.
But, even with this problem solved, I still didn't feel right. I had a ring that fit better, but I always fiddled with it. I constantly took it off my finger and spun it on whatever flat surface I could find. My wife liked that even less than exchanging the ring.
So I was off to solve a new problem: I don't like wearing this type of ring.
I did some research and eventually found that men and women who exercise frequently tend to wear silicon rings because they won't get wrapped around any equipment they are using. That seemed like a viable next step (not the exercise, the silicon ring).
So I tried that approach and ... you can guess what happened. It still didn't feel right.
That's the point at which I realized I should have been solving a different problem: I don't like wearing any ring.
For the third step in the process, I came up with what I thought was a perfect solution. I was going to get the logo we had made for our wedding tattooed on my finger where a ring would have been. Then the symbol would remain and I wouldn't have the burden of being constantly distracted by the material on my finger.
But since I had written on the subject, I felt I had to follow The Tattoo Rule. So, with the design and location decided, I waited. And during my period of waiting I told others what my plan was.
No one liked it. My wife was lukewarm on the idea, but pretty much everyone else I talked to thought it was a terrible idea. (Some had misguided advice from their own personal experiences, but it still meant they disapproved of my approach.)
And that's the point at which I realized something else was wrong. I was still solving the wrong problem.
During lunch one day, I was telling coworkers about my tattoo idea -- my solution. Perhaps without realizing he was doing it, one coworker dove into a series of questions, loosely based on the 5 Whys.
It went something like this:
I didn't have an answer. It didn't matter. It doesn't matter. As long as my wife didn't care, why did I care?
My wife knew the motivation behind not wearing the ring was a physical level of uncomfort and nothing to do with an image I wanted or didn't want. And at that point years had come and gone since we'd gotten married.
The night I had that conversation with my wife, I took my ring off and put it in a drawer, right next to the old tungsten thing. They still sit there today, collecting dust, while I'm still happily married.
The lesson here is this: It's important to understand the entire problem before trying to solve it. Without a clear picture of what the root cause of the problem is, it's difficult to properly solve it.
It took me years to solve a problem that, in the end, was as simple as taking a ring off and putting it in a drawer.
So, whether it's through the 5 Whys, talking it out with people, or a series of trials and errors, keep digging until you feel like you've addressed the root cause of the problem. Only then will you have the right solution.
The Tattoo Rule encourages us to consider the risk involved in any situation before diving in.
Using the practice of 5 Whys can help you create more effective solutions to problems, including where you should go on your next vacation.
Just as a jigsaw puzzle needs a box, a solution needs the thing that will focus and guide it to success.