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Problem Solving: How to Wrestle with a Pig, and Win!

by Burl W. Randolph Jr.

I am often asked “Burl, why would you wrestle with a pig? All you get is dirty and the pig enjoys it”. George Bernard Shaw. My answer is always the same:

How do you think I made Colonel?

Wrestling with a pig is the cliché for struggling with difficult problems that have no solution. Well, I like a good challenge, so I developed a few techniques for pig wrestling, and winning.

  1. Embrace getting dirty. Pigs are generally found in dirty, filthy pigsties. I have never encountered a neat, clean problem, because that does not exist. If you want to solve a problem or resolve an issue, you must embrace the idea if getting down to the nitty-gritty. This is the ugly, dirty, filthy side of a problem. If you do not have the stomach for getting dirty, then you will just get dirty, the pig will remain, and will never become bacon.
  2. Learn to outmaneuver the pig. Most problems are like most pigs: Too heavy to wrestle alone. What resources will you need to outmaneuver the pig, wear it down, tire it out, and make it more manageable? Very few problems can be handled alone or all at once. So, you need a ‘plan of attack’ to engage the problem, break it into manageable pieces, with the expectation of winning.
  3. Get out of the mud. If I stay in the pigsty, the pig has the upper foot. After I have sufficiently wore the pig down, I may be able to lead it out if the pigsty, in a weary, wobbly manner. If I merely reside where I found my problem, I will likely stay there. Just as eagles soar above the clouds when it begins to rain, we must get above our problems to gain a different perspective, and hopefully advantage over it.
  4. Make some bacon. Addressing a problem does no good if nothing comes from it. Because we get more from pigs than bacon, what other benefits come from addressing the problem, and executing recommendations/solutions? As we break the problem up, and divide it into the rightful parts, everyone begins to smell the bacon.
  5. Celebrate the victory. We often resolve a huge problem but fail to celebrate the hard work and effort that gained the victory. Victories, large and small, must be acknowledged and celebrated so that when the next pig comes along, people are not afraid to get dirty!

What pig(s) are you wrestling with? Are you willing to get dirty? What’s your plan to win?

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