Problem Solving: Finding the right questions

4 Aug

This past week, as I took my mother into the clinic for blood tests before her next chemo treatment, she asked me three different times, “What is the point of all of this, Cam?” Suddenly, despite all my coach training, I found myself without a response. I couldn’t think of a constructive question to ask in return. I couldn’t help her solve this problem. So the question hung in the air, unresolved, along with many difficult emotions.


In today’s post I’ll show how a very, very difficult moment in my personal world fits within a larger discussion of problem solving, and reflect on a strategy mentioned in the May 2015 Harvard Business Review.

The author of this article discusses the use of three approaches to problem solving: biases and heuristics; decision analysis (statistics, math, etc); and, a hard-to-define method that I personally believe to be grounded in our intuition. The ‘gut response.’

I see problem solving as a spiritual process – meaning that the solution involves the greater good, and takes into account how culture, values, as well as emotions impact a decision. There is also a physical component to problem solving, in that the body responds to hunches and persuasions – the stomach is unsettled, or a person may ‘stand firm’ on an idea , just for two examples. In other words, your body speaks to you by signaling inklings of the possibilities available from a great universal field of energy.

When my mother who has terminal cancer asked me that question, I wanted to empower her with my answer but I felt helpless. And so, I chose to follow that hard-to-define method of problem solving. Rather than scramble for an answer, I let the question remain unanswered . . . I, once again, put the idea out there and trusted that a solution would surface from the great universal field of energy. My ears and heart were open.

Sometimes, realizing we do not already have a resolution we can we can consciously tap into is very important – we need to trust that it will surface if we let our unconscious minds wander.

Mom’s question haunted me for hours after our visit to the clinic but I enjoyed dinner with her and my family. It was on my way back home in the car that I knew I had my answers as I caught a striking CBC documentary about palliative care and dying called It’s time to talk about end-of-life and palliative care.

The next morning as I got into my car to go to the gym, I turned on the radio and there was the first part of the documentary I had missed the evening before. The Universe was twice there to supply answers that I needed!

As I listened, I felt that the discussion was directed specifically towards me. Dr. Atul Gawande, author of Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, explained how doctors can lose sight of patient needs when it comes to the end of life.

He stipulated that there are some very important questions we need to ask people facing severe health and/or end-of-life issues, such as, what are your goals? what do you want from life?

Maybe someone just wants to eat ice cream and watch football for the rest of their life. Perhaps they should be supported in doing just that for as long as it is comfortable for them.

What are my mother’s goals now that she is facing stage four lung cancer? What does she want from life?

These aren’t easy questions to pose, particularly when you love someone deeply and know their answer may not be your hoped for treatment path. But in any case, their answer may provide clarity. Interestingly, there is a study mentioned in the CBC episode that suggests that those with a terminal disease who can express their goals and live by them, live 25% longer with better quality of life. Wow!

I had given up the problem of responding to my mom to the Universe, and it had provided me with an answer. This is a kind of problem solving not often discussed in articles or business journals. It involves patience and acknowledging that we may not know, and instead need to trust – to follow instinct – to listen to the world around us. It’s passive in a sense, and yet brave in another: it takes courage to not have the answer all the time, and to honour that moment of struggle.

So the next time she asks, “What’s the point, Cam?” I will ask her in return: “What are your goals, Mom? What do you want from life right now?”

And from there, we will see what happens next.


How do you problem solve with intuition? If you have any stories, we’d love to hear them. Leave your thoughts in the comments or on our Sister Leadership Facebook page.

Till next week,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: