From problem to opportunity – Part 1: the CIA model

The CIA model – Focus on the things you can influence

Off all the things we worry about, quite a few are out of our control. Don’t focus your attention on efforts to change these situations. Rather, focus on the areas you can actually change. A great tool for this is the CIA model. CIA, in this case, stands for Control, Influence and Acceptance. Every challenge falls within one of these categories.

  1. Control:
    Situations that are within your control. For instance; your own emotions, thoughts and behaviour.
  2. Influence:
    Situations that are not within your control, but which you can influence. E.g. your surroundings, colleagues, your manager, clients, family or friends.
  3. Acceptance:
    Everything that is not in your control, nor in your area of influence. E.g. the weather, a delayed train or traffic during peak hours.

Category 1: Control

These are situations in which you are perfectly capable of solving the problem. Challenges like these are common annoyances that are relatively easy to solve.

Think about challenges like:
– You experience stress at your work
– You have too little time to spend on your hobbies. 
– Your roof is leaking. 

Phrase your challenge as a How can I…? question. For instance, ‘How can I reduce stress?‘ Take your time to generate creative ideas to solve your challenge. When you sit down and take the time to think about solutions, you’ll often find a solution much sooner than you might expect. Many times, you’ll have found a good solution in the first 5-10 minutes.

Category 2: Influence

The second category of the CIA model consists of those problems you can’t solve on your own. You need others to help fix these problems. The people you need can (to a certain extent) be influenced. For instance, you can’t control your colleague’s mood, but you can certainly try to influence it by making him smile or by inviting him to a game of table football.

Think about challenges like:
– The heavy workload at your department
– Unmotivated team members 
– Resistance to change

Make sure the key stakeholders recognise the problem and understand the need for a solution. Why is it important to them that the problem will be solved? Work together to find a suitable solution that is acceptable to all those involved. Do some stakeholders not see a reason to solve the problem? Look at how you can influence their attitude and behaviour. Can you use nudging, gamification or persuasive design?

Category 3: Acceptance

The third category of challenges in the CIA model consists of those challenges that are beyond your control and influence. These are challenges that keep coming back or that are so large and complex that one person (or small group of people) can’t reasonably expect to meaningfully influence it. Assuming you are not in a position to influence the behaviour of large numbers of people, you can’t prevent or solve these situations.

Think about challenges like:
– A traffic jam or delayed train
– A supplier’s bankrupcy
– A global pandemic

Accept that there are things you cannot control or influence. Rather, focus on defining your need in this situation. Focus your energy on finding opportunities. How can you satisfy your needs, regardless of this new situation? Can you bend the setback into an opportunity? For instance, if you’re stuck waiting for a delayed train, can you use this time to get some work done? Does the new situation offer upsides?

A great example of turning a setback into an opportunity is the story of the band Brassta La Vista. They found themselves stuck in a traffic jam. Instead of complaining, they turned the situation into their advantage. After all, they just returned from a gig and were well equipped to start a proper traffic jam concert! Great PR for the band and a welcome distraction for the other stranded travellers.

Clearly, even situations that you cannot change are no reason for desperation. In my next article, I’ll tell you how to handle unchangeable situations in such a way that problematic situations become opportunities.

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Subtraction techniqueFrom problem to opportunity