Are You Solving The Wrong Problem?

In Leadership
Check It Out

Kobe Bryant is 6’6”. 

In one play during a game in 2015 against the Denver Nuggets, Kobe had the ball and was being guarded by 5’9” Nate Robinson, maybe the shortest player in the NBA at the time. 

While dribbling, Kobe used his body to shield the ball from Robinson’s reach, turned towards the basket, elevated up over the top of Nate, and calmly made a 15-foot jumpshot. 

The shot wasn’t a buzzer-beater. There was no funky movement involved in Kobe’s scoring of the two points. If someone created a 60-minute highlight reel just of Kobe’s making jumpshots, this play would not make the cut. 

But what Kobe did on that play is a great metaphor for how we can all handle problems. 

I’ll give you an example that I shared in my book, Work On Your Game. 

Several years ago, I was on a plane, sitting in a coach. 

The person seated in front of me reclined their seat. The hard plastic back of that seat pressed against my knees. I politely tapped that passenger on the shoulder and asked if they would be so kind as to not straighten their seatback. 

Luckily for me, they obliged. 

I was concerned though: the same thing had happened on an earlier flight on this same trip. And when I googled the rules on seat reclining, I learned that people were fully in their rights to recline as far as they wished, tall people knees be damned. 

I didn’t want the health of my knees to depend on people being kind. 

The solution: don’t fly coach anymore — or, if I did, pony up the extra $47 or so to sit exit-row only. 

No one can recline their seat into my knees when I’m in the exit row or first class. 

By changing my seating strategy, I had not solved the problem; I’d gone over the top of the problem and eliminated its relevance. 


When we deal with problems on the level of the problem, we may solve it — and we may not. 

But when we go over the top of the problem, the problem no longer exists. We’ve moved the game to a whole other plane (see what I did there?). 


Nate Robinson, all 5’9” of him, was a good player — he had to be to have made it to the NBA. Nate was an incredible athlete who had a choice between the NFL and the NBA and chose basketball. 

Nate could jump pretty high. He won the NBA Slam Dunk contest THREE times. But, for the most part, Nate’s influence on a basketball game was limited to his (lack of) height. 

On a normal play, the plays that don’t make it into 90-second YouTube clips, Nate wasn’t dunking — he was limited to doing what a 5’9” guy could do. Guarding a 6’6” guy is not one of them. 

Playing defense in basketball, the only way a small player can affect a bigger guy is if the bigger guy chooses to play the smaller guy’s game: dribbling the ball down close to the floor and in front of the small guy, where the smaller guy is capable of getting involved. 

We call this “dancing with the ball.” Some players are good at dancing. Even Kobe himself was good at it. But, for the purpose of winning,  efficiency trumps style. 

When the action shifts to higher altitudes, like the space that Kobe occupied when he jumped to shoot the ball over Nate’s head, the smaller guy is rendered irrelevant. 

Nate couldn’t occupy that space, and Kobe knew it. So Kobe didn’t solve the problem his defender presented; he took Nate completely out of the equation and scored an easy two points. 

Looking at your own challenges, ask yourself:

Do they even need to be solved? 

How can they be rendered irrelevant?  

Am I focusing on the wrong, low-level issue (this small defender) instead of the bigger one (scoring a basket)?

– How can I quit this job instead of trying to work it out with the boss? 

– How can I buy a new car, instead of getting this old one fixed again? 

– Is it possible to reschedule the meeting instead of pretending that I was prepared for it? 

These unique and creative ways of addressing problems, of the personal and business variety, are what I specialize in — that’s why I have a show called Work On Your Game that publishes new material every single day. 

I want you to access the full archive and all the newest material of the show, and the only way to do that is as a member of the Game Group Membership. 

Instead of me telling you all about it, you can join free and use 100% of it for 14 days. That way you can experience it for yourself, accessing MasterClasses on every topic from leadership to communication strategies to personal discipline to self-confidence. 

Get started here: