The problem with Problems
Every business has Problems; every day of your life there are Problems. Some are little, some big, some insoluble. For many, problem solving is fun. It can even become an obsession. Then the problem solver starts first looking for, and then creating, problems. In extreme cases life becomes excessively problem solving. But truthfully, are there that many problems to solve?
I prefer to approach this aspect of life on the basis that:[a] there are fewer problems than people think [b] except for problems that threaten people’s safety, most of them can be solved by those immediately responsible for doing so. Why snatch away from subordinates the chance to practice solving smaller and less threatening problems? That is how they learn. [c] The problems I should mostly be helping to solve are ones that affect the future of the world and the universe, not how to get the vacuum cleaner mended. There are some insoluble problems, too. Those are also my responsibility.
You may laugh at this. Vacuum cleaners do have to be mended, smaller problems of a local and domestic nature do have to be solved. But, as with everything in life, if you get your priorities right someone else will solve the problems or they will largely sort themselves out. It’s not that I don’t want to know the details, just that I want to know the details that matter, not the other ones. In sorting our work we know which issues need what clout to deal with them.
Micromanagers refuse to delegate even the simplest job – and when they do they look over the person’s shoulder all the time. If you are working for one of these, think up really insoluble problems and present them to her or him. Make it clear that the issue is way above your paygrade but well within your boss’s. That way you’ll hopefully keep them busy while you get on with the work that matters. So what is that work if not problem solving?
As with every new discovery or invention, in the early days it is rejected. Then the first entrepreneurial adopters start using it, Soon everyone starts to do so, even if their business is quite unsuited. People learn the new jargon before attending industry dinners to demonstrate how up to date they are. Some of the great industrial companies of the world are stuck in the era of automation as we first knew it for car production and similar automatable processes.
But then a new technology comes along. Interesting that, in the middle of my writing this, McKinsey flash onto my screen the following headline: “Capturing value in machinery and industrial automation as market dynamics change”. Either they know a great deal about my activities as I enact them or we are thinking along the same lines. I do hope the latter.
The adoption process may now be a little faster but it is essentially the same. So everyone becomes enveloped in a game of ‘keep-up’, running faster and faster to virtually stand still. It is the totally justifiable complaint of many managers today. This leaves us all in a reactive state, responding to the news – something we have all become accustomed to. It’s not what you and I should be doing. We should be creating the news.
This is the reason for thinking about ‘the problem with problems’. Each of us has a responsibility to understand as much as we can about what is going on in the world. Each of us is also responsible for contributing our views both through the ballot box and verbally to bring them to the ears of others and give them a chance to contribute to decisions that will affect their families lives for generations to come. How can we justify using the infrastructure provided through government unless we are prepared to contribute to its planning as much as we reasonably can. If we make the effort to do so the problems we encounter will have clearer solutions.
But our real duty is not problem solving but creating the circumstances in which those who follow us will have a better life. We all know that purpose is what makes life worthwhile – and purpose that involves others more than ourselves is an even greater promise of happiness. Create rather than solve and you will find a level of satisfaction few of your colleagues ever imagined.
Worry less about the problems, more about the future because…
The problem with most problems is that they should never have occurred in the first place.