The Real Problem
The real problem is people who point out problems from a distance. They sit aloof explaining what’s wrong. Worse yet, they know what others should do, or not do, while they do nothing, except point out what’s wrong.
The real problem is listening to uninvited problem solvers who don’t have skin in the game. Knowing what others should do without doing anything yourself is a fools paradise.
The real problem is undefined wins. The next time someone tries solving a problem from a distance ask them to define the win. Say, “What does it look like if this problem is solved?” Smile while they stutter and stammer. But, don’t solve their confusion. Usually they just want something to stop.
The real problem is neglecting the first questions of problem solving.
- What is the win? What does it look like if we fix this?
- What is blocking the win?
- Does this problem matter? In other words, does solving this problem improve things significantly?
- What does improvement look like? Forget about perfectly solving anything. Focus on improvement.
- What are you prepared to do? The most important issue isn’t out there. It’s in you. What are you willing to invest?
The real solution is getting your hands dirty with teammates who are already dirty. Get in there and start shoveling some mud. It’s funny how things change when you leave the sidelines and enter the arena.
Real leaders design and implement solutions with others. Any fool can see what isn’t working and offer suggestions from a distance. The next time you hear yourself whining about problems, ask, “What am I willing to invest in solving this?” If the answer is nothing, close your mouth and get back to work.
The real problem is thinking problems are solved from a distance.
How do you deal with the tendency to point out problems from a distance?
How do you deal with the tendency to point out problems from a distance?
Dan, I think this is a natural tendency we all possess. The best way that I have found to try to reign this in for myself and for others is ask what positive thing am I able to bring to this situation. What can I/ you do to help, in the short term and the long?
Is it something as simple as correcting a sign, as in your picture,, or as complicated as speaking to someone about something they do, or perhaps explaining the situation to the naysayers?
If we cannot bring aid, truth, love, correction, then continuing to discuss it is only gossip, which is a waste of time, and ultimately serves no one, with the possible exception of our egos.
I agree that asking question is very easy but when you ask the same person to define solution, he may stammer and perhaps not be in position to define the solution. Last week I was taking lecture on perception and attribution theory. One day before, I sent mail asking them to come prepared in the class. While discussion was going on and almost everyone agreed on the concept, one student questioned- I am not convinced Sir with the concept. Then many students tried to convince the student. He was not convinced. Then I asked politely- did you at least read the concept before coming to the class. He said- No.
What I perceive is that there are people who habitually find out mistakes or alternatively do not agree. There is nothing wrong in raising questions and intervening but the intention should be constructive and to learn, not to prove others wrong. Similarly, people sitting at distance pointing out problem should not be taken seriously. Instead, the people who have already achieved the remarkable success or passed through that stages, pointing out should be taken seriously.
Therefore, I think the important thing is to know the source or person who points out your mistakes. When he or she has already proved his or her mettle, then it makes sense to pay attention, otherwise not.
I’m always good with people who point out problems “from afar.” If the problem impacts them, I welcome their input on how it does that and what they want form a solution. Even if theya re not (or do not want to be) involved in a solution, if they are part fot he process, their input is a blessing. if they want to join in on finding the problem/solution finding and implementation process, so much the better.
The only problem I see is people who are constantly finding “problems” that are not entirely relevant or want their problem solved before all others (thus de-railing and prioritization).
I love this. The solution isn’t “out there”. It is in you.
I see this paradox played out in education. Politicians, entrepreneurs, and celebrities are going to solve the school system’s problem using slogans, catchy headlines or promoting their own products. Making money from the problem. You can’t fix the educational system with rhetoric.
The solution is in us…people who have made teaching their life’s work.
Well I was excited when I read, “the real problem is”!!! Then heartbroken to find many other issues mentioned as the real problem!!
That is the real problemo!!!
Lack of really doing anything because I slender too much time in analysis paralysis!!!!!
It really is easier to pontificate the plethora of possible reason why I ain’t getting what I want!! Easy to listening to the symphony in my head about what is wrong than take simple concrete steps.
You illustrated that point perfectly Dan, good job!!
Only one problem….what we have here is a failure to communicate!! Cool Hand Luke
So I got to shut up already! Be still and know. When the inspiration comes, ACT ON IT!!!
Or I could watch TV!!!!
Good stuff Dan you are brilliant the way you teach people in a kinda diversion way. Showing what you mean when not actually using the words you are writing!
SP back to now!!!
“If you see the problem, you have a responsibility to act on the problem.” Sometimes that action is to point it out to others, be the whistle blower, raise the alarm, and spread the word. The belief is that if enough people are clamoring for a solution, that someone will come up with one and share it or better yet act on it.
We need all of these people to be involved. Often the people who are busy doing don’t notice the problems and the people dreaming up solutions don’t see the problem or act on the solutions they design. Each has to do their part and move on.
Since this blog is about leaders though, I think we can agree that the great leaders fall under two categories; those who anticipate and prevent problems and those who recognize when a problem is presented, know where to go to get solutions and know who can get those solutions implemented (possible themselves).
Dan’s questions are designed to aid the second kind of leader in deciding where to focus resources and if the outcome is worth the effort.
My uncle used to say, “Answers are easy if you ask the right question.” Thank you for the good questions.
When I read this I think about culture and how it impacts “problems.” In one culture, something may be a huge problem but the same issue may be marginal in another. I agree that you always come with the solution though even if it is not embraced. Fear can be an inhibitor though. Great post!
People who point out problems from a distance can be a huge problem, largely because they tend either to over interpret or to reinterpret events. And in my case, I don’t think the question “What do you think a win would look like?” would defuse the problem, because the answer would be a single unilateral (albeit unrealistic) action. I’m still pondering this one, Dan.
I am guilty of this at times. But I do tend to know what a win would look like. If I am unable to inspire and motivate the team to fix the problem, I roll up my sleeves and start fixing it myself. And if they still refuse to do what’s necessary, I give the job to my colleagues in Bangalore, who are all too happy to do it.
And that is ‘with’ not ‘for’… 😉 “The real problem is listening to uninvited problem solvers”—not sure how many really listen given the uninvitedness….
Reminds me of a variation on the problem issue from HBR back in ’74—pass the monkey….
Hey Dan, lots of responses yesterday, looks like you ran out of white border even!!!
Interested to see how the “make an improvement” jives with the “begin with end game in mind.” What if the short-term improvement not always in line with the best long-term solution?
There is nothing wrong with pointing out a problem from a distance. When you invite inspectors, consultants, etc. it is their job to point out problems. Usually everyone already knows there is a problem. The hard part is digging into it and exploring the solution. I welcome outsiders pointing out problems because there are times when you’ve worked around the problem so much you forget it’s even there. Also, sometimes fixing the problem can cause more harm than good depending on how it effects people or the work environment. I think when outsiders point out problems it forces us to think about it and look at it…which is often what we don’t want to do.
The world is full of bashers.
Just listen to AM radio.
I agree with Dan. Ask them about “their solution”. That’s typically when they start the “stutter:.
Excellent commentary Dan. Reminds me of the Teddy Roosevelt quote about the “man in the arena.” Thanks for posting this and driving home the necessity of getting into the fray and off the sidelines.
In my last company, we used to call these people, “helpers”. They would “help” with all sorts of “useful” advice, disappear when the actual implementation would start, and reappear for some “helpful” critiques!
We have ’em across the world!!
Helpers of the world unite!
A very helpful post, Dan. I had never thought about asking after-the fact commentators to define what winning would look like. That is an excellent tool I intend to use.
I love working with people who really dig in, work hard, take risks, persevere, cooperate, and move things forwards – even when the outcomes aren’t certain, and the possibility of failure very real.
Two exasperating things to me are:
-After-the-fact heroes who crawl out from under rocks to claim glory when projects are successful, without every having contributed meaningfully to their success. The chief legal counsel of Hydro-Quebec referred to them as “lizards basking in the sun”. I like the word picture.
-Monday morning commentators who gleefully analyze the wrong calls the coach made on the bench on Saturday night, with the benefit of hindsight, full information, no fatigue, no politics, no resource constraints, etc.
This post seems to echo some of my thoughts on Desk Jockey “leaders” who seem to think they can manage everything from behind their desks or in a meeting.
If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.
Roll your sleeves up and wade in to the muck, if you want to get out of the muck. Problems can not be solved by “seagull” managers who fly in, make an enormous ruckus then leave. If problems exist, you need to have an integrated solution by working together to solve.
A fantastic post, everyday we come across many people who are very expert in giving the advice, I consider them as free consultant who do not charge any thing for their advice because that contains nothing. I have seen many people who try to put their foot in others mouth, their intention is only to satisfy their egos that they know all and they are the actual leader and have solution to every problem. You ask them any problem, they have a solution. What to do with them , better ignore them otherwise they will think that their advices have been accepted and than the problem starts , they again come with more rhetoric and try to solve the problem, when there is no problem. We should only attend to those people who have a hands on knowledge and have passed through the some kind of experience , than it becomes authentic, otherwise there is no point of paying attention to them and wasting our time. I know many people who, when you are talking with somebody, they will interfere during the conversation ignoring all the courtesy and ethics to show that they know all. I think , a right thinking person will not enter in other;s domain , until he is invited , if not so than better to take a tough stand and say, we will call when we think your advice may work out here, but that also not very easy, especially in the corporate world. Better not to say anything and ignore them.
For me valuing the thoughts, feelings, uniqueness and opinions of others helps me overcome criticism and complaining. Great post, thanks.