How Solutions Make Leaders Stupid
I was surprised to hear the co-founder of Netflix say, “Fall in love with the problem.” (Marc Randolph)
I’ve been teaching leaders to fall in love with solution-finding. So, I did some investigating.
Not the black hole:
The plethora of problems organizations face every day overwhelms some leaders. Discouraged leaders use problems as excuses. “We can’t do that because….”
Falling in love with the problem isn’t circling the black hole.
At High Point University Marc Randolph said, “When it comes to investing my time in an idea, the first thing I check on is if I’m interested in the problem. I tell people not to fall in love with their idea, but with the problem they’re trying to solve. The idea is going to change. The idea is likely going to be a bad one. If the problem is an interesting problem, that’ll keep you going for a long, long time.”
The danger of solutions:
Abraham Maslow said, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” (The ‘nail’ idea is older than Maslow.)
Don’t fall in love with solutions.
The Einstellung effect explains our tendency to solve new problems with old solutions.
Fall in love with the problem:
The problem I love is misery caused by incompetent leadership.
I write, speak, train, and coach to energize leaders, teams, and organizations.
Every leader or consultant who walks into the room with a predetermined solution is in love with their hammer, not the problem.
When you fall in love with the problem, you explore new solutions. When you fall in love with the solution, everything distills to a nail.
Falling in love with the problem motivates iterative solution-finding that explores new methods and tests new solutions.
How might leaders escape the rut of using old solutions to solve current problems?
What does it mean for you to fall in love with the problem?
How might leaders escape the rut of using old solutions to solve current problems? Start with redefining what you see as “not” problems but “challenges”. A “problem” is something one sees on a math test. Everything else that we face each day is a “challenge” for us to attempt to solve. When one shifts from problem-solving to challenge solving one undergoes a more positive approach to the issues. Think about it, when you hear of a problem it brings up negative thoughts, when you hear of a challenge it’s a more positive context. Face challenges in a positive manner and stop talking or thinking about “problems”.
Thanks Roger. I knew I could count on you to beat the “challenge” drum. Much appreciated.
How about thinking about it as an “opportunity for improvement”?
The other aspect of “problem” is that it implies there is one right, correct solution. Which in turn leads to falling in love with the solution you thought of because clearly it is THE one and only option. If is a challenge or opportunity for improvement or whatever other term you can get your folks to start using, then your initial jumping off point is what options are available.
I love this comment. I am constantly talking to theleadership coaches I work with about the fact that reframing a scenario can inspire such different solutions. I will definitely point my staff in the direction of this article and this comment specifically.
How might leaders escape the rut of using old solutions to solve current problems?
Realize every problem has some unique features and characteristics including people, customers, organizational structures, processes, alignment, leaders, resources etc.
What happens when you falling in love with the problem.
You have tunnel vision. You are emotionally connected and only view it through one framework.
How might leaders escape the rut of using old solutions to solve current problems? Listen to what others have to say, everyone had a different teacher that connected with them Mothers, Fathers, Teachers, neighbors etc. all had ideas, careers of every way of form.” Put the Hammer away and use the drill with screws”, easier to remove and change..
What does it mean for you to fall in love with the problem? We learn to think outside the box, become innovative and breath fresh air into an old way of doing things.
As leaders we are taught to make decisions, make the hard decisions and move ahead. This is always great advice. What we tend to forget is the spectrum of decisions that can be made, from do nothing on one end to the hammer on the other, one should consider the endless possibilities of decisions in between and their consequences whenever making a decision.
Dan, by the way——-that is a great picture in your blog
Dan, I agree with your post, but add this thought for your consideration.
Stop Admiring the Problem, THINK SOLUTIONS.
This semester one of my topic discussions in my Health Systems, Policy, and Management course involved asking the students to address how they would confiscate guns from criminals as public health professionals since Gun Violence is one of the top public health issues in the country. The answers focused on details of the Problem and no proposals for the Solution. I find in academia, there is entirely too much focus on detailing the problems and virtually no suggestions for solutions. Of course, if we actually discovered a Solution, research dollars would dry up. Isn’t it always about the MONEY$
Won’t you fall into the trap of never solving your problem or challenge, because it problem solving aides you, defines you, you are nothing without it? It is no longer a “problem” but reason for steps/procedures/actions which may help or harm as long as they continue to be “needed.”
This is very insightful and refreshing.
Some leaders tend to expect a solution when you engage them. They fail to really understand the problem. This is especially true when the problem stems from human behaviour, and the solution requires substantial changes. ( sometimes from directly within the Leadership group). Compounding the solution, is that the positive results will, almost never be immediate. The impact of the problem is diluted, to assist with a ‘quick win’ solution.
When you view each leadership opportunity as a finite set of time — you won’t be where you are forever, right? — finding solutions only means taking another step up the ladder toward a goal for your group that is forever moving forward, always adapting. With this perspective, there are no concrete solutions, there are only evolving situations to make better. Kind of a take on the “Journey versus Destination” theory. My generation was taught “practice makes perfect” when my children are taught “practice makes better.” It’s a mindset I’m trying to adopt:)
Thank you for the post. I appreciate the idea of focusing on the problem and not the solution. I also enjoyed the metaphor of if the only tool you have is a hammer than everything is a nail. I believe we do have a tendency to “close our minds” and keep doing things the way they have been done. I think the idea of giving the problem proper attention leads managers to give what caused the problem due attention to reduce the chance of the problem.
To me, falling in love with the problem is a way of looking at the source, understanding what is happening, and reducing the chances of being more in love with the solution. First, falling in love with the problem helps you see it for what it truly is. The way falling in love with a person can make the world seem wonderful and has a rose-colored-glasses perspective, falling in love with the solution means you are probably more likely to miss something important, disregard potential red flags, or forget some key facts that are going to prevent your solution from actually working. Second, loving the problem means you can better understand it and force you to spend more time with the problem. Otherwise, you may be too eager to solve it – and solve the wrong problem or waste time and resources on a solution that didn’t work. Loving the problem mean you can see it for what it is, and not the impact it’s causing or the trouble it’s causing for you. Finally, I’m also a big fan of Ryan Holiday’s “The Obstacle is the Way,” where he describes how the most difficult path is the right and best path. The only way is through – problems are not the enemy. Loving them means you work through them with care and dedication because overcoming the challenge is what truly solves the problem.
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