The Problem with Solutions

How much time and energy do we put into resourcing demands that have actually been created by the solutions we put in place from a previous strategy.


We have all heard the song of 'the little old woman that swallowed the fly', then swallowed the spider to get the fly, however we probably don't realize how some of our strategies and business approaches are inadvertently based on the same principle.

How much time and energy do we put into resourcing demands that have actually been created by the solutions we put in place from a previous strategy.

Many business proposals present the 'problem' in the context of 'we need...' and similar dissatisfactions. If you step back from these presentations you will see that what is being put is really a 'solution' not a problem.

A ready example of this is, 'we need more money'. The problem may actually be, "I spent or committed too much". This of course can be the pains of a growing organization however could be the symptoms of an organization that is destined to accumulate further burdens that will emerge down the track. It’s important therefore to be able to discern the difference.

The first thing to challenge is 'what is the problem'.

By saying 'we need' something you have already come to the conclusion that this is the 'solution' and not having it, is the 'problem'. This 'need' however is not the problem but an indicator of something deeper, and if you continue your business planning in this paradigm then the solution will readily become your problem. Whilst we may put things in place such as 'investment logic' processes we are still at risk of solving the 'solution' rather than the 'problem'.

In an environment where 'growth' seems to be a key success factor, organizations and individuals can very easily be driven by the elements and structure that they build around them rather than the market forces and requirements that originally gave them birth.

The inadvertent problem solving strategy (solution) being applied can eventually drown them.

A test to apply is to ask the 'why'. Why do we need whatever? Then ask 'why' again to the answer you get. Then ask why again and again at each response you get or give to yourself. When you can ask 'why' no more, you may have identified the problem.

You may know you’ve got there when you get to a statement of fact rather than a request. If you ring for an Ambulance all you want to request is 'I need an ambulance' but the dispatcher will be seeking the fact, 'I have a broken leg'. This is when appropriate and effective triage and response can take place.

Why do we not do this for our own organization?

In many cases of evaluating corporate or even personal problems we can get to 6 levels of asking the 'why'.

Not so unlike the woman who swallowed the fly then the spider, the bird, the cat, the dog, then the goat. In drilling down from what presented itself initially as the problem (solution) we may actually find the real issue which may direct us to effective triage. The real concern for the old lady was the fly which, if originally left alone, would not have provided and ongoing and pervading dilemma for the woman. It may be a funny song to sing to your kids but not what you want to experience personally or for your organization.

It's not easy, and at first we may even frustrate ourselves and others as the natural tendency to protect our 'solutions' will pervade and influence our response to the 'why' question.

We may even have a personal investment in the solution. We may also be pressured by the sense of urgency which may be applied to gain weight to the problem. The fact is however, if we don't ask we may very well sabotage our own intent.

What happened to the little old lady in the end? She swallowed a cow to catch the goat then swallowed a horse, .........."she's dead of course".

Don't let your problem be your solution.

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