On Problems and How They Lead to Solutions

“Leaders think and talk about the solutions. Followers think and talk about the problems.” Brian Tracy

This quote (from 2014) just sounds like something we say, because it makes us feel good. It’s very indicative of pre-revolution utopian thought leadership language. It’s this idea that we can *poof* solutions into the air, if only we think positively and keep our ‘solution hats’ on. The truth is that solutions aren’t poofed, they’re birthed.

Create Solution Babies

To create a productive solution you must, in part, talk and think about problems. The problem is the sperm that fertilizes the egg that will grow into a little solution baby. Yes, I like that imagry much better. It feels productive and realistic; rather than ehterial. Stop waiting for the solution stork and start creating, birthing and nurtering your little solution babies.

Maybe I’m partial, because I have a particular knack for diagnosing problems and problem areas. I find it hard to move through any process without also diagnosing the weaknesses of said process. It’s a skill that makes me a bad follower and the specific reason why I thrive in flat organizations with progressive leadership cultures.

Still, I understand that people have very specific adversions to the word ‘problem’. Our culture is such that we’ve come to associate the word with blame. As if finding a problem somehow makes the workforce vulnerable or identifies deficiencies in individual people.

I’ve seen the scenario play out in real life many times. When I start talking about about a problem, people get defensive. Sometimes, this results in pointing fingers and a shifting of the perceived blame. It’s an exhausting, horrible cycle.

Kill it. Kill it with fire.

Don’t Play the Blame Game

One of my leadership mantras is “Don’t play the blame game” but it’s not just some idea that I’ve made up. Statistical Problem Solving dates back to just post-second industrial revolution and is still used, today, in innovation. Guess what? The first three steps revolve entirely around problems.

I don’t know if you guys have heard but we’re in the middle of the third industrial revolution. It’s time we get over our hangups with problems and reframe our relationship with solution creation. If you’re still on the fence or think that your organization will react negatively to problem seeking, here are a few things you do to facilitate a positive problem culture:

  • Talk about problems in terms of process, not in terms of people
  • Involve the workforce in the solution birthing process
  • Frame the problem inside the solution conversation (ask “How do we make it better?”)
  • Measure results
  • Reward Growth

As always, go forth and evolve.