Stop trying to solve problems once and for all

How often have you speculated about the outstanding results you could achieve if you simply had enough time to figure out a perfect solution? Have you entertained the idea that, if coworkers would just listen to you or adopt new attitudes and processes, you could finally achieve success? Hey, you are not alone! Being effective at work and producing good results is something that requires creativity, problem solving, and teamwork. However, the pursuit of a perfect solution or process (i.e., you will never have to make adjustments or changes again) is a foolish endeavor.

I listen to a series of podcasts produced by Mark Horstman (@mahorstman) and Mike Auzenne (@mauzenne) titled Manager Tools and Career Tools. As an aside, if you want to get better at work and working with others — listen to Mark and Mike’s podcasts, the “casts” are absolutely free and of outstanding quality and value. In a recent episode, titled Resistant Directs in One on Ones, Mark Horstman read a passage from Paul Hawkin’s book Growing a Business that relates to the mistakes we make in the pursuit of an ultimate solution to work processes and collaboration.

Business Will Always Have Problems

On an Autumn Saturday several years ago, I was working in my office while the rest of the world was enjoying the Indian Summer. I forget the particular problem I was trying to solve. It was one of hundreds and I was proceeding in my usual fashion: solve that problem once and for all. For years I had been the greyhound chasing the rabbit of permanent solutions. I knew that if I worked just a little harder, a little longer, a little more creatively, I would finally catch that rabbit and have a perfectly running business at last. I would experience commercial nirvana, and emerge from the dark night of the leger book into the clear dawn of administrative beatitude. Monday morning would always be a pleasure. I was wrong.

I had my nirvana, all right, but it was the opposite of what I had been seeking. On that pretty afternoon the actual truth finally struck me: I would always have problems. In fact, problems signify that the business is in a learning phase. The revelation was liberating. I couldn’t understand why other people hadn’t told me this earlier. Surely someone had noticed the stupidity of my previous approach to problems. They must have whispered to friends, “What a shame Paul doesn’t know.”

On Monday morning I looked around at my employees. They knew. I was the last to be clued in. Don’t make the same mistake. Understand in the beginning that you will always have problems. It is there that the opportunities lie. A problem is an opportunity in drag.

Paul Hawkin, “Growing a Business,” page 37.

The lesson we should take from this is that trying to find the perfect solution is foolish. Work and collaboration should not be seen as a devious incarnation of a “whack-a-mole” carnival game needing to be sorted out once and for all. If we spend less time trying to solve problems in a perfect way (i.e., to prevent the “problem” from ever happening again) and more time doing hands on work, gaining experience, and delivering results on time — the world and the work place will be better, less frustrating, and more rewarding. Now that is the type of world I want to live in.

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