Monday Musings 284 -The many faces of solution givers!
The great Peter Senge said something to the effect - “Today’s problems are a result of yesterday’s solutions”. I believe it must be taught, reminded and hammered ad nauseam in all leadership development journeys- from the management classes of an MBA to the rarefied galleries of CXO development.
The irony is that there are more leaders who are trigger happy in their zeal for offering solutions however poorly thought through they might be. This unabashed exhilaration of being known as an idea factory makes them a believer of the brilliance of each one of these ideas. We must be fearful of them. In a way, we must question the way this folly of equating quality of talent to his ability to shoot from the hip a-solution-a-minute, and take a reflective pause to ascertain how have we come to this brink. There must have been a systemic fault line that would have allowed things to come to the precipice of mistaking quantity of solutions for the quality of it.
Let’s step back for a minute- Lets look around in spaces that we occupy – teams, functions and organizations. Let’s list down the top 3 problems that plague us and go back in time to ascertain the genesis of those challenges. The pursuit is to find what did we start doing that created a ripple effect of consequences that has led us to what we have on our hands now - a root cause of sorts but a deeper philosophical one. For instance if we reward for how fast have we answered a customer call, it is not tantamount to how fast we have solved a customer problem. The former is a turnaround time to a "part of the process" while the latter is about a credible customer problem solving. However the system which would have put the former as its metrics would have done so in all earnestness to solve the problem they would have been grappling. There is no reason to doubt that they deliberately short changed the system so as to favor a lower order metric instead of a higher order one. May be that choice made eminent sense then – and may be the urgency of the problem blinded the individual who proposed the idea in the first place. The individual blindness to foresee the second and third order consequence to a well meaning solution powered by genuine intent is understandable even though one can take a philosophical position that good leadership is being sensitive to such consequences and may be even predict it – what is not only difficult to understand but is actually unpardonable is when a group of people, a team, a management think tank suffers from such myopia. The whole idea of a bunch of competent people coming together is to be able to see through the consequences of such solutions. Some of those consequences may be difficult to predict and we must live with these – the tyranny of unintended consequences – but those which a group of reasonable minds must have seen, ought to have seen are grossly unpardonable. Such myopia is bad for the organization.
I am fast coming to the conclusions that misplaced, half-baked and myopia of solutions givers are a greater curse than perhaps a lack of solutions - because hopping from one half- baked solution to the next half- baked one lulls us into believing that credible work is happening while all that is happening is pretence of deep work.
Let me attempt humor to tell the rest of the story. Here are some peculiar archetypes around on the subject of solution providers. - Enjoy with your tongue firmly in cheek.
1. The solution factory- He has a solution for everything – sometime for even what is not yet a problem. He rattles an idea an hour – which would be quite tolerable but what is travesty is his firm belief in the inherent brilliance in each one of those ideas. Non-acceptance of his solutions does not deter him from proposing his next.
2. The fundamentalist – He is the deadliest of all. Like all fundamentalists his trouble is that he not only believes in his solution- but he believes that it is the only solution that will solve the problem. Any other solution is the child of a lesser God. His resolute belief in the brilliance of his own mind is scary if not irritating. Organizations must be most wary of such loose cannons for they wreak the greatest havoc on its future – They might solve the imminent problem and in the process become heroes of the year but they unleash such devastating forces that with time leaves only debris on its way. There is a thin line between passionate evocation of a solution and its fundamentalism – the same way that there is a very thin line that separates a benevolent believer and a destructive fundamentalist.
3. The nonchalant – This one is the other extreme – equally dysfunctional but much less devastating. His curse is that he has no skin in the game. His solutions, the quality of which notwithstanding, suffer from no escape velocity – because the author himself cares too little in whether they are accepted or not, in whether they worked or not. He gives his two bits and lets it be there. If only he put in a little more of himself in his solution that we come to know if the author himself believed in his story.
4. Lets Discuss – This is a solution avoider possibly. Cometh the moment – runneth the man! His pet response at the altar of a problem is to bide more time, ask for more data, and suggest one more rework- basically avoid suggesting a solution. He does not want to author a solution for reasons that could range from plain incompetence to lack of conviction, from intellectual lethargy to fear of failure. He is the second worst- just behind the fundamentalist.
5. What are the Jones doing –This one only wants to do what others are doing – either the market leader in the industry or his previous company. Aping the market leader is the closest he comes to being the best in a roundabout surrogate way and in replicating what he did in the past company is his way of keeping his past glory warm and alive. His solutions have a stench usually – of irrelevance and imitation.
I only hope behind this tongue in cheek archetype of solution givers described above, you see the dark underbelly of the phenomena. Organizations need decision makers and people who solve problems for sure – but great teams and great organizations are built by not pursuing solutions for the sake of solutions, but the ones which are coherent, deliberate, thought through, not only for their intended consequences but also for unintended consequences. Good solutions must solve – for today and tomorrow. There is no redemption in solving for today and messing the tomorrow. Leader must pay heed to Mr. Senge wisdom - that today’s problems are a result of yesterdays solutions – So beware and watch for what you offer as a solution - they are in all likelihood going to cause the problems of tomorrow!
PS: first published in Peoples matter.