Einstein is famously quoted as saying, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”
One of Steve Jobs’ quotes is “If you define the problem correctly, you almost have the solution”.
Being clear on the problem we are trying to solve is absolutely essential and critical in life and work and yet we jump to solutions after the first word of the challenge has been articulated. Perhaps it’s because of our insecurity, our impatience, our desire to be the hero; or perhaps it’s because we’ve associated the solution with fun, interesting, sexy and the problem with boring in our minds. Everyone wants to be the hammer, not the nail.
Sometimes I wonder if it is an unintended consequence of the “Lean Startup” movement, of agile thinking, of the continual improvement thinking, and the ‘fail fast’ movement. Where these movements have encourage us to embrace learning and change as part of the process, sometimes we implement them with the a “try anything approach” without knowing what problem we are trying to solve.
Weirdly, we’ve come to view clear definitions of problems as not a result or an action. We’re guilty of finding solutions for symptoms not the root cause.
When implementing a new idea, approach, or system, I find we continually try to make the idea, approach, or system better when actually the problem we are trying to fix has nothing to do with that, it is rooted in people and culture – we try to solve a human (and often a management) problem with a new idea or system without addressing the human problem.
Perhaps it’s because we are afraid and we need courage, perhaps it’s because we are lazy, or perhaps it is simply because introducing a new idea or system is viewed as more fun. While it is likely all of these, I also know it would help if we would see problem clarity as critical work and action.