- Matthew M. Thomas
- Read Time: 3 mins
We consultants are wired to be problem-solvers. See something not working right? Let’s find a way to fix it. See a workplace in conflict? Let’s find a way to resolve it. See the organizational duct tape starting to show? Build a structure to hold it together better.
It’s not just consultants, though: the strongest, most sustainable businesses (and nonprofits, let’s not forget them) see a problem, one real people experience, and provide a solution for their problem. Sometimes, that’s a technical problem (my home won’t heat); other times, it’s a “what if” that someone figures out (what if I could search for information on a handheld device that also makes phone calls?).
The problem-solution orientation drives so much of business that we consider it essential for building new businesses, new product lines, and new service offerings. Problem-Solution Fit comes as phase one of three as leaders develop new value propositions.
Nevertheless, problem-solution thinking does not address some of the most fundamental business questions we face. Business questions where defining the problem itself is the problem are called adaptive challenges, that require adaptive change. How do we work in problem-solution thinking if problem definition is itself the problem?
Moreover, problem-solution thinking tends to discount or dismiss the humanity (and sometimes even the personhood) of those involved in the situation. When we discover that the problem we are facing is a “people problem”, we often try to “fix” the people. This is especially true of the so-called “soft skills” problems: team alignment, listening, leadership, timeliness, engagement, and so on.
When we see people problems as the problem, and we apply problem-solution thinking there, we tend to view people as machines that need someone to tinker with them or repair some flaw, rather than as human beings who have real – and valid – motivations for doing what they do, and mindsets in which they operate. In short, we discount those things that make us human, and then wonder why our solutions don’t work.
By contrast, when we intentionally view people as creative, resourceful, and whole, we tend to approach others differently.