Solutions in Search of Problems

I was asked by someone I’m mentoring whether or not to include a certain element in a workshop she is preparing.

“Why will participants need that?” I asked.

“I’ve been doing this for years,” she said.

“Yes, but why?” I persisted. “What does it provide for anyone?

The answer, of course, is “nothing.” It’s simply another “good idea,” or favored option, or comfortable activity. This is the alternative in search of an objective, the solution  in search of a problem.

Individuals and corporations do this all the time. It’s like the old Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland MGM musicals, where “Let’s put on a show!” was the answer to every challenge, from bankruptcy to poison ivy.

Why are you upgrading your software every two weeks? Why are you attending meetings? Why are you providing reports? Because all of that is truly needed by you and the client, or because you think it represents some kind of forward movement satisfying some need?

Why does your client schedule meetings, run customer surveys, require ten years of experience for certain positions? Because they represent qualitative improvements or because someone things they “make sense”? How many of those survey really tell you anything, or are actually used in terms of their feedback? How many of those meetings are really needed? How many of those ten years were qualitatively worthwhile?

If you want to streamline your life and work and improve your life balance, stop implementing alternatives when you don’t know why you’re doing it, when they don’t provide obvious improvement for you and/or others, and when you’ve never asked yourself if you may be better off not doing it.

Do you want to gain a day a week, a week a month, a month a year? Examine your activities and ask if you’re performing them to improve your or someone else’s condition, of if you’ve simply “always done it that way.” I can guarantee you that you’re doing a lot the client doesn’t even feel or sense, almost as atonement or out of guilt.

Let me give you my best therapeutic analysis: Stop it!

© Alan Weiss 2011. All rights reserved.

3 thoughts on “Solutions in Search of Problems

  1. I love your blog Alan.
    I think customers can change their minds with little resistance, but if they perceive that they are told that they are wrong, they can turn resentful. People form beliefs so haphazardly yet become very defensive if anyone tries to discredit them. The reason is not in the beliefs themselves but the perceived threat to self-esteem in their absence. No matter how benign the ascription, most people resent to be told that they forgot to floss, missed a wrinkle in their shirt’s underarms, or that their conception of gravity, of the pronunciation of “nuclear” or the relevance of the British monarchy is subject to question. People go on believing in what they have been accustomed to believe in as “truths”. Therefore, It is wise if we appraise the little word “my” because it contains the same emotional force in customers whether it is in “my food”, “my money”, “my toy”, or “my God”. Winston Churchill once said “It is my belief, you cannot deal with the most serious things in the world unless you understand the most amusing”.

  2. I’ve always believed that everything we do and say should have a purpose. Human beings are such creatures of habit that we often forget to check for that purpose. (I can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve sat through trying to find one). Posts like this serve as a reminder stop and think about it. And btw, I loved the Stop It sketch.

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