So, I’m at a keynote speech in Las Vegas at a conference about data warehouses. I wasn’t really expecting to find good material for self-improvement here, but Frank Buytendijk, a Dutch management consultant at Oracle, surprised me. The point of his talk was that we Americana have a fear and aversion to “problems” that actually makes them difficult to solve.
You all have heard the sayings – “Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions”. “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem”, and my favorite “It’s not a problem, it’s a ‘challenge’”. There are, if you’ll pardon the word, problems with this approach.
When we focus on solutions, we end up focusing on our own little piece of the puzzle. As the old saying goes, to the man with only a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. What’s missing from this problem-phobia approach is…. communication. We understand our part of the problem, but not everyone else’s. And so we champion the solution that fits our needs, and come into conflict with those who have other issues and problems – problems we are afraid to discuss because of our fear of problems. If we were all open in admitting the issues we are having and bringing them to the table, we might well find that someone sitting across the table has a perfect solution. We may also learn that the solution that meets OUR needs has an unforeseen negative consequence with the person across the table.
Buytendijk suggests a new terminology – if you’re not part of the problem, you’re not part of the solution. If we don’t come together and share our problems, we can’t do a complete job of fixing anything. So let’s admit it. It’s not a challenge. It’s a problem.