Preventive Care, then Ongoing Problem Solving – Thoughts Prompted by Think Like a Freak

The most intense pain that leaders experience, the pain that keeps them awake at night, is caused by not being able to solve problems… Every profession has become a dangerous profession – every leader is at risk, and the range of risk is growing.
Dilemmas are problems that cannot be solved, problems that won’t go away.
Bob Johansen, Get There Early


Think FreakNext week, I will present my synopsis of Think Like a Freak, the new book by the Freakonomics guys Levitt & Dubner. They write fun-to-read books, that just kind of get the juices flowing.

Here’s one such thought from their new book:

The fact is that solving problems is hard. If a given problem still exists, you can bet that a lot of people have already come along and failed to solve it. Easy problems evaporate; it is the hard ones that linger. Furthermore, it takes a lot of time to track down, organize, and analyze the date to answer even one small question well.

Good lines: solving problems is hard; easy problems evaporate.

We know this is true. The best, smartest people work on our biggest problems, and they have not yet solved them, have we. (Anybody heard any news about Iraq lately? Anybody noticed any struggles with obesity in our society?)

This made me think about the two-fold challenge for all endeavors.

#1 – Do what it takes with “preventive care” to avoid future problems.
#2 – Then, whatever problems cannot be avoided or headed off, get to work on solving them.

It seems to me that one of a leader’s and a leadership team’s biggest jobs – one big job! — is to make sure that a lot of effort is made to do things well enough, thoroughly enough, carefully enough that problems do not develop. If a leader can’t see a problem coming around the corner, and work to stop it from becoming a full-fledged whopper of a problem, then the leader is not doing his/her job.

In other words, many problems really can be anticipated, headed off, with the right amount of “paying attention.”

And when leaders fail at this, the price tag can be really hefty, in dollars and in reputation. (Think about the current General Motors reputation – they apparently knew about their problems long ago, and did not act in time… or even communicate about the problems in a timely manner).

But, even when you have the best leadership team in place, and they do their job well, some problems will still arrive in full force. So, it is then that problem-solving skills come into play.

So, maybe this is the lesson – do a good enough job that the easy problems are in fact quick to evaporate, so that you can save your best problem-solving energy for the real problems; the really big problems.

Sounds like a plan.


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