Bill Taylor, founding editor of FastCompany Magazine, had this to say at a conference I attended, “Don’t be a problem solver. Be a solution finder.” As he put context around that statement, I began to understand what he meant. If, as leaders, we allow our people to simply solve a problem, we may miss an opportunity for continuous improvement. That happens to me from time-to-time when I’m using software.
For example, I know how to perform a function in, say, Excel. Most of the time, it’s just fine to do things the way I know how to do things. Occasionally though, a task is more demanding and I find myself saying, “there has to be an easier way to do this.” But, rather than take time to research the full functionality of Excel, I succumb to the “I don’t have time now”
syndrome. And I wind up using brute force to finish the task at hand. It takes longer, of course. More importantly, I miss an opportunity to learn a new way of doing things, to become more effective in the future and to take full advantage of a quite powerful software application.
Take the Time:
I wonder if we are setting an example of taking time to find a permanent solution rather than a quick fixes. Production processes, business processes and communication processes all can be improved if we look for solutions rather than fixes. But are we rewarding efforts to take the necessary time?
Even entrepreneurs, once they discover a problem, do well to find solutions rather than fixes. And if they are focused on solutions, entrepreneurs will get out of their offices and ask questions of their potential customers. It is critical to make sure that we are solving the right problem with the right long term solution.
My own experience (ERP installations for example) tells me that a good way for a leader to create an environment of solution finding is to make it safe to ask questions. What business decisions do you make based on that printed report? Why do we do it that way? Would things be more effective if we eliminated that step in the process?
The environment has to be safe for employees to ask these questions. They have to believe that their position in the company doesn’t depend on them doing things the same old way.
I also believe that finding real solutions requires us to become more systems thinkers. That is to say, we think cross-functionally rather than in our own silos.