What problem are you solving?

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Did you wake up today with a meaty problem on your mind? Are you fueled by the desire to solve that problem?

I’m not talking about ‘problem’ as a bad thing, more like a math problem. Something to be solved. I could use the word opportunity but that brings some baggage with it.

Some people just wake up and go about their routine day. How sad.

A much better question for young people than, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” is “What problems are you going to solve?”

If my teenage niece answers, “I’m going to try to solve the problem of people dying too young from cancer,” we can be much more confident in her success than if she said, “Maybe I’ll be a doctor.” There’s more purpose, more drive, in the problem she’s going to solve rather that what she’s going to be.

Sorry to get a bit metaphysical on you but I think there is real significance in the slight jumble of the words in the questions above.

Are we working or are we working on something? Big difference. I’ve used the phrase before – Are we going fishing or are we going catching?

When that purpose exists – a problem to solve – it’s amazing what we can learn. For example, if I’m going to set out to cure a disease I must learn many disciplines in the sciences. It’s hard to be a specialist when you’re solving a big problem. What’s interesting is you get very focused in learning what you need to know rather than what a professor or the training department decides you need to know.

Companies that solve big problems are more successful than those who make widgets. What big problem is your organization working on? Dream a little.

I’m glad people like Edison, Ford, and Galileo worked on big problems. But it’s easy to say that big problems are for people like Elon Musk. Maybe your big problem is local. Maybe it only matters to a very specialized job task. That’s OK. We still get the leadership benefit because we’re solving a problem. People understand and get behind that.

Just last week I spoke on the phone with a regular reader here. We talked about what I’m up to – building Constituent Hub. He noted that I am working on a really complicated and difficult problem. There was a tinge of appreciative ‘are you crazy?’ in his tone. (Changing the way we lead change isn’t a trivial undertaking.) We talked about how many people wouldn’t take on such a big problem. Nice feedback that motivates in the dark of night.

I’m motivated by the enormity and complexity of the problem. We’re not talking about results. Instead we’re talking about the journey. Nicola Tesla worked on a big problem just like Edison. One of them was more famous. The other is exalted in the long-term. (Tesla was talking about the wireless phone in your pocket in 1893.) We don’t tally the results until the end. We may not even be around to see the impact our solutions have on the world. The life of both of these inventors was enriched though by the problem and the desire to solve it.

That’s the point. Your organization needs a problem to solve that’s bigger than the day-to-day transactions you process.

To do this week: Explore repositioning your view of problems. Determine if you’re being bold enough.

Let me know how it’s goes. Click the “comments” box below to participate in an on-going discussion via LinkedIn.

Jim Canterucci

I don't know everything. But I want to. The focus of our firm, Transition Management Advisors, is to develop leadership capabilities to create a championship culture, generate innovation, and successfully lead the resulting changes.

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On September 19, 2018
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