On a regular basis, I urge leaders to better understand and define their problems before they go racing off to create a solution. As I have learned over the years, a poorly defined problem and the subsequent solution can create more problems rather than solutions when the solution is implemented.
The first step as we plan for fall is to better understand the differences in our problems. Basically, there are two types, namely technical problems and adaptive problems. With the former, the solution falls within the current range of problem solving expertise. With the later, the problem requires new perspective, expertise and new solutions, lest the organization decline.
Most leaders with technical problems focus on getting the right person with the right tool so they can create the right solution. Technical problems are solved by applying existing skills, resources and processes.
Adaptive problems, on the other hand, require new perspective, expertise and solutions. One of the major challenges is actually defining the problem. Doing this may require learning and can call into question fundamental assumptions and beliefs about how we work and what we do. Usually defining and solving an adaptive problem may require all involved to change priorities, beliefs, habits and loyalties. In short, they may require a whole new way of thinking.
For those of you who are intrigued by this level of work, I encourage you to check out the following two excellent resources:
- Heifetz, Ronald, A., and Marty Linsky. Leadership On The Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading, Harvard Business School Press, 2002.
- Heifetz, Ronald, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky. The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World, Harvard Business Press, 2009.
In the beginning, the key is to learn to better define your problems. Once you do this, finding the right solution can be easier and more effective.