The problem is the solution

The problem is the solution. This is one of those phrases that has always struck me as slighly odd. A glib proclamation that sounds smart but that doesn’t really add any useful insight. But the more I think about it, the more I realise that it might be a useful idea after all.

As a consultant, I come across my fair share of organisational problems. And it’s surprising how frequently organisations either (a) ignore such problems and hope that they sort themselves out or (b) try to address them by doing something that is easy to do but that has very little to do with the actual problem.

As you can probably imagine, neither approach tends to be particularly effective.

Let’s say, for example, that we identify instances of unethical behaviour among certain members of an organisation’s staff. Sure, we could let it slide and hope it was a one-off. That’s definitely the path of least resistence. But it doesn’t tackle the problem. And it potentially gives such behaviour the ‘green light’ to continue.

Alternatively, we can acknowledge that there’s an ethics problem and that we need to do something about it. And so we commission someone to to deliver ethics training to our entire staff team. We feel better for having taken action. But, again, it hasn’t necesarily tackled the underlying problem.

This is where we get to the idea of the problem being the solution. Though I’d perhaps modify it slightly to say that in the problem lies the solution.

Because if we have a problem with, as in our example, specific people behaving in an unethical manner, we need to understand what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. Only then can we begin to know what to do about it. We need a specific approach that is based on a thorough understanding of the underlying problem.

The same principle can be applied to pretty much any organisational problem. It might go away by itself. And you might be able to fix it with a scatter-gun approach. But the only way to be confident of resolving a problem is to understand it and to then take targeted action.

In the problem lies the solution.

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