Solving the Wrong Problem

In a professional setting or personal life, we face problems every day. We ignore problems, see problems, and sometimes solve problems. Ignoring problems is the easiest way to hell. Let’s start from the step that we have a problem that we are aware of, for the sake of the discussion. Recognizing problems is an art of itself, I would simply say. The question here is that if the problem, which is in front of us or expected of us to be solved, is an artificial one or a fundamental one? If this problem is already introduced by an “solution”? Is this a bug of a bug? Have we already gotten blind to the fundamental problem by the problems of our “solution”?

I am pushed to write about this because I am a victim of this approach myself and I have already found myself in this situation many times. It is a sunny day. You are enjoying your coffee in one of the productive meetings at work, and you are listening to some discussion about possible solutions to a problem. You place your cup on the table first and say wait a minute. What is the exact problem here? After some back and forth, the next question follows: isn’t it that you have this problem because of the solution to the main problem in the first place?

For other friends among us, let’s get a little concrete. Imagine a world without umbrellas. I know it is hard, but give it a chance. This time the day is like any other day in Belgium raining. We are getting wet. That is already our problem, for some. Some people could suggest using napkins to dry yourself while walking (ridiculous right? this is some people’s everyday life). Stay with me please, fun starts exactly here. Then, we have the next problem: the napkins we use are not good enough. Okay let's change their color. Why not? Okay, now we have beautiful colorful napkins but we are still getting wet. Wow, such a challenging problem. I know I know. Let's use a different material. There are still complaints. Himm, we do our best, customer is stupid, I mean king. They do not know how to use our napkins and read the manual or documentation.

Why is this important? It should be important if we do not wish to clean the mess created by other inferior solutions. We do not want to get blinded and run someone else’s marathon. Which one is the main problem and artificial problem: We would like to go from A to B. We would like to create the most ergonomic/ecological/efficient car? Not to forget keeping an eye on the real problem will help us stay in the loop when the paradigma changes, otherwise we are history and trash with our solution and its artificial problems, or maybe who knows we are strong and big enough to force people run our marathon for a while more?

For the realistic friends amongs us, we may not spend years to find the best possible solution to the fundamental problem, I know. You should also know that we should be able to know when our current solution and its artificial problems took us too far away and became even more costlier than to commit to a new solution to the real problem, right?

I believe that the key here is awareness, the trade-off we make every day for every problem we face. Even if we are solving an artificial problem instead of the main one, with awareness, we are still one step ahead of the ones blinded.

If that makes any sense to us, we can see it in any level of abstraction, in any personal or professional environment, in any project. Now cannot be a better time than any other to ask ourselves if the problems we are trying to solve are the fundamental ones or artificial ones? Why not ask for help? Believe me that such people will enjoy pointing out those artificial problems you waste your time, energy, and money on. So is this an artificial problem that I am talking about?