Sunday, April 10, 2011

On the value of identifying problems

There seems to be an unspoken agreement that the person pointing out a weak spot in a given situation, should also take the responsibility to put forward a solution to remedy that situation.

This is wrong.

The two activities are very different in their nature; the identification of a problem involves a sense of how the constituent parts should interoperate, but actually do not. Whereas solving a problem might very well be done within the stated context of that problem, but rarely are the best solutions found here.

The act of identifying the problem requires a person with a sense of the whole. Mind you, mere complaining will not suffice here. You need a thorough, well-analyzed review of what exactly is going on and why it is wrong. Here we are talking about deconstructing the problem

Now the act of solving that problem takes you into the field of how things could be. One needs to be able to mentally take away certainties taken for granted, and rely on envisioning what can be different. Here we are talking about constructing the solution.

There are people who combine both abilities in one person. When you have those, cherish them. However, do not rely on this rarity and certainly do not demand it from your people. In a way, the skills require almost opposing characters.

Instead, when someone approaches you with the identification of a problem, demand of them to lay the fruits of their deconstructive labor before you, so you may see it with your own eyes. Demanding precision, thoroughness and analysis is justified.

Then, having established the problem, it should be determined whether it is worthwhile to pursue a solution -- if such exists! -- and assign resources to this venture.

If that is the case, the next step would be to actually solve the problem. It could very well be that someone very different from the one having identified the problem takes the lead. Insight into human nature, creativity and intuition play a much larger role.

Do not make the mistake of shooting the messenger for bearing bad news, unsolvable by that same person. Be better than that.


  1. This is why doing science is not for everyone. The scientific practice requires both analisys and creativity. Just attacking a theory does nog land you any publications, postulating a new theory without pointing out the evidence is also fruitless. Good reasearch teams have a mix of skills. Theory and experiment go hand in hand even if not neccesarily performed by the same person.

    In my opinion, in problem solution it is important to demand that analyzers realise it is important that someone comes up with a new solution, creatives need to realise that analisys is required if they ever want to sell someone on the value of their idea.

    If the world is split in artists and bookkeepers nothing will get done...

    Can a good manager bridge the gap? Perhaps, I am sure it happens on occasion but in general I doubt it... Empathy is the key.