There was a time when the logic of things started with a ‘why’, followed with a ‘what’ and ended in a ‘how’. The logic has now been inverted. The colossal availability of the ‘how’ invites you to bypass the original sequence. The new sequence is ‘how’, ‘what’, and sometimes ‘why’. The ‘how-to takeover’ has created a culture of solutionism. It’s embedded in education: how to answer an academic question is a click away in Google, you don’t need to know why the question is there in the first place.
For every problem, there is a how-to-YouTube-answer (my teenagers seem to imply). In fact, there is a whole industry of how-to-do-things, from getting fit to fixing a boiler.
Management is not immune. The doer culture is a premium. We recruit solutionists in greater numbers than thinkers, let alone critical thinkers. But, who can blame anybody for wishing to have people who provide solutions? After all, if I have a problem with the boiler, I’ll try to get hold of a professional fixer, not somebody who thinks about the physics of water and electricity, let alone asking me why I want to have hot water (and send me a bill for the question).
But when it comes to management and leadership, if we reduce everything to problem solving, and reward this above everything else, we will create a culture of problems, crisis and proficiency in dealing with them. I have expressed this before in these Daily Thoughts.
Management needs to protect itself against the epidemic of the inverted logic of the ‘how-what-why’. It needs to resist temptation for a culture of solutionism, and put a premium on the ‘why-what-how’. Obvious as it may seem, the silent takeover of the new logic clouds our mind and gives us an illusion of control because we have become proficient on the ‘how’.
Not resisting this, will end up suppressing the primacy of the ‘why’. Achieving this milestone will trigger the terminal illness of the lack of critical thinking. In that disease, anything goes as long as we know how to do many things, as many as possible, as busy as possible, and as irrelevant as they may be. Logic will be deleted from the corporate DNA.
A brilliant observation.
I imagine you are familiar with Regards Revans ‘clever trick’ where puzzle solving (aka solutionism) replaces problem solving. Clever tricks address all of the doubts (the answer is defined, concrete and a commodity) but it does not deal with the uncertainty of the problem. Both doubt and uncertainty are concerns to management and it is understandable that relief is welcome even if it does not address the real issues or deliver a lasting resolution.
You see the wrong response everywhere…
– sales are falling (anxiety)
– let’s implement a new CRM system (solutionism reducing doubt)
– but we still do not know why customers are not buying (uncertainty)