“Don’t be a problem solver, be a solution finder.” Tony Buzan
As leaders of our organizations, we are often under the illusion that it is our responsibility to solve all the problems that our businesses encounter. However, nothing can be further from the truth!
As William C. Taylor and Polly LaBarre point out in “Mavericks At Work“, our job as business leaders is to be solution finders and not problem solvers. This means we do not have to have all the answers ourselves. A solution finder is a leader that goes looking for a solution to a tough issue rather than trying to solve it themselves. Their approach may involve other leaders, mentors, friends, staff, experts outside the organization, or even other organizations to help solve the issue at hand. They are coordinating and catalyzing the solution but they are not solving the issue directly.
A solution finder walks into work “stupid” every day. In other words, they are a leader who is humble enough to know that they can’t possibly have the answers to all the problems but they have a learning mentality. They are focused on learning from their peers, competition, adjacent industries, cloud sourcing, employees, etc. By approaching issues this way, a leader can look at many different solutions for similar issues and come up with the best solution for their particular problem using the experience and expertise of hundreds and perhaps thousands of people that may have experienced something similar in the past.
Some extreme examples of this approach;
- The open source Linux operating system which was created by a diverse set of people under the direction and guidance of its founder, Linus Torvalds. Torvalds did not do all the programming and problem solving himself. He orchestrated this effort and encouraged programmers from all over the world to participate.
- Proctor and Gamble has a product development and innovation initiative where they partner with people and companies globally to develop or assist in the development of new and improved products.
- The CEO of Goldcorp opened a contest up to the internet community to help them find the most probably locations for gold deposits at their Red Lake mine. Goldcorp provided all the geological data online along with prizes up to $575,000. The venture paid off with the contest winner providing a powerful 3-D graphical depiction of the mine and the probable locations of the gold deposits (Goldcorp drilled four of the top five recommended locations and hit gold on all four).
I am not suggesting that you take an “open source” approach to solving all of your problems. However, as leaders, we need to humble ourselves and “walk in stupid” everyday realizing that we do not have all the answers. We need to keep an open mind and see what we can learn from those around us. We need to coordinate and catalyze solutions. We need to be Solution Finders and not Problem Solvers.