When the Solution becomes the Problem

We are all driven to look for ‘the answer’, it’s hardwired into how our brains function. If something isn’t working or we need to make something happen, we have to work out ‘the answer’. Without that drive many of today’s innovations simply wouldn’t be. So it’s a good thing, right?

Not always. There are times when the very thing that we believe will solve our problem, becomes a problem in itself.

For example, when the car was invented to deal with the desire to move people and goods more rapidly, no one could have envisaged years later that the exhaust from those cars would cause an environmental crisis.

Or when guns were invented to increase the efficiency of war, they would end up being used to gun down innocent people sitting in movie theatres or children in primary school.

Or when strict school curriculums were developed and standardised that it would end up sucking out our children’s creativity and ability to think.

Why does this happen?

One possible answer to that question is that insufficient time and effort has been spent on thoroughly exploring the potential consequences of the solution. But in many cases, even if that effort had been expended, the prevailing circumstances would not have allowed people to foresee these longer-term consequences. Plus, often we don’t have the luxury of putting off acting quickly.

We need to look at this from another direction, one that may seem paradoxical. Whilst getting a solution is what is required, something happens when we think we have found ‘the answer’ – the right answer.

We humans get attached to things – our possessions, our image, our status, our jobs, our views, opinions and beliefs, and our answers/ solutions. Attachment is described by Eckhart Tolle as a state in which we use things as a means to self-enhancement, to present ourselves in a positive light to others, the letting go of which is difficult because to do so threatens that positive image we are desperate to cultivate.

When we make the subtle shift from ‘potential and possible solution’ to ‘the right answer’ we have moved into attachment and away from real exploratory and curious thinking. Our attention is now on ourselves, on being right about our answer. The opportunity to keep an open mind, constantly re-evaluate and consider all circumstances and consequences – to think – has closed. What also closes down is our ability to have others engage authentically with us because the context is now about agreement/disagreement and compliance versus collaboration.

The arena where this phenomenon can most easily be observed is the workplace. Running a business is a complex undertaking and the larger it gets, the more complexity there is. We are constantly confronted by the need to come up with solutions, but if we stop thinking then we run the very real risk of having those brilliant solutions become our next problem.

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