First Solutions May Not Be the Best Solutions

Everyone knows that we are in a hurry. Why else would drive-through, fast food restaurants now have two lanes? Why else would parishioners be tweeting their pastors during the sermon with their questions? No one wants to wait for anything–not even 30 days for a more powerful vocabulary. There is, after all, so much to do in so little time.

Our impatience clearly affects every facet of life, including how we make decisions. Generally speaking, it is my belief that most people make the mistake of accepting or implementing the first solution that solves a problem because they are in a hurry. Indecisive people grasp frantically for the first solution because they dread expending the mental energy required to make a real choice. Decisive people just want to get rid of their problems–here’s a problem, here’s a solution. There is no motivation to consider the possibility of a best solution when an easily available one seems adequate for the present situation.

In fact, most organizations do not “fault” their employees for spending little or no time in researching a best solution. All they need to do is “solve” the problem to stay out of trouble with their boss. That is why the observation of Peter Senge a few years ago is still so relevant: “Today’s solutions are very often tomorrow’s problems.”

The mistake of “first solutions” occurs across many organizational dimensions. For instance, we often choose the first solution in:

·       Who we hire – rather than interview a sufficient number of candidates, we hire the first person who has the skills to do the job–and then pay the price for his or her troublesome personality.

·       How we discipline – an employment offense has been committed and rather than give thought to the uniqueness of the individual and the situation, we rigidly apply the progressive discipline formula and the valued employee quits.

·       How we delegate – a problem comes up and we assign the task to an employee who immediately reports to us–an easy solution. But we have overlooked another staff person with significant expertise in the area, who could have completed the work in excellent fashion.

It is apparent that many organizations are settling for less than the best in terms of decision making and problem solving when they simply go with the first solution that solves the problem. A recent example concerning a large assisted living complex comes to mind. The organization was having difficulty filling its hourly wage nursing assistant positions.Rather than engaging in serious problem-solving deliberations, the owners quickly contracted with a professional recruitment firm that cost them a considerable amount of money.Only later did they come to realize that other options and combinations of approaches, such as robust signage, use of social media, employee referral bonuses and targeted venue campaigns, would have produced more successful outcomes.

The take-home lesson isn’t to take hours to make decisions that can be made more quickly or to overthink uncomplicated problem-solving situations. What’s needed is to think ahead, be mindful, and anticipate or forecast the consequences of those easy, first appearing solutions.

– Art Dykstra