I had a housemate, Lachlan, who worked for an audio rental company. He was responsible for setting up huge sound systems at stadium concerts; Taylor Swift, U2, Ed Sheeran. Lachlan was a problem solver. Always fixing something; guitars, coffee machines, hi-fi systems, cars. If it could be broken, Lachlan would figure out how to fix it. At one stage he was teaching himself how to write computer code so he could create a piece of software to save time from repeating a monotonous task at work. This problem was unique to him. After 2 months of testing, trying and discussing with other audio professionals he trialled his first solution. He then uploaded it to the web for anyone else who may have shared his problem. It turns out, his solution was beneficial to LOTS of other people in the industry. The engineers at the speaker design company saw it and thought it was incredible. This started a discussion which highlighted new problems, promoted group thinking which then allowed him to tweak further and improve.
Lachlan is not a total anomaly but his skills are uncommon. (He would be very modest about this if questioned whilst drinking copious amounts of coffee). Like Lachlan, we all have problems and go about finding a solution to benefit ourselves. These solutions often go on to benefit others.
Everything is a problem. Our commute to work, our tiredness before our coffee, our frequent arguments with our partner. But all problems can be solved. Sometimes we solve these problems quickly but sometimes we digress and the problem becomes a bigger problem. This then seeps into the lives of those we are close to and our problem becomes their problem! Sometimes, someone else solves our problem for us but this means the result is out of our control.
The problem with problems happens when we don’t accept that there is a solution. Mathematicians and engineers spend their lives in search of solutions, trying out hypothesises, failing and trying until they find a solution. Why can’t we be more like the mathematician?
Every problem has a solution, although it may not be the outcome that was originally hoped for or expected
– Alice Hoffman
Problems are bad
When we think of a problem we often think “bad” i.e. pipe bursting under the wooden floor in your living room. There is no scenario where this could be good but when we think of problems we have to move away from associating them with the concepts of good and bad. Globally, culturally and even in our own heads, good and bad are relative concepts. Global warming is viewed as “bad” globally, working 12 hour days is seen as “good” in some cultures but “bad” in others but in the eyes of any one person these can wildly differ. These adjectives are linked with emotions such as positive and negative but if we look at these terms in the scientific field, they are used to distinguish between two different types of electrical charge. The result could still be electrocution or your phone charging.
We all know what these words mean when they are used but it may be of more use for us to not associate problems with being “bad” but “not the most desirable scenario”.
Let’s look at problems not in terms of emotions but in terms of solutions. Everything is a problem, it can be improved, tweaked to serve us better. It may require opening it up to the wider world for inspiration.
Problems are not good or bad. They simply are.