A Problem To Be Seized

So, confession time. Sometimes for fun, as in, not for an assignment, but rather just because I enjoy it…I read business and leadership books. It both relaxes and energizes me.  I like it, ok? It’s who I am. Deal with it.

I am currently re-reading Good to Great by Jim Collins.  In Chapter 3, “First Who…Then What”, he talks about getting the right people in the right positions in your organization.  Later he also talks about putting the best people on the biggest opportunities and not on the biggest problems.

That last part has stuck with me, and frankly, has bothered me for quite some time. Here’s why.

A few definitions. (I didn’t look these up in Webster’s or anything. I think that’ll be clear.)

A problem is a road block. A problem is a negative to be solved.  And after it’s been solved, everyone involved can move on.  A problem has an end. Whether ending in solution, or compromise, or giving up, it has an end.

An opportunity is a launchpad. An opportunity is a beginning full of possibility.  It’s the spark. An opportunity needs a leader and a direction and has no clear end in sight. It’s the start.

As artists we are all sensitive to our work and how it is perceived.  Once I learned of this principle, I began fearing that my usefulness was limited to problem solving and not opportunity seizing. I also feared that the person doling out the assignments was also aware of this principle, thus my casting in the role or responsibility.

All of this is a product of assumption and self-doubt.  Neither of which have a helpful place in the back of an artist’s head. (Die Vampire! Die!)

This calls for a shift in view.

It has been said that every problem is an opportunity. I don’t know that that’s entirely true, but I do agree with the point.

What problems are you working on that simply need to be solved so everyone can move on?

But, then, what opportunities are masking themselves as problems waiting to be seized?

It’s hard to see the difference since oftentimes an opportunity has all the same challenges as a problem.

In my head, I see Opportunity pulsing toward the door, backpack on and ready to go with a big smile on her face.  While the Problem sits on the couch in his sweat pants, sad that I’ve just asked him to leave.

They are both going to leave. (After all, opportunity is not a lengthy visitor.)

Both are going to ask you to come with them as they go.

With which one would you rather spend the day?

One Response to “A Problem To Be Seized”

  1. Fascinating. In my line of work the skill sets needed for problem solving and capitalizing on opportunities are pretty different. The big difference is that with a problem, the main creative, strategic and tactical choices have been made. Dealing with a concrete reality and figuring out what is wrong is a process of methodical analysis, trial and error. Occasionally you need to back out of a previously made decision, but usually the thing you are fixing stays the same. After you fix an oil leak you still have a car. By contrast, with an opportunity, your main hurdle is deciding on an approach. Are you building a car or a ping pong table? Pressman and others say the goal is just to get something concrete, that you can start playing around with. I know some specialize (I’m very good at problem solving but pretty crummy at getting off the creative starting blocks), but ideally we can try to do a bit of it all. Is that what you’d like to do? I like the metaphor of wearing hats – am I wearing my creator hat or my editor hat or my proofreader hat?

    As for problems being opportunities, it all depends on how empowered you are. If you hit a dead end, are you able to put on your creative hat and rethink basic concepts, or are you expected just to patch things up as best you can and move on?

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