Solving Interesting Problems

In his Akimbo podcast, Seth Godin teaches us how to adopt a posture of possibility, change the culture, and choose to make a difference. Here are my takeaways from the episode.

In this podcast, Seth discusses what makes interesting problems and how we should go about solving them.

Solving problems is what we do all day. When we work in a factory, we do labor that solves the boss’ problem by being a willing cog in a system. For many of us, what we do is trying to solve interesting problems.

There are a couple of characteristics of interesting problems. First, they are unexpected. Expected problems are not problems because we have a solution to solve them and then the problem goes away. Second, we can divide the problems into two categories: solo problems and group problems.

Solo problems usually are defined by some rules or boundary conditions. For example, winning a sporting event that is designated as an individual event. A solo problem could be because of the approach to solving it. If the way we approach to solve the problem work significantly better when we do it alone, that will make the situation a solo problem.

For most problems and especially now, they are group problems. For many science and engineering problems, the solutions come via a coordinated or non-coordinated group approach. The person who provides the final solution did not solve the problem entirely on her own. Her solution is a product that builds on other people’s prior attempts to solve the problem.

For group problems, what we have discovered is that we want to have a diverse set of specialists. Specialists bring their ability to the table by providing a solution for an aspect of the problem. Specialists who are ready to come in and solve their part of the problem are worthwhile, and having a bench pays off.

The math of the bench plus specialists tells us that solving interesting problems creates value. It creates enough value that we can get more people to help us solve the problem. Team members who collaborate well and challenge each other can out-produce the solo geniuses when it comes to solving interesting problems. We are moving into a networked model for solving group problems.

When there is a deeper bench of people with more specialties, we will be able to solve more interesting problems. Solving difficult, interesting problems also creates tremendous value, and that value pays for an ever-deeper bench.

What we must figure out how to do is to undo the brainwashing of the human asset scarcity of the industrial model. We need to realize what it means to lead and to solve an interesting problem.

The bad news is the star player is always busy. The good news is there is plenty of people we can call on to help ourselves.