Having solutions ready to go

My wife occasionally talks about a manager she once had. Once in a while she would approach him with a problem—a paper needed to be written, a process needed to be improved, or some other non-trivial semi-project was needed due to a recent perceived failing or opportunity, and she didn’t know how to approach it. And very often the manager would listen to her, open a filing cabinet drawer, and hand her folder. And when she opened the folder she would find a half-complete solution already sketched out—the research, the structure and a plan.

Her manager had been in the business so long that he had seen the problems before, and had prepared a response for the time when others saw them, too, and were ready to do something about it.

In my own time I’ve rarely seen this exact behaviour—I’ve never expressed a problem to someone only to be handed a stack of documents with the near-solution. But I have seen something very close. There are plenty of times when a significant problem has arisen, a team (or the organisation) is ready to tackle it, and somebody steps forward with a very clear plan about what to do. They might not have done this thing before, but they had clearly been thinking about, and were ready with most of a solution.

This is has happened often enough that I’ve taken note. Even if you think a problem is a significant one, simply seeing it isn’t enough to fix it—especially if it’s something that’s outside your core responsibility. You also need others to see it and feel it, and then there might be some momentum.

So sometimes when I see a systemic annoyance or concern I might make odd notes, or see what others have done about it, and slowly build an idea of how it might be dealt with.

Doing this little and often allows us to build up a small cache of research and ideas. It allows us to do some good and fix problems just at the time when people are ready.

Photo by Ivan Radic