The Lab

The fruits of riotous experimentation.

The best Leaders focus on Problem A and minimise Problem B

The range of literature on strategy is perhaps only surpassed by the volume of literature on leadership. Though one may be a task, and the other an action, both share a dizzying range of definitions, many contradictory and most of no utility. 

 I was once told that, “Getting a definition of leadership is like nailing jelly to the wall.”  This amusing nod to the struggle in tying down an understanding of leadership might be acceptable in literary and academic circles, but Executives need something solid and useful. They need a practical approach to understanding leadership, one that opens up opportunities to personal and organizational improvement.  We define leadership as the two-fold activity of identifying the problem to be solved and corralling the problem-solving resources to solve it—all for mutual benefit.  Thus, problem solving is the key of life.

 Human beings are the ultimate problem-solvers.  We are the one species that have the capability of adapting our surroundings in order to survive; we do not rely on instinct or physical adaption.  In the past 250,000 years, our bodies and brains have evolved modestly, yet the impact of our problem-solving capability has yielded astonishing progress.  The same brain, eyes and hands that formed primitive arrow heads, have also put men on the moon and carried out organ transplants.  But with this mounting sophistication comes the need for us to work ever closer with each other in order to manage the consequences of our success.  

No one individual can solve every complex problem. In response we form groups of wider problem-solving capability all fueled by the expectation of mutual benefit.  Businesses are therefore problem-solving units that form to solve problems for profit.  

Yet, whenever one individual asks another for help and they agree, each is instantly faced with two problems: How do we solve Problem A, the prime reason we formed the group; and Problem B, how should we work with each other?  Unsuccessful problem-solving teams spend more time trying to solve Problem B rather than Problem A. 

 This perspective leads to further thoughts:

 Better leaders can tackle a wide range of problem A’s if they have access to a wide range of motivated problem solving diversity.  However, managing a wide range of diversity is challenging and expensive to maintain and, if not done well, leads to a large Problem B.  Therefore, if one cannot manage diversity well, one cannot manage change widely and well.

 It follows, therefore, that one definition of great leaders is that they are able to tackle great problems (complex and critical Problem A’s) to the mutual benefit of the wide (and possibly very large) problem solving population (minimal problem B).

 The benefit of this definition of leadership (Problem A, Problem B) is that is gives the opportunity for identifiable skill development.

 Two questions for leaders:

 1. Is the range of Problem A’s  you could tackle being limited by the problem solving resources to which you have access?  If so, how will you increase your problem solving diversity?

 2. Is the difficulty of managing your Problem B such that you limit your Problem A? If so, how will you improve your leadership of the problem solving resources in order to resolve problem A?

The Riot Point conducts one day Problem Solving Leadership courses.

Details of the courses can be obtained here