An Answer Is No Solution

Lesson of the week: we are way too focused on answers.

I wrote about this years ago (I think that is my only post that includes a Rilke quote; worth reading…). It’s deeply ingrained, going back to grade school for most of us. We were taught to come up with singular, right answers–and to do it quickly. That’s fine for algebra, I suppose, but not for most of our lives, and particularly not our organizational lives. Yet that is certainly the default mode in organizations. Each of us tends to have detailed answers about how things are supposed to be when it comes to processes, structure, culture, etc. We seem way too sure of ourselves. I don’t see enough curiosity. We need to be more open to the idea that the answers we have are wrong. That the questions are more important, and our job (as Rilke said) is to “live into the answers.”

The point here is that it’s okay to come up with answers–just be flexible about them. Understand that answers are dynamic. They change and grow over time, particularly as you start interacting with other people in the system. The actual solution you end up with to a problem is usually some kind of evolving combination of the answers that you all brought into the conversation. Let’s focus on solutions and worry less about our (transient) answers.

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