A perfect problem, in its existing state, is unsolvable. The way most of us handle it is to click our heels together three times and hope it goes away. We tend to work on imperfect problems, those that can be solved.
One of my college professors—way back when we still had inkwells on our desks—told me that if you cannot solve the problem the way it is stated, it is to your advantage to restate the problem. I tried this on a final exam; the problem as it was stated was to contrast two philosophers, one of whom, having not read the book, I had no idea who he was. I restated the problem to contrast two philosophers I knew. He wrote back on my exam saying I had made a nice effort at using the technique but that the philosopher I chose was the wrong one.
What is the difference between the two problem types? The first step is the ability to understand what makes the perfect problem uniquely unfixable. Perhaps a few examples would help.
- The CEO imposed a deadline for the implementation of EHR.
- CMS Meaningful Use rules do not fit with our operational strategy.
- If we do not implement EHR by this date, we do not get the money.
- We must meet Meaningful Use
- We do not have enough resources from the EHR users to understand their processes.
- We cannot continue to support these low-margin services
- We do not have enough time to define our requirements
- We cannot afford to spend the time required to assess our processes before we bring in the EHR vendor.
What can be done? The easy answer is to plan for failure and do your best to minimize it.
What is another way to describe the above examples? They are constraints. They can all be rewritten using the word “can’t”. Rewritten, we might say, “We had a chance to succeed, but because of X, Y, and Z we can’t.” If that assessment is correct, you will fail, or at least under-deliver at a level that will be remembered for years to come. That’s a legacy none of us wants.
There are a few solutions to this scenario. You can eliminate the seemingly intractable constraints; the organization can determine to re-implement EHR and hope for different results; or they can simply find someone else to solve the perfect problem.
Experience teaches good leaders really want reasoned advice. They want the members of the C-suite to tell them what must be done to be successful. Good leaders do not accept “can’t”—not on the receiving end, not on the delivering end.
Some will argue, “This is the way our organization works.” Even if that is true one must consider what is needed to make an exception to the constraint. Would you accept this logic from a subordinate? Of course not. You’d demand a viable solution. If you are being constrained in your efforts to solve a perfect problem, perhaps it is time to restate the constraints.
Maybe the solution to the perfect problem is to restate it in a manner that makes it imperfect—solvable.