Figure : What not to do!

Dr. G Venkat Ram Reddy

July, 2020

What To Do Syndrome

In the wake of the traditional business planning approach, the managers are conditioned by an obsession to solve a business problem by figuring out ‘what to do’! They tend to immerse their intellectual and mental resources into the relentless task of what all needs to be done regarding a given business problem! A ‘what to do’ task drives the managers and literally hunts them 24/7. They are swamped by a deluge of data and much of analysis after analysis. During the course of analysis, they come across new perspectives and again fall into doing more iterations of analysis. This goes on and on. Each of the team members tries to outshine others by his/her analytical prowess and fight to establish his/her point vigorously. This analytical rigmarole silently drifts them away from what they wanted to actually fix, as depicted in the figure below. On the contrary it sets their mind and conscripts their creativity.

Figure: ‘what to do problem’

Boil the Ocean : Exactitude

Although our understanding of time as a physical dimension is still a matter of considerable debate, our ability to intuit about the past, present, and future is beyond doubt. While the things of the past mean a lot to us, we often discount the now and get anxious about the future. Now more than ever, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought these intricacies between how we perceive time and how those perceptions shape our actions, to the forefront. Particularly, the pandemic has induced in us a strong skepticism about the future than a reflection about the past or an intuition of the present. The question that's on everyone's mind from pundits to common folk is, 'What does the future hold?'

What makes them do so? It is their attitude towards problem-solving. As managers, we believe that without exactitude, we are hopeless in our race to fix a problem. We can’t think that a problem can be solved without boiling the ocean. Burning tons of midnight oil in search of a solution with a mountain of data and endless analysis, we actually burn our creativity. In the search for a solution, our innate assets of intuition hardly play any role. We find it difficult to digest that not all questions are answerable. Even after hard boil, we confront questions that defy credible answers. Is the solution affordable? Do we have skill to implement the suggested solutions? Is it legally tenable? Will the environment permit to implement it? Our mind has so far remained so clouded with data and analysis that we even do not ask these questions until we discover hard realities and come to a painful end after investing so much time and resources.

Ask : What need not be done

What we need not do is a valid reality check. Once we discard what not to be done makes us narrow down a smaller set of what is to be done. It helps to reach closer to the required solution rather than beating around the bush. The chance to have a quick victory is more when we do not go round and round. McKinsey calls it triangulation of a problem. It is a method of determining the location of an unknown point by taking a measurement of two known points.

Problem Solving : An Attitude In Essence

The existing literature tells you about a plethora of nomenclatures, problem-solving techniques, and analytical algorithms to solve a given problem. But what overrides is an attitude to perceive a problem and overpower a problem with a quick and more straightforward solution to execute. You do not need an operation room with barking commanders to announce that a problem is being fixed. Lesser the noise, the higher is the chance of a quick win and better impact. You do not need to build up arsenals to fire at the problem. You can let it live alongside and step aside. Not all of the problems are solvable in the short run, and sometimes we are required to live with them. Just like people have adopted to stay with COVID-19 pandemic, until a vaccine gets developed.

Liberate Your Thoughts Process

Its time to liberate our thought process. A problem? Let’s get down to analyse it. This way, the analysis becomes the centre spread, and whether it is really throwing a doable solution loses the focus. Eventually, when we propose a solution, it happens that either the problem does not remain the same or the environment does not permit its implementation. Let us concentrate on those which need not be done than focus on what is to be done.

About the Author

Dr. G Venkat Ram Reddy is a faculty in the area of Human Capital & Organisational Dynamics at School of Management and Entrepreneurship, IIT Jodhpur.