Our work and research shows that solutions fail for a number of reasons. In this blog, we’ll look at two of those reasons and ways to overcome them.

Possible Failure Point # 1:  Lack of Specificity of Action (and Language) in Your Solutions:

Look at the difference between these two statements:

      Statement One:  We will help each other develop better skills.

      Statement Two:  We will have one 20-minute session a week where high performing members of the staff share their insights with the team. Each team member will then choose one action – from the session – to incorporate into the next three shifts of work. Then, each team member will report back on their results at the next session.

Now don’t get too hung up on the examples themselves. Rather, consider the differences between the two statements. The differences speak for themselves. However, just to note that statement two is laced with more specificity as to what “development” will look like. Notice also that beyond more specific and robust language, there are numbers and deadlines laced into number two. You can even imagine some possible and important leading indicators (measurements) that could come from number two. For example:

  • Number of full attendance at weekly sessions
  • Number (increase)  of high performers sharing their insights each week.
  • Number of actions attempted after session.
  • Number of changes in results based on incorporated action.

These leading indicators, measured consistently could give you a snapshot on whether or not the team is consistently executing on the solution. It would be much harder to do that with statement one – that is without more specificity. Hence, statement two.

Possible Failure Point # 2:  NOT Understanding, Honoring, and Leveraging Constraints in Your Solutions

A lack of understanding and factoring in constraints is another area where leaders and managers can hamper the success of their solutions. In the process of solution-making, it is crucial to differentiate between obstacles and constraints, as they pose distinct types of challenges that require tailored approaches.

Consider a hiker navigating a trail: encountering a 20-pound rock blocking the path represents an obstacle—it’s an external barrier that must be circumvented to continue the journey. The hiker can navigate around it, remove it entirely, or turn back, but the obstacle disrupts forward motion only for the moment of interaction.

In contrast, if the hiker was given a 20-pound rock to carry from the trail’s onset, this would be a constraint—an inherent limitation that continuously affects the hiker’s capacity, strategy, and endurance throughout the entire hike. Unlike an obstacle, a constraint is an integral part of the scenario, demanding assimilation into one’s method of operation rather than simply presenting a blockage to remove. While obstacles are hurdles to be overcome, constraints are conditions to be incorporated, each shaping the nature of solution-making in its own unique way.

 It’s easy to focus more on obstacles and think that, if we remove them, the solution will work. Not necessarily so. If we don’t solve with constraints in mind (particularly significant constraints) then our solutions may not work once we hit those constraints in our execution.

Money is a constraint that’s easy to understand. Think about it. If your solution requires money you don’t have, then it won’t work no matter how splendid the solution. But some constraints are trickier to spot. They may have to do with competing priorities, compliance issues, process agreements, or other organizational imperatives. Understanding what constraints are legitimate limiting factors in your solution-making is critical to your success.

The beauty of a constraint is not only that limits your search for solution, but often is part of the solution itself. As Marcus Aurelius said over 2000 years ago, The obstacle becomes the way.

Questions to Ponder: 

What solution are you currently solving that needs greater specificity in action or language?

What constraints must you factor into your solution to increase the possibility of success?