A Look Back at 2013 to Find the Best Solutions for 2014…Happy New Year!
As we prepare for all of the many possibilities the New Year has to offer, this is also a good time to take a look back on the accomplishments from the year now coming to a close. I do this routinely in my personal life to learn from what worked well and, more importantly, what didn’t work well.
When it comes to newsworthy events from 2013, there were many situations that seemed as though not enough focus had been applied to finding the best solutions. In retrospect, by answering the following question about 2013, I hope to find the best solutions for 2014: Why did most ineffective solutions seem to only fit the needs of those who had the authority to decide on a particular course of action?
I believe that most people will usually look for the best solutions in order to solve their own problems. Unfortunately, this belief is challenged when I look at the news of the day, every day… day after day! Just look at the problems with the roll-out of the Federal Healthcare Bill and its associated website, or the eight out of ten small businesses that failed, and the need for innovation and creativity in public education policies, the list just goes on and on. Could there be a common thread as to why so many problems are being “solved” with solutions that just aren’t working?
People in business leadership positions understand that the best solutions are the ones that produce the necessary outcomes. It takes the right organizational culture and leadership to ensure that decisions are based on the things that matter. To effectively launch a major new product or service aimed at increasing market share, for example, would require a great deal of testing to ensure that it is what the customers want, and that it actually works! Surprisingly, even large established companies have missed the mark on finding the best solutions to improve their position in the marketplace: JC Penney is a good example of this.
Not surprisingly, many of the serious political issues facing the United States aren’t being properly addressed with the best solutions, either. This is because trying to solve most of the problems in America comes down to the separation between those two big power players: “them” and “us.” The chosen solutions are coming from the group in power, and not from a discovery that has stood up to the test of actual application. For politics in general, testing something first appears to have given way to just doing it before anyone realizes the unintended consequences. I think most people would agree that – with some common sense – all levels of government could do better.
A case in point is a small California city that was facing difficult financial challenges. The elected officials decided to save money by terminating all of their fire chiefs; a decision that put their struggling city on a collision course with an untested theory about culture and leadership. The obvious leadership void for their remaining firefighters was solved by putting their police chief in command of the fire department. Assuming that these elected community leaders had good intentions, this intelligent group of people (sitting in comfortable chairs in a well lit room) decided that this was the best solution to their fiscal problems. One can only hope that Congress doesn’t follow suit in cutting the national defense budget by firing all of the generals, and then filling the leadership vacuum with the appointment of the FBI director to head the military.
But like most of the problems that are solved only via the authority to do so, there were serious unintended consequences. For one, the police chief didn’t have any experience or knowledge in the area of firefighting and rescue operations. He was a competent and dedicated police chief, but he and the other city officials underestimated the need for leadership that reflected the culture of the fire service. They couldn’t understand why the firefighters were pushing back against these changes in operations. Instead of being disruptive, the leaderless firefighters were sounding the alarm for the city they were entrusted to protect. As the subject matter experts, the firefighters were well aware of the potential serious consequences for not following, nationally accepted, best firefighting practices.
Firefighters are known for solving problems with a practical, real world, and common sense approach. The very nature of their work requires them to always focus on success. This is because their lives – and the lives of their “customers” – depend on it. When they search for the best solution to a problem they want it tested first, in most cases, tested by fire. In other words, regardless of the issue, firefighters make decisions based on reality, not pie-in-the-sky untested theories.
What would happen if we all started to see our problems in a more practical, real world and common sense way? When you take the time to test a theory, through actual application that is as close as possible to the real world problem you are looking to solve, you are on your way to discovering the best solution possible.
For a 2014 New Year’s resolution, let’s all be mindful that finding the best solutions to our problems rely not on a person’s title, political affiliation, or whether it came from one of them, or from one of us. The best solutions should rely only on what has been proven to work!