A guy walked into a bar and ordered a beer. The barkeeper said, “You’re not looking too good today”. The guy stared at his glass and said, “Yeah, I feel challenged.” The barkeeper said, “Well that’s a problem.”
There once was a time when businesses thought this way—in terms of problems. It was a golden age for commerce, maybe forty years ago. People said it like it was, manufacturing boomed, and quality was the hallmark of industry (give or take the lead, asbestos, mercury, and other pollutants—but at the start, things looked rosy).
Then they stopped teaching grammar in schools. Illiterate hippies soon discovered that flowers really didn’t make for warm clothes. So someone came up with the idea:
Let’s just be positive, man.
And things went into the groovy-crapper from there.
Come on, be honest: How many of you have had a manager say, “We don’t have problems in this organization:. We only have challenges?”
This usually comes right before an organization loses a massive client, screws up a restructure, or posts a billion dollar drop to its bottom line.
It’s pure absurdity—and it goes hand-in-hand with mantras like:
There’s no I in team.
Of course there is. And businesses had better catch on fast—for without it people won’t “innovate” and that’s a particularly valuable “I” to miss out on. Ever heard the maxim innovate or die?
Having challenges is all about spin, you see. And spin is about avoiding responsibility. With spin you don’t need to innovate. You simply need to fool yourself first.
That’s why we’re beginning to see headlines that complain: “My employees don’t care.” Of course, they don’t. Simply put, if a business can’t admit responsibility, why should its workers?
Spin is an ugly thing. It’s turned society into a mob of skeptics. Yet amazingly businesses wonder why revenue is drying up.
Any business today that thinks spin is smart, is on the wrong end of the economic survival spectrum. No amount of faith in the Chinese consumer is ever going to fix that. China hasn’t had any problems for sixty years, and what a powerhouse of innovation it’s turned out to be.
You see, problems require ownership. Challenges are merely phenomena.
So the next time you read a memo that says: “Our new product line is proving a challenge owing to a less than optimal customer uptake.”
Demand a re-write from its author as:
Our department didn’t think hard enough when it came to the issue of customers accepting our new line. It’s a problem that my team will tackle head-on with an innovative solution.
Or to predict a news story soon to come, you may read: “Supermarkets blame society for rising theft from their self-service checkouts. ‘It’s a challenge,’ one executive said.”
Hopefully instead you’ll see:
Supermarkets admit a rise in theft from their self-service checkouts. ‘We failed to forecast human instinct as a problem,’ one executive said. Chains plan a return to full-service checkouts by year-end. ‘It didn’t take my team a lot of innovation to come up with that solution,’ the same executive said.
Promote that person.
© 2014 Adam Parker. You’ve just read a Parkerpinion