Wednesday, October 4, 2017

What It Means to Live in the Solution: Not Blaming Those Who Came Before You

When I live in the solution, I don't cast aspersions about or blame those who worked on a particular project before I did. Let me explain the meaning of this commitment with a hypothetical example. Over the years my wife and I have undertaken various home improvement projects. We interview contractors before choosing one best equipped to handle the job. More often than not, these conversations proceed as follows. 

Hello John (the contractor), I’m Mitchell. This is my wife, Joan (not her real name). 

Hi, Mitchell. I’m John.

John, we’re looking at replacing the set of stairs on the back of our house (that lead from the back door to the patio).

John proceeds out the back door of our house and down the stairs. He pauses to study them. He gets to the patio, turns his head up towards the sky as he ponders what’s he sees. After a few seconds he shares his assessment. 

“Well, we need to replace the stairs. The guardrails and the related foundation work must go too. You can see that foundation is crumbling. The last guy who worked on these stairs did them all wrong.”

In short, John based his assessment on another contractor’s perceived incompetence. If only that guy had done the job correctly! Then you wouldn’t be looking at the big bill you’ll be receiving from him to fix it. 

Was there anything wrong with the way the first contractor completed the job? Did it need to be redone as the current contractor was suggesting? That’s besides the point. What's more interesting is the technique used here to persuade us to hire this contractor. That is, present yourself as the solution, one who has come to fix what ails you as a result of the misdeeds of prior vendors. 

I have five problems with this approach:

  1. There’s rarely an objective standard. One contractor (or consultant) can claim one solution. A second contractor can offer a different one. Who’s to say who is (or was) right or wrong?
  2. When you blame an unknown contractor, you indirectly criticize the decision maker. The person(s) who hired the first contractor (in this case, that means my wife and I) screwed up. 
  3. You’re casting aspersions about the work of an anonymous individual. That means you don’t need to feel an iota of guilt about criticizing a fellow professional. That person may be someone you've worked with on other jobs. 
  4. You choose to promote your services by denigrating someone else. The comparison trumps an affirmative pitch, in my opinion. 
  5. Another contractor will come along and make the same claims about your work. 

The cycle never ends. 

When I live in the solution, I don’t need to find someone to blame. I don’t need to invent a reason things were done the way they were before I entered the picture. I don’t need to pick at the alleged shortcomings of those who came before me. I accept things as they are. I’m focused on improving the situation faced by the individual or organization. I'm not wallowing in the past. 

In short, when I am in the solution I am not blaming those who came before me. 

(I've written four blog posts, including this one, on what it means to live "in the solution." Read them hereherehere, and here). 

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