Posted by: Knightbird | October 14, 2010

A Healthy Perspective on Problems

The best workplaces are those where employees think of “Problems as Treasures” and attack those problems as soon as they surface. In far too many workplaces, employees hide problems, or try to remove them from their “sphere of blame.” Their managers perpetuate this reaction. This is not who we started out as when we were born.

When my children were infants, it was amazing watching their persistence in the face of encountering substantial problems. While adults were walking around them, they first had to learn how to roll over. While visiting with a friend of mine, I remember my daughter just after she had learned how to roll over. She was having great fun with rolling over and over and over to get to a place in the room where she wanted to be. She wasn’t mad or frustrated that she couldn’t just walk over there like we could. She enjoyed making the mistakes, correcting them and ultimately making it to her destination.

When she learned how to crawl, I recall her second Christmas holiday. She could walk by then, but she still liked to crawl. She was going back and forth, between the Christmas tree and the television. And I mean back and forth, non stop. She got real quiet for a couple of minutes and I checked on her. She had fallen asleep in the middle of a crawl stride, with her left hand in front of her body, her leg strung out behind her, in perfect crawling position but laying on the floor asleep.

And walking. Oh she worked hard at it, pulling herself up, coasting from handhold to handhold, strengthening her legs. She would tire quickly at first, then go longer and longer as her legs developed. When she was ready, she took her first step, then her second, and third until she decided she needed to run. It was all challenging, but she was never discouraged. Maybe she cried a little when she hit a obstacle, fell down or was restrained in a car seat, but she was never discouraged by encountering the challenges to improving her skills.

What an incredible change occurs when we start going to school and encountering negative people. All of a sudden, we are expected to perform for people, instead of exploring for ourselves. We are told what to do, how to do it and expected to do it perfectly right now. As Dr. Bruce Lipton states, “we are programmed to devalue ourselves.” We are compared to other children and if we don’t measure up, society devalues ourselves as well. We are not viewed as a vessel with incredible potential, but as a flawed implement, needing to be changed and improved. We have remedial programs developed for those of us who are not progressing at the prescribed pace. We are given grades that inform the world that we are flawed. Some of us are ridiculed for not having the right answers. We learn not to like learning, and we attempt to perform to the minimum standard necessary to avoid trouble. And as for tackling problems, we choose not to. It’s easier to ask for the answer, or use cheat sheets, or to feign ignorance or stupidity. When we reach college, we sit way in the back of class and avoid any activity that might bring attention to ourselves, unless of course we are confident that we might already know the answer. And when we get to the workplace, we use the same behaviors. If we demonstrate hard work, innovation and creativity, all of a sudden we are “brown nosers.” Pretty soon, we are also doing the minimum required to get by, and to secure a decent performance evaluation. Gone is the wonder and excitement of tackling and surmounting huge problems like learning to walk.

A healthier perspective on problems has to start with the Chief Executive, and has to be repeated like a Mantra. “Problems are treasures.” “We are a culture of non blaming and non shaming.” “Work is for the creation of value for customers.” “We must relentlessly pursue the elimination of waste.” “We are a learning organization.” “We must be fact based and not judgmental.” And most of all, we need to learn how to tackle problems with the healthy perspective we had as a child. We can’t be perfect, we can only pursue perfection. We need to make mistakes in order to learn. We can’t expect to find the entire solution the first time we look, so we need to look continuously and improve continuously. We need to learn the tools to improve our workplace and our ability to deliver services without feeling inadequate. We can’t be shamed into hiding in the workplace, instead, we must take our place in it and pursue a common goal with our co-workers. We must come in with a learning “Mindset,” as explained by Dr. Carol Dweck with this description of children who “love a challenge.”

“What did they know? They knew that human qualities, such as intellectual skills, could be cultivated through effort. And that’s what they were doing—getting smarter. Not only weren’t they discouraged by failure, the didn’t even think they were failing. They thought they were learning.”[i]

[i] Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Ballantine Books, NY (2006) p. 4


  1. I think you’ve hit upon one of the larger contributors to lean failures, and its origins. Changing this mindset is awfully difficult and it can only be overcome with a steady effort.

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