Do you value long-term insight or short-term wins?
I read this post on OpenView Labs over the weekend (a great newsletter to subscribe to, by the way)—Stop Problem Solving and Start Problem Predicting—that highlighted something that I hadn’t really thought about before. How who you value and reward can decide whether your company is pro_active or re_active. Think about it. Are the people who burn the midnight oil and grasp victory from defeat the “star players” or are the people with visionary ideas that might take a few months to bear fruit the people you see as the core of your company?
There is a part of the article about problem solving versus problem predicting that I think can get a little over done. Both are essential skills, of course if I had my druthers I’d rather chart the course well away from the rocks instead of having to do emergency maneuvers to avoid them at the last minute. I believe what the article is really getting at is vision. It’s being able to account for the short-term, immediate threats but also look at the landscape and predict what’s coming down the road. It’s the difference between getting lots of new users to your new social media service and seeing that most new users aren’t around a month later. You can’t keep growing forever, eventually you’ll see that everyone is gone and you don’t know why.
A problem solver will attack only getting more people onto the service, the problem predictor will try to understand why users aren’t staying around. The real essential person will actually do both, get lots more people and figure out how to keep them around.
Who’s on your team?
Which brings us back to the original point, who are you valuing, hiring, and rewarding in your organization? Who are your “rockstars?” Before you pick, I’m going to one off on what the article says. The article would have you believe that the problem predictors are going to be your best bet, the people who will steer you away from danger in the first place. While these people are essential to innovation in an organization, you also have to have key and experienced problem solvers too. The unplanned, unexpected, and out of the blue happens. It just does. We all know it. You need people who can grab a crisis and wrestle to the ground calmly and efficiently. No worrying about who you got there, just get us clear of the issue at hand, then worry about the other stuff.
It isn’t about customer or company focus either
The OpenView Labs post confuses a few things in the middle of the article with the idea of people who solve customer problems versus people who solve company problems. The idea I think the author was getting at was that solving customer problems is akin to problem predicting, but that only partially correct. You can be a problem solver, solving customer’s problems in a crisis and not have predicted the problem in the first place. You need people who predict problems for the customer and the company. You need people who solve problems for the customer and the company. Also, there shouldn’t be some fad-ish view that one is better than the other. To run a successful company you need diverse opinions, diverse skills, and the insight to hire, promote, and reward the right people for the right roles at the right time.