Go into any company offering services in the knowledge economy, and you’ll see the pathological Solution Paradox eating away at the organisation’s capacity to execute.
On the one hand, you’ll find knowledge workers with a dogmatic belief that the world is complex, and its problems need sophisticated answers. That is, of course, the raison d’etre of knowledge economies.
On the other is the reality that most knowledge work in the trenches is repetitive, cursory and, often, a mile wide and an inch deep. At Capacity First we spend our days behind the curtain. We know. Just keeping it real.
So, like the old joke that the Queen thinks the world beyond the palace smells of paint, knowledge workers see the world as complex and riddled with symbolic abstraction because, well, that’s their stock-in-trade. This despite their day-to-day existence necessitating the use of violently simple heuristics just to survive.
The result is that society’s best problem solvers are designing sophisticated solutions to (seemingly) complex problems that they (should) know that they have no day-to-day capacity to execute. That’s what we call the Solution Paradox.
It’s Not That Complicated
At the root of this conflict is that the knowledge professional is overstating the complexity of the world around them. Compounding this error is an improper conflation of their ability to effortlessly decode their profession’s symbols with a capacity to do all complex tasks well.
Symbols and codes are, of course, what the knowledge economy is built upon. You get paid for decoding your silo of codes and symbols, and you spend some of that money so other people will decode their silo for you.
This is, of course, the well-known barb of the division of labour.
What’s lost in this professional echo chamber, though, is that most knowledge work is only complicated if you don’t know the codes. Speaking bluntly, many professionals largely forget that they are living in a world where this outwardly-intimidating complexity is just a stage prop. Take lawyers, for instance. Please.
Pierre Bourdieu brushed up against this when he coined the provocative idea of ‘racism of intelligence’. The idea that these self-serving tools of abstraction – his main example was mathematics in economics – were a form of oppression. Monetizable power.
Breaking the Solution Paradox
The Solution Paradox can be broken quite simply. First, look for the inherent simplicity in the problem you want to solve. You get no points for complex constructs. Find what we call the Highest Impact Task (HIT). The piece of the challenge that if taken care of gets you halfway to done. There’s always a HIT.
Second, respect (and exploit) the capacity constraint when outlining the solution. Don’t let the symbolic analyst in you create the plan. Give that work to the ‘you’ that lives in the trenches. The you that has to extract the essence of what needs to be done when someone hands you their flowery plan. Keep it real.