Monday, June 7, 2010

Solve the Damn Problem

light_bulbI admit it, I can be as politically correct in my language as the some of the most ardent liberals. To me it can show sensitivity or at least tolerance if not compassion in an increasingly intolerant country.  As a writer, words matter. That’s why I believe we shouldn’t sugarcoat the things that we face as a nation and by extension as individuals.  Let’s not waste time calling things “formidable challenges” when they’re “big problems.  America used to be able to solve big problems.  As a nation we routinely lived our values.

It’s easy to be a bit romantic and forget about how horrible this nation used to be for women before suffrage or African Americans before civil rights.  How poorly we treated our elderly, the mentally ill, and non-land owners. History’s canvas is sometimes painted with a lighter touch. Recall that hangings were common in my beloved city of Boston, the carcasses of criminals left out to publicly rot.  The Son’s of Liberty tarred and feathered other human beings. A blind eye was cast in the slave trade.

We forget we were founded as a violent nation.  We picked off British Regulars while hiding in the woods.  At the time we were thought of as savages. We took pride in it as patriotic and character building. Yet when used against us in quagmires like Iraq and Afghanistan we consider it barbaric.

The American spirit will always be divided between those who look at us being here as a matter of Divine Providence and those who consider it the melting pot.  That our greatest strength is taking the best ideas from everyone.

Winston Churchill once said, “Americans will always do the right thing, after they have exhausted all the alternatives.” It’s in that vein of faith I remain hopeful for America, but today a large portion of our population is apathetic.  They might be angry, but they’re also lazy.  Or they’re active without a sense of purpose.  I’m not so sure Americans are trying everything with the spirit we are expected to.  It can be taxing, but civil debate and disagreement coupled with pragmatism and searching for common ground is what has served this nation well in the past.  The problem today is, our tries seem to be halfhearted, or we save the passion for the detestability of our opponents; political or imagined.

We are not trying hard enough.  We are thinking less, worrying more and outsourcing our leadership to other nations, or corporations. As individuals we are all responsible for the eroding spirt and grit because we are complacently letting it happen.  We celebrate the First Amendment by giving the microphones to crackpots then undermine the gesture by reporting the fear and hate they spout as fact rather than opinion. We are focused on symptoms and finding ways to coat, soothe, and relieve them rather than solving the problems that are making us ill.  We moan and complain.  We spend a lot of energy doing very little and here’s some of our results so far:

  • 30% of Americans are obese

  • 1 Million American High School students drop out each year

  • We carry a $13.5 Trillion Debt

  • We are #1 in Oil Consumption, #2 in Coal Consumption and #1 in Cocaine Consumption

  • 2.3 Million of our citizens are incarcerated, giving us the largest prison population on the planet



We can do better. We must do better.  We can begin by teaching our children and each other how to dream big, think profoundly, decide pragmatically and lead courageously.


There are no shortages of serious problems yearning to be solved. Pick one.

Below is a system designed to help you begin solving the problems that are in your purview to solve.  If it looks like too much work, have someone help you.  Being defeated from within helps no one. Find a problem that’s within your power to solve and begin solving it.  Here’s how.


  1. Write down the problem or challenge that you need to solve.

  2. Describe the Desired State that could exist without the problem.

  3. Describe WHY it’s desired.

  4. Create a S.M.A.R.T. Goal to make your intention specific and real.

  5. Set the Criteria on how to find solutions to the problem.

  6. Generate a brainstorm list of alternative solutions.

  7. Narrow the list and pick the “best few” options.

  8. Assess each option’s feasibility and potential risks versus gains.

  9. Reach a tentative agreement with stakeholders of the problem.

  10. Put some resources on a “fall back” plan.

  11. Firm up the final decision and announce it to those affected.

  12. Develop an Action Plan to go forward.

  13. Implement the Action Plan with confidence and passion.

  14. Review, assess and celebrate progress.




Problems are often very complex. Their solutions seldom have to be.