Be the solution, not the problem

It is surprising how often I'd come to a fellow co-worker with a request, only to hear back that “It can't be done.” Though sometimes (more or less often than not?) that's how I behave too. So here's a simple reminder to myself and anyone who cares about such things — don't become a problem.

Try to become a solution, if possible.

Hammer or Nail — which one are you usually? (photo by Andrea Bosio)

The thinking here is straightforward. If somebody (customer? boss? colleague? friend?) asks me to do something — there is a problem they have that needs solving.

It may be that they don't explain the problem and try to tell you a solution instead (the worst kind of request). Or that they don't understand the effort involved. Or that you're not the right person to do it — no skills or time. All of that is possible.

It may even be that the problem they try to solve is to actually keep you occupied so you can continue getting a salary, heh.

Yet there is always a reason, a problem. And when you immediately push back, no explanation, no pause to even think about a solution, — you add yourself to that problem. Now not only is the original problem still unsolved, but there is also a problem of you — providing poor service, showing insubordination etc.

So — try to be the solution. If you can't — be merciful enough to show that you've tried, and give your best idea of who or how it could be solved, even without you.

We can all be professional buck-passers, but that isn't the best way. If you go back to my team as an ecosystem analogy, you'll understand why it is better to work on reducing the number of problems in your environment, instead of introducing more.

It just makes everyone's life better. You included. Me included, too.


  1. I suspect that the person who will follow your advice to the heart, will be punished for their helpfulness in the end. Being helpful is right. Being helpful no matter what is wrong. First of all, that person will be responsible for any failure which would happen in the task he helped with, even by just directing someone to a someone else.

    Of course, this is true only for cases when the person asking for help is bad. But your advice does not mention that we should only help those who will not bite the hand that gives. If you add the rule of not helping those who will bite your hand, I'll fully agree with your post. :)

    1. Wisdom should be applied in all cases :) So yes, I agree such a person could be abused (a lot), but I am usually fighting with another extreme.

      And it also depends on the size of the team — the size of the ecosystem. In small teams the issues like you describe get solved rather quickly (as do the issues that I describe :D).

    2. From my point of view, your proposal has two major problems: it can (and will) be abused, and it requires to totally change one's attitude and base it on thoughts, feelings, emotions they might not have (and probably don't, judging from their current opposite extreme behavior). For me this means that your plan to make world better is not based on anything realistic to accomplish it.

      My two cents for the problem of "it can't be done" are these:

      When you receive "it can't be done" answer, say "oh, you think so? And I have an idea how to do this... I'll go think about it. I'll let you know if I find a solution". Then go and really solve the problem. And then go back to the victim and describe him in detail how you solved this. At the end of explanation just coin a short "it's strange you didn't see this solution", shrug and leave.

    3. Dropping water can break stone :) And first of all I try to start with myself.

      “Go and really solve the problem” can work on a peer level, sometimes, and it is a good tactic (not the only one :)), but doesn't work so well on a boss­-subordinate level, or even client­-supplier. And for now I get surprised when I even hear a quick and lazy “It can't be done”.

      It will be cool to summarise possible solutions one day though, from friendly mockery to firing the guy :)


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