The Solution to Everything

Management is full of solutions…

There is always another management solution.  Something that we must invest in.  Over the past 20 years or so the solutions I have seen include:

  • Analytics
  • Big Data
  • Big Scale Value Analysis
  • Customer Journey Mapping
  • Customer Relationship Management
  • Customer Satisfaction Measurement
  • Business Process Re-engineering
  • Business Process Outsourcing
  • Near Shoring
  • Off Shoring
  • On Shoring
  • Rapid Process Digitisation
  • Robotics
  • Operational Excellence
  • Agile Development
  • Lean
  • Six Sigma
  • Lean Six Sigma

The good lord alone knows what else I have forgotten.

Pick your flavour

If that isn’t enough solutions for you, you can call upon any one of the large consulting houses.  They will persuade you that their brand of the solution is proprietary and infinitely better than anybody else’s.  Then they will gladly sell it to you for several hundred thousand pounds.

You can spend an awful lot of money on solutions.

But you can’t define a solution without a problem

At the risk of stating the obvious — but I have built a blog on it — for a solution to work you need to have a problem to apply it to.

I call it the law of the instrument, and it may be formulated as follows: Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding ~ Abraham Kaplan

Regard anybody who tells you that “the problem is we don’t have [insert favoured solution]” with the deepest suspicion.

And you can’t define a problem without a direction

This one is less obvious, but equally valid.  To articulate your problem you need to have a direction.  If you don’t know where you are going you won’t know if you are not getting there.  Problems only exist within the context of an expectation.

The perception of a problem is always relative. Your headache feels terrific to the druggist
~ Ramona E. F. Arnett

It isn’t that the solutions are bad

I have absolutely no doubt that Apple and Amazon, Ritz Carlton and South West Airlines, John Lewis and McDonald’s, — whichever poster company you want to talk about — has used all of the above to great effect.  But they used the solution to get over a problem which was stopping them from getting where they wanted to be.  They had a direction.

Before you invest in the latest management solution, define your problem.  Before you do that, decide where you are going.

Start with a direction, not a solution.

PS – Being cheaper isn’t a direction.  It is a dead-end.

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Image by James Bowe



  1. Another insightful article – Thank you! I enjoyed the cartoon, too – I’m sure most all of us can relate to that.

  2. Michael Woodburn says:

    You forgot systems thinking. Shame on you

  3. I think this is key, James: Before you invest in the latest management solution, define your problem. Before you do that, decide where you are going. Yogi Berra said: “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.”


  4. Spot on, James. Spot on.

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