Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

I would like to submit to you that leaders and executives do little more than solve lots of big-hairy-complicated-messy problems and collect huge pay checks. So, if you don’t like problem solving then maybe leadership just isn’t for you. Or…………. maybe you just need to find a better way to solve your problems.

The problem with problem solving
I love to be creative and come up with answers on my own. It’s very satisfying to know that I applied my brain to a scenario and thought of the best solution all by my “big boy” self. I do this at school, at home, while driving, playing a game/sport, and just about every other conceivable situation. The only problem with doing this is that it’s a massive waste of time and energy. It’s like trying to re-invent the wheel every time a problem arises.

A better way
I’ve been realizing lately that I’m not the first person to be a husband, or a father, or a student, or……… anything for that matter (It’s been a hard realization). There are so many experts on every topic that it’s silly to think that my problems are unique to me alone. Why not consult these experts and learn about the wheels that have already been invented?

I’ve been trying to recognize and practice this concept lately with some interesting results:

1. Whenever my wife and I go to a new restaurant I feel overwhelmed by the number and variety of options on the menu. I take it upon myself to diligently research every option so that we can make informed decisions on this important edible investment. This takes up precious time and brain energy and is difficult to do before the server wants to take our order. I end up tired and stressed, while my sweet patient wife tries not to get annoyed at my anal retentiveness. Lately I’ve made an effort to change my methods and it has greatly improved our culinary experience. Now I simply ask the server what the two or three most popular dishes are and choose one. The results? My decisions are made much faster and easier, and the meals generally much tastier too. I’ve decided that it’s important to give the server and the other customers credit for having taste buds and brains even if they’re not as superior and intelligent as mine (that was joke).

2. I just saw the awesome movie Moneyball and really enjoyed it. I loved the creative problem solving that is used to re-evaluate baseball players’ relative value. I did some research and found that, interestingly, Billy Beane was not the creator of sabermetrics, nor was he the first manager to utilize sabermetric principles. In fact, his predecessor, Sandy Alderson, had been using them for three years before Beane became the general manager of the Oakland A’s. However, Beane is credited as the father of sabermetrics. He does speaking engagements all across the country, and had an awesome movie made after him (Brad Pitt’s finest work.) But all he did was take an existing and proven theory and put it to work.

So What?
The next time you have a problem to solve, first find out if it’s been solved before. Who knows, you might become a hero just by doing what’s already been done.

Scriptural support
1 Thessalonians 5:15 See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.

Comments: Agree or disagree? Have you ever solved a problem this way before? How did it go for you?


5 thoughts on “Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

  1. Austin, Superb Blog!
    The problem is we don’t have enough thinkers. Too many people don’t want to think. I don’t imagine Steve Jobs sat around and waited for someone to solve the mystery of the hand held computer before he released the first ipad. Some one still has to invent the first human teleport machine. I’m glad you are a thinker because you and your generation have to find a cure for cancer and unravel the complexity of brain injuries. Keep thinking, solving and writing my friend.
    Our Survival Depends on YOU !
    No Pressure.

  2. Hey Rick!
    How are you doing my friend? You make a compelling argument, and the point must be conceded. My problem is that I try to solve problems that have already been solved. I believe that when I can find ways to minimize time and energy spent on already solved issues I can focus that important time and energy on more important, non-solved issues.

    Thanks so much for the input and please keep it coming. It’s a real honor when one of my “Top 100 favorite people” comments on my blog 🙂

  3. When I was a Toastmaster, one of the men who helped us set up our new club told me something important that relates to what you’ve said here: “Sinatra never set up a piano.” His point? Sinatra knew what he did well, and he let other people do what they did well (set up the piano for each show). Truly successful leaders do a lot of what you are describing: they find someone who has either already solved a particular problem or who would be best suited to do so, and they utilize their talents.

    I used to be a go-to guy for finding good values in technology. The problem was that finding good values on a lot of technologies is time consuming, so I learned to do something like you did: I asked people who I knew and trusted that had recently purchased the specific item or items I might be interested in what they chose and why they chose to buy what they did. The result was I spent a lot less time randomly surfing the web for that information or trolling stores, and I was still quite satisfied with most of my purchases. Executives have to learn to reduce the time they spend on the day-to-day in order to maximize the time they can look at the long term needs of an organization. Too much micro-managing can actually reduce the overall success because larger details get missed in the process.

    The only issue I would take with what you said, though, is that not all leaders collect big paychecks for solving big problems. Sometmes the most effective leaders work in positions with less authority and less notice, but they are utilized by higher ups because they are very good at managing the use of resources – especially human resources. In some organizations, such as the one we both know each other through, also place people in leadership positions because they are the right person for the task, regardless of the financial reward. Certainly, great executives are generally good leaders, but not all executives are leaders and not all leaders make a lot of money. The best one I’ve heard of died penniless with his only belongings being bet on by his executioners. Since your blog is about being an enlightened leader, I think it’s important to remember those details and realize a lot of the very best leaders follow that one.

    • Hey Robert,

      Great insights and examples as always. I especially like the Frank Sinatra example. I absolutely agree with what you say about great leaders and compensation. My quip about leaders and executives collecting huge paychecks was an attempt at humor, although I’m beginning to learn that sarcasm is difficult to communicate in writing. I have been told that I should eliminate sarcasm from my communications completely, but that would just seem like removing part of my personality 🙂

      Anyway, I really appreciate all your feedback because it helps me to learn these important lessons while little is at stake. Please keep the comments coming.

  4. For an example of sarcasm not going over well, I look at the writings of Schumpeter. He was an economist from Austria who fled Germany just before Hitler came to power, and he taught at Harvard for a few years before his death. He wrote a book called “Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy” that begins with a discussion of Marx, his philosophies, and how his ideas translate into use. Apparently, for a time and still on occasion, some supporters of socialism consider this writing to be in line with their ideas.

    The problem? He took an almost satirical tone in his writing about it, where he essentially says “Yes, these are great concepts – if the world was a perfect place and mankind didn’t take advantage of the system.” Apparently some of that tone got lost in the subtext for them. Still, he is seen as a great scholar today, and his ideas about capitalism are very informative and helpful to see how things could be done better in a capitalist system even than they are now. So yeah, I’m with you – it’s fairly hard to pick up sarcasm in writing.

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