Successful problem solvers often struggle to identify the root cause of the problem they’re trying to fix. Ron Ashkenas, the author of a new book called Simply Effective, offers up an interesting way to define organizational challenges, seeing them as either capacity problems and complexity problems.
Capacity problems require more, fewer, or different resources to solve them. Complexity problems require new thinking and a creative approach, says Ashkenas in a recent Harvard Business blog posting.
Too many executives decide their problems are “capacity-based,” and focus on the resources they need to solve them. All too often, they find themselves solving complexity issues with a capacity solution.
Ashkenas uses President Obama’s decision to send troops into Afghanistan as a potential capacity solution to a complexity problem (i.e., the need to leave a functioning and secure country behind when we leave). I believe a lot of companies have similarly used layoffs (a capacity solution) because they couldn’t figure out how to deal with changing customer demand for their products, increased regulatory oversight, or competitors who developed a better mousetrap.
Some might argue that they lacked the will to find a complexity-based solution. Perhaps. But it’s been said that if a hammer is the only tool in your toolbox, than you’re going to see every problem as a nail.
Think back to the last few problems you’ve had to resolve. Would you have dealt with them differently if you had taken the time to consider whether the problem was capacity or complexity?