Don't implement solutions. Prevent problems. (look upstream)

On my visit to the local library today I came across a book: Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for winning at business without losing your self. The book was written by Alan M. Webber;one of the cofounders of Fast Company Magazine.

The book was displayed on the new arrivals area and I figured maybe it was worth a flip through.

Webber’s Rule #4 is the subject line of this post: “Don’t implement solutions. Prevent problems.” In this rule Webber suggests:

Putting solutions into effect seems to be where the action is… But what if the real action isn’t with solutions? Focusing on solutions misses an essential point: preventing problems in the first place. There’s an even more important idea then execution. It’s the idea of early detection, intervention, and prevention. Business leaders who embrace that idea can point at something even better than implementation. They can point at massive savings and better outcomes

[kind of like early screening for breast, prostate, and other cancers…]

Webber discusses a colleague’s success in an early intervention program with high-risk youth in Pittsburgh where students participate in “education, training, and hope programs” – the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild. As Webber points out, this program may be the “only antipoverty, anticrime educational program in the world that has also won four Grammy awards” – they record and compile performances of top notch artists at the facility – then sell the albums to help finance the program.

Sounds like a great program and something I can definitely relate to after several years of coaching various youth sports and being a youth worker for a few years.

“So What?” asks Webber. Well… as he aks:

Why haven’t we been able to apply it [prevention, early detection] in a host of public policy areas? We know that prevention and early intervention work in everything from health care to energy policy to public education to transportation. But these well-entrenched systems seem intractable, despite economic and social evidence that proves how much more effective and less expensive a different approach would be.

At the top of major corporations [and government departments] leaders habitually look the other way when they know a serious problem needs their attention, hoping the day of reckoning won’t come on their watch. Or they pound the table and demand a fix – without ever acknowledging that their inattention to the root cause of the problem only drives up the cost of any solution, which is often not a solution but a palliative.

You could chalk it up to human nature: denial, hope against hope that somehow the inevitable won’t happen, at least not yet.

But there is another component to human nature, and all it takes is practice: look reality in the eye, establish an honest assessment of the real nature of the problem, look upstream to see its true causes, and then roll up your sleeves and attack it early, deeply, and effectively.

It would be hard to agree more with Webber’s conclusion to this thought: “In the end it’s not only cheaper and more effective. It also represents leadership and very valuable skill.”

What if government bureaucracies tasked with looking after salmon could take this approach?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *