I got some praise yesterday. A colleague of mine told me that I never shy away from the hard problems.
It’s hard not to have a big grin on your face when you hear something like that.
Got me thinking though… what’s hard, exactly? And so I’ve been musing. Aren’t all problems hard?
Say a customer reports a bug, and you’ve got to fix it. You can fix it. You know you can fix it. Maybe it’ll take an hour, maybe it’ll take a day, maybe a week. But you’ll narrow it down, figure out the smallest possible increment of work you can do to remedy the problem, and then you’ll do it. And as much as it pains me to say it, because I want to be able to check that box that said I did the thing… this is the easy part.
Once in a while, when we’re feeling brave, we also try to tackle the hard problem. We try to answer the questions that we usually avoid.
- Why was this bug caused in the first place?
- Did we know about it before the customer hit it, and if so, why didn’t we do anything about it?
- Was the customer upset? Did we make sure they’re happy again?
- Can we fix not just this bug, but all classes of this bug in the future?
- What are the root causes ingrained in our culture that made this bug possible?
- Can we change our culture to ensure this doesn’t happen again?
These are the hard problems. We can’t always solve them. Maybe they’re too entrenched, maybe you don’t have the power, maybe others don’t see the problem, maybe they’re too expensive to fix. Or maybe you just don’t have the energy to fight this battle. We can’t fight all of them, after all. That way lies burnout.
But every so often, we tackle a hard problem, and we make just a little bit of progress. And whether we do, or we don’t, I think the fact that we sat up, took notice, and recognised that there’s a hard problem here—that’s cause for celebration.