Let’s have a thought experiment. Imagine you are given a problem. Perhaps a simple problem like this one:
1 + 1
How would you go about it? For most of us, we would go straight to the answer, which is 2. The more nerdy people would give the answer: 10. The former answer is simple basic arithmetic while the latter is the less obvious binary addition. Solving a problem in this context appears to be quite easy because our problem is already defined for us. All we have to do is come up with a solution.
Now let us take this thought experiment a bit further. Imagine some random silly person paid you to solve the above stated problem. To most of us, we would jump at the problem and present this fictional person with the solution. How would you react if this person said that he/ she felt that something wasn’t right with your solution? Of course, you’d get annoyed. You’ve been busy busting your ass working out the solution to this problem. You’ve done all the tough work and your hard work deserves some form of acknowledgement, right? This is perhaps the narrative we’d all probably tell ourselves(I know I would).
Why would someone not appreciate the work (which fits the functional description) done? Is there really something wrong with how we’ve done our work?
Many people love executing tasks that they have been given without trying to explore why the task giver gave the task, or in which context the task was given. This sometimes leads to some bitter misunderstandings to both parties after the task’s completion. The doer of the task may do his/ her work just fine, but the task giver might feel that there’s something amiss in the task’s execution.
Let’s use an extreme example here to demonstrate my aforementioned point. Imagine a bunch of five-year old kids bump into some aliens. These kids decide to give the aliens the above task(
1 + 1). Definitely, the aliens would do the task to the best of their abilities and come up with something that the kids(and perhaps adults) would never understand. Perhaps the aliens would prove to us that simple arithmetic is not as simple as we think it is. If, however, the alien understood why the kids asked their questions(say for example this problem was a homework question), these aliens would give a more appropriate answer in a way the kids understood. They would be doing more than just solving a problem; The kids would form “part of the problem”. The aliens would maybe dumb themselves down or educate the kids(or surgically improve the kid’s level of intelligence). The aliens would do something differently when solving the problem.
You should observe that the burden of understanding the “why” of the problem in this case lies with the problem solver. This is not always the case. The problem giver can do this just fine and communicate comprehensively his/ her notions of the problem to the problem solver. In practice though, the problem solver is the one who usually does all the explorations of the “why”. This is because the role of problem giver is taken up by normal people(buyers of some product, clients, citizens, etc)– people who sometimes do not even know why they want some things. Citizens expect that their leaders perform well in government(no corruption or any funny business in government); Buyers expect high quality products; and clients expect that services rendered to them meets their needs. These people want things, but they do not necessarily know why they want these things. Finding out why they want these things can be a challenge, a challenge that is worthwhile because it might just help you to come up with solutions that are acceptable by them.
We live in a complicated world. We live in a world where collaborating with others has become very important. Understanding why we need to do the things we do from the perspective of the task giver is something we need to do more often. This will make our jobs more sane and less strainful while at the same time, our work will appear to resonate with the problem giver’s ideas. We will not just provide solutions that work, but solutions that are acceptable.
Special thanks to Michael Esq for engaging me in a conversation that inspired this article