Complex problems are difficult to solve. In most cases, the solution ends up being the lesser of many evils – not quite right for everyone but good enough to get the job done. This can be a tough pill to swallow because everyone feels like they are compromising.

Because everyone is mildly dissatisfied with the solution, the complex problem will present itself again. A year later, maybe less. One mildly dissatisfied group will raise their hand and say that we need a new solution.

The ugly cycle I’ve seen is that complex problems get the same handful of solutions, done over and over again, like a merry-go-round that nobody wants to be on. It’s because there is no one right solution, all of them kinda suck, and no one knows what to do about it.

I don’t have some Utopian solution for you. These problems are complex, remember??

What I do have is this advice – if you’ve done something once and you feel like you and your teams gave it your all, kick it off the merry-go-round. It’s time to let that solution go for enough time to pass so that no one really remembers it.

This is why:

Failures come with baggage. If a solution fails and the team can still feel that failure, the baggage is going to hang off you like a bad t-shirt. 

I’ve always said that culture is the biggest barrier to change. On the flip side, it’s also the magical fairy dust that makes change possible. If the culture isn’t ready to try a solution again you can’t push it, it won’t work. You need to give it time to be forgotten so it can be considered with a fresh perspective and zeal again.

Don’t push a solution on a team that isn’t ready for it. All problems can be solved if you break it down enough and give people enough time to digest it. Trying to push when it’s not right will only set you farther back and frustrate your teams.

The next time you have a complex problem and are about to step on the merry-go-round, remember these three things:

  1. This problem can be solved, but maybe it needs to be broken down into it’s fundamental pieces. Ask yourself – how would I explain this problem to a 6 year old? In fact, find a 6 year old and actually do it. The points you make that they understand are your fundamental pieces.

  2. If the apparent solution is one you’ve tried before, make sure the wound is healed and there is no baggage from the past failure.

  3. There is most definitely another solution out there, one that’s not been on the merry-go-round before. Find it by looking at the problem from a completely different perspective. How would a customer view this problem? Forget what you know and think with a clear mind.