Solving Problems vs Fixing Problems

fixing problemsAs I was traveling to SXSW last night I was struck by a thought about most of the PR & Marketing industry: We fix problems.

Solving a problem is what people do when they figure things out for the first time. When you solve a problem you create a solution. The next time you solve a problem you’re applying the solution to the problem to fix it.

The problem may be a communication crisis, it may be that people aren’t using a product because they don’t know about it or understand it. There are a hundred problems we fix everyday.

There’s a problem though; I don’t like fixing problems, I like solving problems.

Don’t get me wrong, fixing problems is great. People develop a mastery for applying a given solution to a problem. Unless they’re in research, Dr’s fix problems. The world has a lot of problems and we need people to fix them. There aren’t as many jobs for problem solvers, once you solve it you then need fixers.

We need more fixers. Fixers take solutions and continue to make them better. They improve on them and make them more efficient. They teach other people how to fix problems. What are your favorite problems to fix?

Fortunately we’re in a phase where social media still needs a lot of solutions. The trick for me, and you if you’re a problem solver, is to keep finding problems to solve. Keep applying social media to bigger and bigger problems. Maybe I’m idealistic but I believe social technologies have a real opportunity to solve the World’s biggest problems. Things like illiteracy, poverty and oppression.

What problems are you trying to solve?

Photo credit via Balakov

About Tac Anderson

Social media anthropologist. Communications strategist. Business model junkie. Chief blogger here at New Comm Biz.
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  • http://www.justinbeller.com/ Justin Beller

    I might have a different take on this. I too like to solve problems and I hate being a “fixer”.

    To me, fixing a problem is short term. It only puts a band-aid over the root cause to a problem. It doesn't get to the heart of the problem to reach a real solution. Solving a problem is either permanent or long-term because it seeks to reach the root cause to a problem and treats apparent issues as symptoms or clues to what really needs to be done.

    In my career, I have come across more people fixing problems believing they are actually solving them. In some cases, their fixes make the situation worse.

    You ask what kind of problems I like to solve? I love to solve the “why aren't these people doing what they ought to be doing” problems. Fixes don't apply to that world, only real solutions.

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  • http://www.newcommbiz.com tacanderson

    I think there are some people who are busy keeping things from getting worse that don't fix things. Some things break a lot. People break a lot. People aren't perfect and so usually what fixers fix is other peoples problems.

    I'm really thankful for fixers.

  • http://local-marketplace.com/ Steve Koss

    Another brilliant post Tac!

    To gain the competitive edge we must be pain-relievers and solving ‘real’ problems to stakeholders for correct active, not corrective action (the band-aid, fixing problems approach). In the value and supply chains problems will always spring up to address. The discovery phase of problem-solving or fixing must keep the ‘people, process, technology’ in this sequential order.

    I would disagree that social technologies can solve problems; moreover I would agree that these technologies can be the enablers for collaboration to solve problems.

    At the end of the day, we must be able to have a dash of a problem-solver and problem-fixer within us…problems are part of the journey of life and business. An X-files perspective…the giant jigsaw puzzle of problem-solving or fixing…perception versus real….a challenging choice always!

    Problems can be opportunities in disguise!

  • http://www.newcommbiz.com tacanderson

    Thank you Steve for keeping me in check. I of course agree that social technologies will not solve the problems but will be the enablers that allow us to finally collaborate in a way that brings about the change. And yes we all have to be able to solve problems and fix problems.

  • http://jeffhora.wordpress.com Jeff Hora

    Sadly, there is a limiting mindset in some organizations that have created more of a wall between creating solutions and the continuous improvement of those solutions, here labelled “the fix”. I have observed (and been a part of) teams, organizations and businesses that create a solution, toss it over the wall to “the fixers”, and then move onto the next problem to be solved. This doesn't really help these efforts to become learning efforts for the org. Numerous solutions are handed to the fixers with many of the same problems to be fixed that were in the last solution they were handed.

    I believe the mindset for both of these skills is much more flexible. Aside from getting more smarts pointed at a problem to be solved or fixed, the diversity these points of view bring to problems throughout their life-cycle improve the problem-solving capabilities of the organization. Need to stop making the same mistakes, even though they might not look like the same mistakes initially.

  • http://www.newcommbiz.com tacanderson

    Thanks Jeff,
    I'm not sure these skill sets are as flexible as you might think. If you look at Geoffery Moore's Dealing with Darwin http://www.dealingwithdarwin.com/ there's an argument to be made that some people are better at different parts of a product life cycle.

    The key is what you first mentioned: throwing it over the wall and moving on. Both groups need to be involved but the level of involvement needs to shift as the solution/product evolves. Like you said it shouldn't be a limiting mindset it should be an expansive collaborative process.

  • jessestevens

    Fixing problems should not be the main point. Preventing problems should be. Those entrepreneurs smart enough to prevent and forecast what will come next are the ones that reach “faster” success, innovate and are always up to their customer's needs.

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