My niece is staying with us for her annual vacation in the mountains, something she’s been doing since she was 8 years old, and her visits just keep getting more interesting. In the beginning, like most children, she had an answer for everything. Now, as she is applying for medical school, she is much more educated, and I am happy to report, wiser as well. She has realized something that many people either never realize, or at least do not like to admit. We do not have single solutions to most problems. Even simple problems have complex issues just below the surface. The
following is a real question from Brown University Alpert Medical School application:
Imagine that you are approached by a multibillionaire philanthropist who wants to donate a substantial fund of money to a single project with the goal of “fixing the US healthcare system”. He or she asks for your expert opinion on what project this money should go towards; what would you advise and why?
This led us to an interesting conversation about the real challenges facing healthcare – seemingly unsolvable by our government throughout history, unsolved by the insurance industry, the hospitals, the universities, the non-profits, the churches and the World Health Organization, but a reasonable question to present to students who have yet to enter medical school. At least we will learn how she thinks. Frankly, she thinks the school admissions folks could learn to clearly state a question, because as we picked this one apart, it could mean a wide variety of things, but that is another story.
If the intent of the question is to ask for one project that could have the most impact, as opposed to the one project that could “fix” the whole system, we could have a fighting chance. We discussed a few paths, none of which we decided on. 1. Buy congress. There’s a reason the food and chemical companies do this - this may be the least expensive path to getting laws changed that dramatically affect the safety and health of food, alcohol and tobacco, school lunches, insurance, etc. 2. Hire ad agencies to make the truth about health appear as sexy as the lies we get from industry that has a profit motive in conflict with health and wellness. 3. We always seem to have money for wars and fighting the marijuana trade (who would be happy to pay taxes). Surely, we could find a way to house, feed and treat mentally ill homeless people, instead of using the Emergency Department. I bet by now, you have some ideas of your own – universal healthcare? Repeal the Affordable Care Act? Go back to the system we hated before the system we hate now? Rely on charity and churches? Promote personal responsibility? Sue the fast-food joints? Get kids to be more active? If the question was to identify a single project, for which you have passion and why, that
would make more sense.
To ask for a single project with the goal of “fixing the system” strikes me as absurd.
How do you approach problems in your life or workplace? Do we look for a solution? Do we look inward to ourselves and think we can solve it alone? Do we look to the one person responsible and ask them to find a solution? Every problem is complex. We are inextricably linked to one another in so many ways. The ripple effects of our decisions cause unintended consequences for our employees, our customers, suppliers, neighbors, etc. A lack of easy solutions frustrates us, so we short cut to a simple solution that solves our immediate problem and we decide we will worry about other things later. This happens even with simple problems. For example, I went for an iced coffee and waited almost ten minutes because now, iced coffee gets in line behind all the specialty drinks. This can take quite a while on a busy day. I asked why they no longer just pour iced coffee the way they do hot coffee and learned they changed it a year ago to ease the burden on the front line people. I wonder if any customers were consulted before making this change. I am practicing being patient, and learning to embrace long lines when I have the time. Otherwise, on a busy day, choose hot coffee or leave. I wish I had a voice.
Does this sound familiar? Right now, we just need to “fix”this problem, whatever it is. My advice is to slow down. Invite the stakeholders, host the difficult and time-consuming conversation, review your true goals, and make a decision
when you find the wisdom to solve a problem that is most win/win, and that is most congruent with the ultimate mission at hand. None of us is smart enough to do this by ourselves. Further, most problems require more than just a single solution.
Michael Kline is a professional facilitator, success coach and trainer. He may be reached through his website, www.klineseminars.com, or e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.