When’s the right time to solve small problems? The right answer is almost always “as soon as practically possible!”
Why? Because small problems often become large problems if we don’t work on them in a timely fashion.
Unfortunately, people don’t appreciate the value of promptly solving small problems, because (see cartoon below) we love to acknowledge and reward heroes — people who solve big problems, aka emergencies — rather than the folks who proactively solve small problems and prevent emergencies in the first place.
“Prevention is better than Cure. But which one makes a better story?” by @workchronicles
Two societal examples
Here are two examples of the value of solving small problems early, and the consequences when you don’t. The first is one where solving small problems in advance averted major world disruption. During the second, world leaders delayed solving small problems, resulting in millions of avoidable deaths.
After dinner last night I heard a familiar sound — the growl of the UPS box truck driving up our 600′ rural driveway. I knew it was our regular driver, the guy who’s been delivering for years, because if he sees I’m in my home office he’ll stop and do a tight three-point turn outside the entrance, rather than driving past to reverse by the garage.
I heard the van door slide back and went to the door to meet the guy I’ll call Roger. Roger is tall and lanky, has a sweet smile and disposition, and is open to talk if the time is right. Over the years he’s met me hundreds of times in that doorway. Mostly, he smiles and hand over the delivery, I thank him and wish him a good night, and he jumps into his truck, finishes reversing and drives away. Once in a while, when the roads are bad, we talk about his day: how he’s handled the challenges of delivering along my rural town’s sixty miles of dirt roads plus the surrounding area.
For some reason I hadn’t seen Roger for a few weeks; the other drivers had been making deliveries. So I said, “Hey, you’re back!” as he strolled towards me, package in hand.
“Well, I’ve been off a lot; my mother just passed away,” he replied.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said. I stood and looked at him.
“Well” he said…
…and he started to tell his story.
Roger talked about his mom. He stood facing sideways from me, with an occasional glance in my direction prompted by my occasional responses to what he was saying. Once in a while he’d swivel to face me, sharing something that was especially important. Then he went back to telling me about his frequent journeys down south to see her since she’d fallen and broke multiple bones in June, how his family had done their best to cope, and her eventual decline and death.
He told me about dealing with “picking up the pieces” now she was gone. About the last time he saw her in the hospital, when she was “all scrunched up” and seemed out of it, until he bent down and hugged her and told her “I love you mom” and she opened one eye and said “I love you too” “as clear as anything” and then closed her eye and “was out of it again”. He told me much more than I’ll share here.
Roger talked for over ten minutes, by far the longest conversation we’ve ever had. Now and again he edged away during our time together. But he couldn’t quite get himself to stop what he wanted or needed to say.
And that was fine with me. I was in no hurry, and he wanted to talk.
At the end I wished him well and he turned, got into his van, and motored off down my driveway.
“The EduCon organizers asked me to say a little about the conference format, and I thought about when I was a teenager, and loved to go to parties and dance. Then something happened, I don’t remember what it was—probably something incredibly embarrassing involving a girl I liked—and I became self-conscious and stopped dancing.
I stopped dancing for 40 years.
In 2003 I go to a workshop, and if you had told me beforehand that I would dress up in costume there and dance, solo, in front of an audience I would have a) said you were crazy and b) skipped the workshop.
I’m very glad I wasn’t warned, because at that workshop, when I experienced dancing again, I remembered that I love to dance—and I’ve been dancing ever since.
If I had been reminded at the workshop that I used to like to dance, it wouldn’t have made any difference.
All the lecturing in the world wouldn’t have shifted my belief that I really didn’t like to dance any more.
I had to experience dancing again.
I had to get on my feet and dance!
Now, we’re not going to ask you to dress up and dance at this conference—unless you like doing that, in which case we’ve got the Fort Lauderdale Pool and Beach Party tomorrow night!
But what we are going to do at this conference is to give you plenty of opportunities for participative engagement—to experience things that we think may be useful for you in your lives and work.
In addition, this conference is full of experiments with a variety of learning environments and methods. We are proponents of risky learning—Sarah Lewis & Mel Robbins—will be exploring this in their sessions.
And, in our crowdsourcing experiment tomorrow, you’ll get to choose what you want to learn about, discuss, share, and connect about.
So our hope and desire is that, at EduCon, you will: – engage; – be open to your experience, with a willingness to learn from each other; and – be a resource to your peers.”
It was my hope that sharing a revealing story in front of a thousand people at the start of this conference would model openness amongst attendees for what followed. Based on the feedback people gave me during the event and my observations of the level of interaction and intimacy there, I think I realized my hope.