Admitting Not Knowing What to Do Is The First Step to Problem-Solving

At the height of the Second World War, Great Britain was on the brink of defeat.  The Nazis had conquered the European mainland.  German U-boat submarines were sinking merchant ships from America, constricting critical supplies to the United Kingdom.  The German Air Force, the Luftwaffe, was bombing London and other British cities at will, inflicting heavy casualties.  The British leadership didn’t know what to do. 

          The British government engaged the help of its most brilliant scientists to find technological breakthroughs that would perhaps give the English armed forces some advantage in weaponry.  The scientists, consisting of physicists, mathematicians, and even biologists, found out that technology wasn’t the problem, but rather in the manner the military managed its operations. 

          For example, the scientists led by physicist Patrick Blackett1, found that anti-aircraft (AA) batteries defending London were shooting pointlessly against German Luftwaffe bombers because only 30 out of 120 of the guns had access to radar data to track incoming targets.  Blackett’s science group recommended re-deployment of the anti-aircraft batteries so all of the guns would have access to the radar data.  Whereas before it took 20,000 AA rounds to shoot down a German bomber, the number was reduced to 4,000 rounds per shoot-down after the re-deployment.  Anti-aircraft accuracy improved by 80%. 

          Blackett also introduced operational solutions to defeat the German U-boats.  His colleague, E. J. Williams2, also a physicist, suggested changes in how British bombers searched and targeted U-boats.  By changing the timing and placing of depth charges, and by simply repainting planes from black to white to make them less likely to be spotted in the daytime sky, the British was able to increase the kill rate of U-boats from 1 to 2 per cent to 10 percent, a 1000% improvement. 

          British leaders at their darkest hour of the war admitted they didn’t know what to do.  They went to their scientists for answers.  When they did, they found out that the issue wasn’t about searching for the right answers but defining the problems rightly.   By just knowing what problems to solve and solving them, the British and their Allies were able to defeat the Nazis and win the Second World War. 

          Eighty (80) years later, the world again is in a crisis.  The COVID-19 pandemic has sickened more than a million people and brought businesses to a halt.  More than three (3) billion people worldwide are in lockdowns. 

          Despite the efforts, government and business leaders do not have a unified front versus the pandemic.  They have engaged medical experts who have urged quarantines, personal hygiene, and social distancing.  There is no prospect for an early cure or a vaccine.  No one has a firm idea how long this crisis will last.  No one leader, it seems, knows what to do. 

          Admitting not knowing what to do should not be seen as shameful.  Rather, it should be seen as a first step to solving a problem.   

          We have gotten used to finding solutions quickly for most of our problems.   In our fast-paced world, we like to get obstacles out of our way as fast as we can. 

          But not all problems can be solved outright.  Sometimes, and it’s getting more often, we have to admit that we just don’t know what to do.  We need to realize it may be better to engage other resources or talents to define our problems rightly before finding the right answers.

1Stephen Budiansky, Blackett’s War, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013) Kindle Edition, Chapter 6, Loc 2846

2Ibid, Kindle Edition, Chapter 7, Loc 2982 to 3047

Regular Customers Are Our Geese That Lay Our Golden Eggs

My tenant asked that I don’t increase his rent this year and at the same time requested a month’s delay in paying it.  He’s been having problems with his business so if I would please consider. 

At first, I didn’t like to agree.  Finally, I did.  My tenant had been a regular on-time payor and had agreed to rent escalations in the past.  I decided to concede.

There is that famous Aesop’s fable about the Goose & the Golden Egg (http://read.gov/aesop/091.html). A man owned a goose that laid a golden egg every day.  One day the man killed the goose and cut it open in the hope he’d get all the eggs.  There was none.  The man ended up with no more golden eggs. 

Regular customers are like the geese that lay golden eggs.  They buy regularly and pay regularly.  The money we earn from them often makes up the majority of our revenues. 

Our customers experience good and bad times, just like everyone else.  There would be days they’d buy more and there would be days they’d buy less.  We would be happy if they buy more and we would be concerned if they buy less. 

Enterprises sometimes offer discounts, promotions, or product upgrades to get regular customers to buy more and contribute to sales growth. 

But sometimes, when times may be not that good, for some adverse reason or another, regular customers just won’t be buying.  And there’s not much enterprises can do about it. 

Some enterprises seek new customers to make up for any revenue shortfall.  They invest in new store branches at new locations or expand product lines to different markets.  But if resources are limited because times are bad, some enterprises would resort to cost cutting. 

Cutting costs, however, doesn’t mean cutting our regular customers off.  Unfortunately, some enterprises inadvertently do when they cut costs.  Some enterprises cut staff that communicate with regular customers or cut logistics budgets that result in poorer delivery services.  Enterprises end up losing the regular customers who already have it hard and are getting it harder because the service has become worse. 

When enterprises lose regular customers, they lose their geese that lay their golden eggs.  It’s one thing to have fewer eggs; it’s another when there are no more eggs. 

We may have the best of intentions to begin with but as the saying goes:  the road to hell (in this case business failure) is paved with good intentions.