When Is a Problem Not a Problem?

A funny thing happened in presenting our new problem solving program: people had a problem calling a problem a problem! It appears that “problem” is just way too negative for some folks; they seemed a lot more comfortable referring to “issues”, “challenges” or even “opportunities.”

It has been pointed out that here on the “left coast,” and especially in the land of “have a nice day,” we try to put a positive spin on everything. “Problem” focuses on what’s wrong, rather than on what’s right. As a certified green and granola-friendly west-coaster, I have an “issue” with that. A true problem invokes a solution; it’s part of the definition. According to dictionary.com the number two definition for problem is, “a question proposed for solution or discussion.” Can’t we all agree that a good solution, even a workable solution, is worth the minor or even major inconvenience of the problem?

On the other hand, issues issue one after the other, sooner than the latest issue of your daily newspaper. If you’re lucky, you might get your particular issue resolved, but is resolution the same as solution?  Most issues, however, just get put on the table. Of course some get discussed, or even debated. But in our day and age, issues seem to be nothing but yelling points (talking points, amplified at least 100x), at least in terms of politcal discourse in the U.S.A.

“Challenge” is a challenge in and of itself. I would challenge using that word in place of “problem.” A challenge is something to be surmounted, no? For example, it is a challenge for me to play with ease and facility in the highest register of the clarinet. There isn’t a solution, it takes practice, hard work, toil, even sweat. Okay, maybe some challenges don’t take sweat, such as me learning a new programming language. But a solution can be simple and elegant. Challenges almost always take work. Are the problem-challenged really willing to put in that much effort, especially when a solution could be simple and elegant?

Now if I may take the opportunity to discuss “opportunity.” I actually can think of a “problem” as an opportunity, albeit a unique one. A problem is an opportunity to find a solution! But a challenge is an opportunity to surmount the challenge, and an issue is an opportunity to debate and possibly resolve.

Did I make my point? Let’s table the issue and call a problem a problem. It can be an opportunity to invoke a solution; it can also be a challenge to solve, or an issue to resolve. But what makes a problem unique, and—in my mind at least, a positive—is we can solve them!

By the way, our new program is currently titled, Puzzles, Mysteries and Muddles; Taming the Wild Things that Keep You Up at Night. We call it “Puzzles, Mysteries, and Muddles” because these are the three categories of problems that contain the eight problem types.

Joel Kleinbaum is the IT Manager and Webmaster for Barnes & Conti. When he’s not blogging, he’s solving computer proble#mce_temp_url#ms. And away from the computer, he might be practicing klezmer on the clarinet, classical music on the bassoon. Joel wants you to know that the high-register clarinet virtuoso on the sound clip is David Krakauer, who is perhaps the greatest klezmer and high-register clarinetist today. .

Tagged with:
One comment on “When Is a Problem Not a Problem?
  1. Kim says:

    Clever wordplay and a great intro to our new blogger-in-chief! As you know, I LOVE problems – well, some kinds of problems. One way to make sure problems don’t get solved is to refuse to label them as problems – that way, we can avoid dealing with them. Another way is to say, “It’s not MY problem.” By doing this, we are kicking the ball down a long, long field to our children and grandchildren – and by then it will have picked up both mass and speed.

Leave a Reply