Locks and Keys





Problems and solutions are very much like locks and keys. Every lock has a key that works with that lock and that lock alone. Every problem has a solution that is for that problem only.

However, there are keys that will fit in a lock, not unlock it, but block another key from working with the lock. We see this in our physiology, we can take a drug that blocks a hormone from interacting with a cell—beta blockers do this.

The problem we often see is that humans—especially Americans—are driven to find solutions to problems.

Solving a Problem.

We have a solution bias—“if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”—we want to solve a problem, unlock the lock. When we have a solution bias we’ll rummage through our solutions—keys—until we find one that fits the lock, and inadvertently we may block the “real” solution to the problem from solving it. The issue with this is that while every problem has a solution the opposite is also true, every solution has a problem.

We can describe this as P1S1 where problem one has solution one, they are paired. Not every key opens every lock. On the flip side every solution has a problem associated with it as well—thinking with a solution bias we don’t realize this.

When we apply the wrong solution to a problem it’s only a matter of time until the solution’s problem arises. And it may happen that the solution’s problem doesn’t arise until a time when we are too invested in the solution to extricate ourselves from it. (Using alcohol or drugs as a means to relieve mental or physical pain…).

Problem Solving

The opposite of solution bias is problem bias. In this case we look into the problem until the solution arises. This can be very frustrating for the solution+ biased individual or team. But in the long run—the time factor is important—this approach generally mitigates the problem of the wrong solution’s problem arising.

But one may not have the time to dig into a problem for it’s solution and something more expedient is required. In this case we may have to take a risk and put some duck tape on to band aid the problem—the implication of a band aid is something temporary.

I recently had an encounter with a solution’s problem. A friend wanted to borrow my tractor, it’s been sitting in a shed all winter or longer. When I went to start it the battery was dead, to be expected, that’s why I have a battery charger. I take the battery out and charge it a little. Put it back in the tractor and it still won’t turn over. Out with the battery, back on the charger this time over night. Put the battery back in, lights come on but the tractor won’t start. So, off I go to buy a new battery. Put that one in and still not starting! Then I realize that the gear shift is not in neutral! Shift the tractor starts and I’m $100 poorer. I solved the wrong problem!

The take away from this post is to try and avoid a solution bias in favor of a problem bias. Spend some time taking your problem apart until it’s solution shows itself, don’t solve the problem let it solve itself. If you have to put on a band aid make sure you remember to pull it off and address the problem again.