The first rule of problem solving

Something surprising is surfacing throughout Western society and becoming more apparent to me every day. We, as a supposedly modern, educated, liberated, domesticated 1st world society, are outsourcing our responsibility.

To who? Well; anyone - so long as it is not us.
Responsibility for what? Well; just about any or everything.

What I have seen and experienced that leads me to this conclusion is a long list and once I point a few things out, you’ll see it all around you too. This is one of those things you can’t un-see.

I started noticing it a few years ago. In 2008 I was in Thailand on holiday. Arriving at Bangkok airport for my flight home, I was delayed because of hundreds of protesters seemingly laying siege to the airport. This was the beginning of a protest that would later turn violent. After camping at the airport for more than a day, I and a few others decided to leave the airport and make our way to the bus terminal and head to Malaysia and get a flight from there. It cost us additional airfares but we got home in good time. Time enough to see TV interviews with dozens of travelers complaining that their government wasn’t there to organize special flights and how their government wasn’t telling them what was going on. All this whilst sitting in the airport doing precious little about their predicament.

In my line of work (emergency management) I have had involvement with various government departments and diplomatic personnel. On numerous occasions I have had conversations with my various contacts in those departments regarding the phenomenon of travelers heading overseas and whether being unfortunately caught out by events or the victim of their own stupid behavior, expect a diplomat to magically appear and bail them out of trouble. More often than not they are only too willing to complain to the media about how someone else (their government) should be there to extricate them from another country’s legal system etc.

I recently encountered another local example of this growing trend during a training session that I conducted in a CBD hi-rise for the building’s emergency wardens. The attendees spent the first 20 minutes of what was supposed to be me training them, complaining about a false alarm three months prior to my visit that had resulted in the building being evacuated . The wash up resulted in me asking the group questions regarding the incident.

First question “You’re obviously very concerned with what happened and still pretty fired up about it some three months later, right?” Answer, “Yes."
Next question “So in the three months since, after you’ve noticed this problem that troubles you so much, what have you done about it?” Answer, “Nothing.”

This past week I have encountered wardens at another building that said they didn’t know which stairwell in their building was the North Stair and which was the South Stair. (Despite labeling on every stairwell door in 6” high lettering e.g. NORTH STAIR) Again, when asked what they had done about not knowing which stair was which? (for instance, by checking the evacuation diagrams displayed on every floor or reading the labeling on each stairwell door or even asking other wardens which stair was which etc.) The answer was again ….. “Nothing.”

We hold our Emergency Service and Law Enforcement personnel in high regard and we often look to Special Forces like Navy Seals and SAS in awe. These are people that have that special something to face adversity and against even the biggest odds, get the job done. Do they do it by whingeing and whining that someone else isn’t there fixing their problems? I very much doubt it.

We all admire movie heroes. Why? Generally the label ‘hero’ is awarded to the movie’s star who we watch overcome the obstacles of the movie’s plot. Whether that be physical action, emotional turmoil, suspense and investigation of a mystery and so on. More often than not the star overcomes dilemmas by taking action. Taking ownership of the problem and then doing something about it. Imagine if John McClaine had phoned CNN and complained that terrorists had spoiled the Christmas party atop Nakatomi Plaza after he’d flown across the country to attend. Would that movie have been a blockbuster if it had been called ‘Cry Hard’?

Time for Western society to stop outsourcing responsibility, take a teaspoon of cement and harden up. The first rule of problem solving? Own your problem and be the solution.

This article first appeared on Linkedin and has been reproduced here.

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