Solve the Biggest Problem in Sight
Here’s my thoughts about what “solving the biggest problem in sight” actually means.
When the Values Were Written on Index Cards
At first, I was intimidated by discussing this value because I didn’t really understand it. With no bibliography for the values, I started with what I call the “proto-values”. A handful stood out to me that captured a bit of the essence of what the current value is trying to say.
I am a badass. I am better than everyone else at something we care about.
Being a badass here is about the Solve part of the value. A badass solves problems and produces output.
If I mess up, someone will tell me. This lets me go fast and be independent in a responsible way. I trust my team to give me honest feedback. They trust that I listen.
Solving the biggest problem in sight needs to be from your vantage point. If you’re misguided, trust that your team will pick you up and share context. No one should be blamed for trying to solve a problem and failing.
I disrupt myself, and by doing so, disrupt the company. It’s my responsibility to teach people around me the new things I learn.
This doesn’t mean much to me, but I think the idea is that over time you can grow to solve bigger problems across more domains because you become more of a generalist. Your perspective on what the biggest problem is will evolve over time.
Ask for forgiveness instead of permission
This one is problematic, but the idea is that you should act using your judgment, instead of the approval of others. It’s important to engage with stakeholders and build consensus around ideas, but if you’re ever blocked by waiting for someone else, we’re doing something wrong.
Reasoning by Analogy
With some foundation in what the value is trying to say, I started to deduce generally true things from the value. If the value is a first principle these are the next set of things that must be true, or at least will help bring the value into focus.
It’s not an excuse to navel gaze
Solving the biggest problem in sight can be interpreted as waiting for the biggest problem in sight to manifest, or debating the relative size of problems. Doing so would be in direct contradiction with another value—bias towards action. Hence this value should not be interpreted as a need to determine the size of problems, nor prioritize problems at all!
It cannot be condemnation of trying and failing
If the value was intended to make sure we’re always focusing on the biggest problem in sight it would contradict with the Inhabit your learning zone value. Inhabiting your learning zone implies that you are solving problems that you don’t have full insight into.
Someone telling you what the biggest problem is should raise red flags
Someone telling you what to work on because they have more “insight” into the problems contradicts with our overall company philosophy of diversity and inclusion. We value diverse perspectives and the collective experience of everyone on the team. The best someone else can do is share perspective (aka context), so that you can both judge a problem from the same footing. Each individual’s perspective will shape how big they think the problem is.
It helps me to focus on just one word Solve. As long as you’re working hard, thinking critically, and focusing on quality, the “biggest problem in sight” comes naturally. We run into problems when you are working on something because somebody else told you it was a problem, or you think that your contribution will make someone else think more highly of you.
Inspiration from Extreme Programming
The most important thing on a project is good leadership; the least important thing is who leads. Leadership and management are two very different things. Leadership is about seeing a problem then getting people together to solve it. Any team member who knows enough to foresee a problem also knows enough to lead the solution. It is your responsibility to do so.
The Extreme Progamming school does a great job of sticking to the fundamentals of Agile without prescribing process.
In this post I walked through some proto-values that may have led to this value being formed, some deductive statements that I believe this value gives rise to, and some inspiration from outside in the form of Extreme Programming.
The value adds the following subtext:
A role is simply a vantage point from which to strike out. Step up to the largest challenges and address them head on.
Remember that you are empowered to own that vantage point, and as long you are striking out (biasing towards action), you’re living the value. Your ability to tackle the largest challenges will develop over time, but in the short run, trusting your gut, and believing in yourself is not only the best thing you can do, it’s the only thing that you can do.