“Don’t bring me problems; bring me solutions.” If you’ve been in the business world for a while, you’ve most likely heard the phrase plenty. Companies believe the phrase helps inspire employees to take initiative and solve problems. It should cut complaining and focus people on finding solutions to their problems. The problem is, it’s bad for business.
The Bad Thing About “Don’t Bring Me Problems; Bring Me Solutions”
The idea behind saying “Don’t bring me problems; bring me solutions” seems like a good one on the surface. We don’t want people simply complaining about issues in the workplace. If they find a problem, they should take the time to think of ways they can solve it, before coming to management or others. It seems like a good way to look at things. But it’s bad for your company culture.
When employees are told not to bring up problems unless they have solutions, you create a workplace where people don’t want to speak up. Adam Grant, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and author of Originals: How Non-Conformists Move The World, says that while businesses believe the phrase empowers employees to take initiative, it instead teaches them not to speak up about a need, unless they have a proposal to fix it. “When you ask for solutions, you create a culture of advocacy, rather than a culture of inquiry,” Grant says. “Most creativity, most innovation happens when somebody points out a problem that’s not yet been solved.
I once worked for a company that embraced the “Don’t bring me problems; bring me solutions” mantra to the point of including it in their initial training for every employee. We were told that we must have a suggested solution ready if we were wanted to voice it to management. Rather than encourage problem solving, this policy made it so most simply ignored problems they saw. Not surfacing problems, being open to discussing them and finding solutions ultimately caused many people to leave the company and left them wondering why people hadn’t come to them when they saw issues or when they were unhappy.
The phrase does more harm than good and tends to make people reluctant to share problems they see, which can then be addressed by the larger team. It’s bad for a healthy workplace and one looking to foster a culture of inquiry and innovation.
So What’s The Better Way?
If you want to build a workplace where people innovate, inquire, and find solutions to hard questions, you need to make it a place where those things are safe to bring into the open. It shouldn’t be just okay but actually encouraged to bring problems to the team. Once those problems are recognized, you can use the collective brain power of the entire team (or smaller groups and task forces) to solve them.
Making it safe to identify problems, even if you don’t have a solution, means a single person isn’t tasked with solving everything themselves. Maybe what one person recognizes as an issue, another hadn’t noticed but has a solution to offer. Until you make your company a place where problems can be identified without the immediate requirement for a solution, you’ll never know much you could solve or how many problems lay and wait.
Create A Company Of Inquiry
If you want to build a place where inquiry and innovation are abundant then “Don’t bring me problems; bring me solutions” has to go. It does nothing but keep problems and creative solutions locked away. It puts unnecessary stress on those that notice things they may not have the answers for, and it makes the workplace an unsafe place to grow and explore.
Do away with “Don’t bring me problems; bring me solutions” and make your company a place that fosters open thought and open conversations, even about problems. You may not have a solution to everything right now, but together, you can come up with far better answers.