Intellectuals solve problems, geniuses prevent them

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The title of this blog is a quote attributed to Albert Einstein, who many people regard as a genius, and his words neatly encapsulate the best way to solve problems.

Many advisors and consultants provide a valuable services to their clients. They tend to come from a range of industries, with skills and experience in their field, offering solutions to problems that exist in organisations. 

Consultants often help improve organisations by assessing weaknesses and making recommendations. Working alongside the executive and trustees, a good consultant can see though a problem and help make decisions by providing the answers.

Providing an answer is all well and good, but it is possibly the wrong way to look at the problem. Take a charity that has a Chief Executive, Finance Director, Chairman and Trustees, who are overseeing the day-to-day operations and providing strategic vision for the organisation. They sensibly outsource functions that the team cannot manage in-house, such as banking, audit, legal, IT and fund management. But who is co-ordinating these professional advisors?

At times, great value can be gained by bringing in an independent organisation or person to solve a particular problem, give impartial advice and the answer. However, the first fault generally begins with the answer. Human nature predictably defaults to looking at the problem and providing an answer. We are programmed to be subjective. Consultants and advisors are no different and in many cases are restricted in giving a truly independent opinion. So the solution to the problem is often framed to the answer and the job is done. But is it? 

It is better to ask some of the questions than to know all the answers. The best method to solve a problem is to appreciate a situation. This is achieved by looking at all the issues an organisation faces and asking the right questions. Faced with a problem, all too often a Board will rely on a particular member or advisor to come up with the answer.  This is often due to the fact that they don’t know the question or are too afraid to admit that they don’t understand the problem, let alone the question.

While a Board can delegate certain functions, they ultimately have a collective responsibility, a legal duty for the running of the organisation and making decisions. Not making a decision, as the problem is too difficult, is a decision in itself and it is usually the wrong decision!

To have an objective evaluation of the problem, you should ask the right questions. Working through a list of questions by assessing the issues will provide answers, which will form several alternative solutions to the problem. It is only at this point that the correct cause of action can be taken. If that solution doesn’t subsequently work, the Board has already taken the necessary assessment to amend the plan as it evolves.

It is the Board that has the legal responsibility to provide the answers and act upon them. A good advisor provides the questions.