William Liao

September 9, 2021

How to fall in love with the problem

In 2016, my manager (and now mentor) wrote “fall in love with the problem, not the solution” on a post-it note and promptly placed it just below the keyboard on my laptop that I’d just received from the IT department.

I was an infant in the world of professional work with a challenge-me attitude and a lot of energy to give. Putting that post-it note on my laptop was my manager’s way of reminding me daily where to focus my energy so that I would be happy in my role and be capable of creating value for our colleagues, company, and customers.

In the intervening years between 2016 and now, the importance of being problem-focused has only become more clear:

Where passion for a problem does not exist, it is often challenging to identify actions that people ought to take and to operate at full steam.

The reason why there isn’t passion for the problem is often because there isn’t sufficient context.

Here are 3 ways to generate context and make falling in love with a problem (and better work) possible:

  1. Write a brief, outcome-focused summary of what you do: “We save lives” is a lot more compelling than “we convert hospital system data into a common standard, conduct advanced analytics on patient outcomes, and recommend changes to treatment algorithms to save the most patients possible.”
  2. Connect every individual’s contributions to the outcome: the data science team generates the insights that hospitals need. The development team makes the insights accessible. The sales team helps deliver the right solution to suit each health care system’s needs.
  3. Be fanatical about #1 and #2: repeat at meetings, at the water cooler, and in e-mails (perhaps even in your signature). Day-to-day work can distract or detract; repetition creates continuity of focus and determination.

99% of the time, the root of suboptimal work isn’t a lack of motivation — it’s a lack of context, awareness, and the intrinsic incentives to do amazing work that those two things create.