William Liao

July 19, 2021

Whose problem is it?

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” – Dr. Suess

Yesterday when I arrived to my hotel that I booked through Expedia a month in advance, the attendant at the counter informed me that she did not have any rooms available for me. 

There was no forewarning about this issue; I was shocked. 

My immediate thought was: well, who is going to make this right? 

When I asked the attendant what options I had given the situation, she pointed me to couple other hotels I could try staying at which would be significantly more expensive (definitely don’t recommend same-day booking if you can avoid it) but otherwise there was nothing else she could do. 

It wasn’t her problem to solve. 

My next instinct was to call Expedia to see if they could make things right. After 15 minutes on the wait line (not too bad), the customer service rep told me they would need to have me speak with another representative and put me on the wait line again. 

45 minutes later, I got kicked off the call.

By that time, I was on the verge of running late to the wedding that was in town for so I gave up on trying to get help from Expedia. 

Their call centers were overloaded, there’s wasn’t time to deal with my circumstance. It wasn’t their problem.

In the end, I ended up getting a room at a nearby hotel. I came to terms with paying the price difference and made the wedding on time (hurray!). Finally — finally !— the problem was solved.

Now that I’ve had some time to cool off (word of advice: judgments/assessments you make when you’re angry cannot be trusted), I find myself reflecting on the situation and asking myself: whose problem was it to solve? Was it the hotel’s? Was it Expedia’s? Was it mine?

In the end, I’ve concluded that it was mine simply because out of the 3 parties involved I was the most (by far, it would seem) incentivized to achieve resolution. 

Having said that, having the largest stake in a problem doesn’t mean you’re stuck having to solve all problems by yourself. In another version of reality Expedia or the hotel I booked could’ve intervened and helped solve the problem. Helping hands are always welcome and possible, the help just isn’t guaranteed

The broader implication: all else being equal, the probability of an entity solving a problem is directly proportional to the stake it believes it has in the problem’s resolution. The entity or entities with the highest stake in the problem’s resolution represent the best chance possible for the problem to get solved. 

If there is a problem you really care about solving, then it’s best to assume you have among the highest stakes in solving it, to seek others who care as much as you do, and to take responsibility in overseeing the problem’s resolution. To not do so would create the risk of leaving the problem in lesser incentivized hands who may very well choose to not solve the problem at all.