Don't Ignore the Nudges
All problems are not equal. Some will bite you. Some just nudge you. Those nudges are worthy of more
There are two types of problems, acute and chronic, with two distinct warnings signs and different methods of
solving them. You need to be aware of both and how to deal with them. You may already know about the first type.
But knowing how to identify and solve the second type will provide greater benefit for you and your
The acute problem is most common. You don't need to go looking for it. It usually rears up and bites you on the
rear. The acute problem appears suddenly, gets lots of attention and demands immediate action. Two classic examples
are a warehouse fire or an angry customer.
The chronic problem is less recognized but more important. The chronic problem builds slowly - so slowly that we
often get used to the slight discomfort. We even make excuses for it or ignore it. Even if discovered, the chronic
problem tends to attract controversy and experts who refute the problem. They claim that there is no proof, 'that
this is not a real problem yet'. We have examples of this in smoking, global warming and stock piling of used
The existence of the acute problem is irrefutable. In the hi-tech world we could call it digital - on or off. No
one questions the reality of the problem. The question is, how do you fix it and how fast?
Solving an acute problem takes a tactical approach and centers on damage control. The Titanic striking an iceberg
was an acute problem - real, immediate and demanding time sensitive action. There is no question this was important
at the moment. The solution demands action. There is little time for thinking and no need for finesse but a high
need for quick and noticeable results. In the movie and TV series of the same name, M.A.S.H., they never did fancy
surgery - they just saved lives.
Reaction time is important. Reacting to acute problems is best handled with prepared tools and rehearsed methods.
There is little time to think. You must react. Firefighters react quickly because they have practised their
methods. They don't need to 'solve' the problem of putting out fires - they just kick the plan into action. There
is no time to focus on solving the problem of fires - just making this one go away.
The real danger is chronic problems. Why? They are the cause of all acute problems and they often are disguised.
They are more analog than digital.
An association suddenly loses money, or a company suddenly lays off 1,000 people. When we say 'suddenly' it seems
to absolve everyone of responsibility. The Titanic disaster was avoidable - yet why did 'they' let it happen.
The reality is that nothing happens suddenly. There were decisions or non-decisions and signs along the way before
things went over the cliff. We see the signs. We choose to ignore them, or pretend they are no threat. Eventually
the chronic problem that we had the most time to think about and most choices with erupts into an acute problem
that leaves us few choices and demanding immediate action. The Captain of the Titanic had many choices before he
struck the iceberg - few after.
Chronic problems are the root of all acute problems, while acute problems are merely the symptoms of chronic
problems. Digging into every acute problem will uncover an underlying chronic problem. Yet dealing with symptoms,
acute problems, often gets the most attention and resources. There is no question that acute problems must be
handled. But the reality is that as long as the chronic problem is unaddressed the acute problems will happen
again. When we spend time correcting acute problems we are not solving the real problem - we are simply putting a
band-aid on it.
The true innovators are those who recognize the chronic problems before they become acute problems. Innovators act
to create a new market or take their company in a new direction. The pundits who are rooted in the past and base
their popular opinion on acute proof may down-play the innovators' ideas. The innovators will sometimes be wrong.
But the pundits will never be right.
Everything in the history of Lotus 123 said they were on course. Yet their best year was the last year before they
were overwhelmed by Microsoft with Excel and the MS Office software suite. Once Lotus was hit with the acute
problem it was too late. They should have been looking for the chronic problem of computer users wanting to move
information between different applications.
If you are busy fighting forest fires, find a way to put them on hold. And more importantly seek out and address
the chronic problem behind the acute problems. Make it your responsibility to expose the lurking chronic problems
and strategize your attack before it can raise its ugly head to bite you.
George Torok brings practical insights to business. He is co-author of Secrets of Power Marketing, the first
guide to personal marketing for the non-marketer. As host of Business in Motion he has interviewed over 400
business leaders. He is available to deliver keynote speeches and business seminars. Contact him at 905-335-1997 or
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