On our cross-Canada road trip we had a LOT of time in the vehicle. Sometimes the kids were “plugged in” to their music so Denise and I had some good chats.
One conversation that came up is why people might not find me to be the most enjoyable person to be around. It turns out I can be perceived as a pretty critical guy. And nobody wants to be around a critical person.
I cannot deny it. I criticize things. Often. We discussed that for a while and I shared something with Denise that helped her see that fact about me from a somewhat different perspective.
At heart, I am a problem solver.
If you are not a problem solver by nature then I’d like you to imagine how you might view the world differently if you were a problem solver. Put on your thinking caps.
If you are wired to solve problems like I am then the most exhilarating thing in life is that moment when a problem gets solved. The basis of my love for solving problems is this idea I have (and I think most of us have) that there is a certain way the world ought to be. I have a deeply rooted desire to make this world as magnificent as it has the potential to be. I see the glorious potential and I also see that which stands in the way of having that potential realized.
This was the motivation behind the RazerLift, for instance. And it is the motivation behind some of my other physical solutions to physical problems, as well as much of my blogging and other writing.
So here’s where you need to make sure your thinking cap is firmly attached to your head. If I delight in finding ways of improving the world (some large, most small) by solving various problems, what do you think I am especially attuned to observing in the world around me that, perhaps, other people might not see quite so readily?
If you guessed, “problems,” then you were right. I naturally see problems. And when I see those problems, they really grate on me. They nag at me, right down to my very core. Every problem I see is another barrier preventing this world from being as wonderous as it could be; as it ought to be.
I am wired to solve problems – in the interest of making the world a better place – which means I am wired to see problems in the first place. And, in fact, I am wired to see problems that perhaps other people might overlook. What good is the skill of problem solving if you can’t find problems to solve; the skill of solving the problems and the skill of finding the problems go hand in hand. And the better one is at solving problems, the better one will tend to be at finding them in the first place.
Can you imagine how that “skill” of mine might lead to some, shall we say, problems? If I see problems everywhere I look and other people do not naturally see problems, then if I want to make the world a better place I sometimes need to help other people see that there are certain problems that require attention. They might not even be aware of the problems in the first place, since they are not wired to solve problems.
And, unfortunately, a lot of the problems out there require team effort, so if I truly want to do that which I’m wired to do, I need to get other people on board. I need to persuade them to see a problem that they don’t naturally see and might, perhaps, not really want to see in the first place.
Pointing to problems is inherently critical in nature. Hence, I am seen as being a critical person.
Which, technically, is perfectly true. I am critical. I see, and point out, problems that other people probably don’t even see. I’m like the dentist; all they ever do is look for cavities. And who likes to visit the dentist? Nobody. Ever.
And yet, we still visit the dentist. In fact, we pay them an arm and a leg to poke around in our mouths and tell us everything that’s wrong. Then we pay them even more money to subject us to the unpleasant process of getting a filling for our cavities.
Same thing with home inspectors; their entire job is to find problems that we might not see before we invest a whole bunch of money in a house we want to buy.
And mechanics; they also find problems.
There is an important role for for problem solvers in society. We will almost never be the life of the party, and in many cases we may be misunderstood as extremely negative people who never have anything nice to say. Hopefully I haven’t gotten that bad.
But please understand this about myself and other problem solvers in your life; our intentions are for a better world. Like you, we care about making the world a better place. The difference, though, is that we see problems that other people miss, or are blind to because of social pressures like political correctness, tradition or maybe just because “we’ve always done it that way.”
I may – in fact, I probably do – come across as a critical guy, but my criticism is squarely rooted in my desire to see improvement in the world. Like the dentist, I actually have your best interest at heart.
Now, open wide…
And if you made it all the way to the end of this article you deserve to be rewarded with a joke about engineers and their problems solving tendencies.