There are No Answers, Only Responses to Problems

"Don't you have an answer?"

"I want an answer!"

What a silly looking word, "answer". The "sw" in the middle just looks funny and yet has no meaning. There are a lot of other words that look and sound silly that start with "sw": swank, swath, sword, swear, swill. These words are a far cry from much more "sh" words: should, shall, shine, sharp, shrug...maybe you have a favorite four letter "sh" word that gets used when problems come up, but I digress. I suppose it is a matter of opinion!

Definition of the word "answers"
NOUN - A thing said, written, or done to deal with or as a reaction to a question, statement, or situation.
VERB - Say or write something to deal with or as a reaction to someone or something.

In other words, answers are reactions. We demand the NOUN and people unleash the VERBS. A question we could ask as lean thinkers is: are we reacting to, or resolving, problems when we get our answers? I think the answer is, it depends.

Unfortunately, too many times our demand for answers can make us look as silly as the word looks. 

Because all we are really doing is asking people to do something. Let's think before we react and demand our answers.

Definition of the word "response"
NOUN - the act of responding, or a reply or answer.

I think I'm beginning to prefer the word "response" over "answer". They are the same words, essentially, but a response can be wrong, less right, or better than the last. The same is true of "answer", but answers are often seen as definitive, the end of all, the decision or statement that allows us to move on to new business. Once we know the answer to our management problems created by humans, that's it right? Nothing else to do? No, that can't be! More problems will come up next week! Maybe even the same one! The organization keeps changing like a living system...perhaps there are no answers.

This definition of "response" speaks more to lean thinking:
NOUN - A reaction, as that of an organism or a mechanism, to a specific stimulus.

This definition gets us closer to where I'd prefer to be. Is our team working better together, like the mechanisms in a well tuned machine, where problems are easily detected, reported clearly and understood easily? Or are we guessing at what the problem is?

Rather than demand answers, why not start helping your team learn how to respond to the system that they need to navigate together? Ultimately, I want the team to make choices based on how they respond, so I no longer have to demand an answer.


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