Do you own your problems, or do they own you?

Thomas Flynn
Author: Tom Flynn Professional Services Manager
Date: 19th October 2017
Categories: Data, Telecoms, Revenue Assurance, Fraud protection, RA, Optimus, Neural Technologies

There's a telling anecdote about Elon Musk’s approach to problem solving in his 2015 biography by Ashley Vance.  One of Tesla’s employees leaked sensitive information to the press, criticizing the company anonymously.  It was not apparent who the staff member was, but Tesla needed to identify the individual to ensure the leaks did not continue.  When HR and area managers failed to identify the leaker, the CEO took matters into his own hands.  

He identified the sender by copying the text of the letter into a Word document, printing it out, and comparing the size of the printed file against the printer logs for files of the same size.  In the end the guilty employee in question would write another letter; this time it was a letter of apology, at the time of his resignation.  

What is striking about this story is the approach Musk took to problem solving.  Where some might surrender to a problem like this, Musk found a way.  Don't tell him that you can't meet a deadline, get the costs down, or solve a sticky engineering problem, as he's been known to fire staff for such statements and just take over their work.  As his biographer recounts, he would say 'Fine, you are off the project.  I will do your job and be the CEO of two companies, at the same time.  I will deliver it.'  And he actually would, every time.

This is about mindset.  Musk really wants to solve these problems, as he is following a vision larger than himself.  Therefore, he is NEVER just going through the motions.  He is consistently applying force of will to what needs to be done, and in a way most professionals have no access to.  The result is that he has something of a cult following among his employees and technophiles in general.

If you have heard of the 40% Rule before, you will understand that Musk is totally killing it.  The 40% rule, as outlined by author Jesse Itzler, explains that most people tend to give up around 40% of their actual capacity.  We almost always have a lot more in the tank at the point which we think we are tapped out.  If, however, we can push through to nearer our full capacity, we dramatically improve our ability to respond.  Given that the 40% limiter is unconsciously accepted across the board, pushing out of that rut is a sure way to stand out, even if you’re not particularly talented.

And I wouldn’t necessarily advocate this in terms of “working harder,” (which doesn’t matter if you’re working on the wrong things).  Rather, the 40% Rule helps us recognize where we are being cognitively lazy; where we are failing to execute.  When we give in to the status quo, is it because the problem truly cannot be solved, or are we surrendering to our conditioning?  Is it an unsolvable problem, or is it our own lack of imagination?

In fact, there’s a name for this.  It’s called the Einstellung Effect.  The Einstellung Effect is when you have made up your mind about how to solve a problem, to the extent that your selection prevents you from seeing other, possibly better, solutions.  When stuck in the Einstellung Effect we can even give up before we really get started.  If the approach to problem solving we’ve selected seems blocked, we’re done. 

In the end how we approach problems is a choice either for, or against, victimhood.  If we keep our sphere of control very small and defer from making real contributions, it may reduce our anxiety.  But the point is to stretch.  Push your ability to solve problems further and further into the unknown, and you can meet others out in that space that are ready to pitch in and make a true impact.  If you try and then fail, you have lost nothing.  But, if you do not try at all, you have lost your chance to know a greater version of yourself.