Beware the Solutionist Professional!

“She felt the excitement of solving problems, the insolent delight of taking up a challenge and disposing of it.” – Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

One of deleterious effects of the billable hour, as we at VeraSage call them, is the propensity to entice professionals into practicing solutionism. This is a term I have coined to describe the condition wherein a professional provides a solution for a customer, not for the benefit (i.e., value) of the customer, but, rather, solely for the purpose of solving the problem.

Solutions, in and of themselves have no inherent value. It is only when the solution is applied to a current problem or potential needed result that the solution derives value. The trouble with the billable hour is that it often leads professionals astray at the expense of the customer.

Let me explain by providing an example.

A customer comes to a professional with a current problem or requirement, for example, a seemingly needed new report that they, the customer, could not develop on their own. The customer will ask, “So, how much will that be?” The solutionist professional will take the customer’s view of the problem as sacrosanct with no additional inquiry and respond as follows, “About 8 hours.”

Strangely, the professional did not even answer the question. Rather, he responded with a nonsensical time estimate leaving the customer to remember the professional’s billing rate and do the calculation in her head. “Oh, so $1,400. Your rate is $175 an hour right?”

“Yes, $175 an hour, so about $1,400,” he echoes. Notice his restatement of the estimate by repeating the word about.

“Ok, do it,” the customer replies.

Now, it begins to get interesting. The professional in his zeal attacks the report like a hungry shark. What motivates him is the challenge to solve the problem, not the value to the customer, but his own desire to be the hero. For some professionals, myself included on some occasions, the feeling of solving the problem is as addictive as crack cocaine. It is truly an adrenaline rush and we need our fix. This is the essence of solutionism.

In this example, let’s say that the report takes twice as long as the estimate to create. The professional sees no problem in this and gives the solution to the customer. The customer accepts the solution and is happy with the results, until, two weeks later, when the bill arrives.

“Hey, what’s this bill for $2,800 for?” she questions.

“For the report you asked for, remember?”

“You said it would be $1,400.”

“I said it would be about $1,400.”

“Ok, fine, explain to me how $2,800 is even close to $1,400.” And, so it goes.

The sad part is that the professional asking a few more questions upfront probably could have prevented this whole thing. The professional should have “moved off the solution” as Mahan Khalsa says, by saying, “We do those kinds of reports all the time, but I was wondering what is driving the need for this report?”

One of two possible outcomes would follow this question. The customer and professional would examine this presenting problem and find what the value of the solution really is. If the solution has, at least some value, then they could come to an agreement on price or, if value could not be found, the customer and the professional would agree that the solution is not worth pursuing. The solutionist professional fears this latter scenario, not necessarily because it means no work, but because it means no solution. No solution, no fix!

Beware the solutionist professional!

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