Critical Thinking and “Don’t bring me problems—bring me solutions.”

There’s a common saying among managers: “Don’t bring me problems—bring me solutions.” Whether it’s a good saying or not is questionable, and probably depends a lot on the situation. (For critiques of the saying, see here and here.)

Recently on the question-and-answer website Quara, someone asked “From the perspective of a CEO, what are the most underrated skills most employees lack?”. The most-voted-for answer, from LiveRamp CEO, Auren Hoffman, consisted of two bits of advice “Doing what you tell people you will do” and “Keep track of yourself.” Good advice.

But I was interested in another of the top answers, namely this one from Oliver Adria: “Think first. Go to the CEO with solutions, not with problems.”

Whatever qualms there might be with “Don’t bring me problems—bring me solutions” as something for managers to tell employees, it is still probably pretty good general advice to you as an employee. Even if your boss doesn’t (and perhaps shouldn’t) insist on solutions only, it’s likely that you’ll do well not to make a habit of always going to her with your problems and expecting her to solve them.

But what really caught me eye about Adria’s response on Quara was that he differentiated between simply telling your boss what you think the solution is, and explaining to your boss what the best solution is and why it’s a good solution

Here, in Adria’s words, is what you say when you ‘Go to CEO with solutions:’

“I think Action A will be the best way to go about it, based on X, Y and Z. Action B would be a viable alternative, because then we could do L, M, N.”

In other words, tell your boss about the critical thinking that has gone into the solution you’ve arrived at. Show that there are clear reasons for thinking your solution is the best one, and admit that there are alternatives that might be viable too.

Of course, explaining to your boss what the critical thinking you’ve done requires that you do some in the first place.

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Addendum: the two critiques I point to in the first paragraph, above, are worth looking at too. They’re good examples of critical thinking in action — taking aim at a seemingly-wise bit of management advice, and asking “really? is that really a good management slogan?”

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