If you’re like me, you love solving problems. And you’re probably pretty confident that you can solve just about any problem. And that level of confidence is a good thing. But, where we often make a mistake is assuming that just because someone puts a so called problem in front of us, that it’s worth solving.

It’s just as easy to spend more on a solution than the problem costs.

Let’s say we have a problem that costs us $10,000, the following are all possible outcomes:

– The solution costs $15,000 to implement. Therefore, the solution costs more than the problem it offsets. In this case it would have been better to do nothing about the problem, or perhaps find an alternative solution.

– The solution costs ~$10,000 to implement, about what it offsets. In this case we break even.

– The solution costs $5,000 to implement. In this case the solution proves worthwhile.

If we had this information upfront we definitely would avoid solutions that lead to greater losses. And we probably would avoid breaking even, especially knowing costs tend to be underestimated. The only justifiable situation is the latter.

Of course we can’t know these costs precisely upfront. But we can get a feeling if the solution will cost a reasonable fraction of the problem it will offset.

But, to do that requires quantifying and qualifying what a problem costs. Furthermore, can we really call something a problem if we don’t know what it’s costing us?

If we leap to solutions when presented with a problem, we’re simply gambling that the problem is worth solving. Given the nature of the human mind, we shouldn’t take for granted that someone else will do the math for us. And it certainly won’t hurt to double check things. The best people to do this analysis are the people that will solve the problem. They’re the only ones that can derive potential solutions and determine potential costs.

And if the people solving a problem understand what it’s worth to fix the problem they can consider alternatives. This consideration is what leads to picking the solution with the greatest likelihood of success, not just to ameliorate but also in terms of the margin for error in cost.

Never take for granted a problem is worth solving. Take a step back and figure out what solving it is worth. Then plow forward with the solution that fits the constraints. You’re much less likely to wind up with an undesirable outcome.