The Benefits To Brain Damage Ratio

We’ve got a lot of issues, but mainly four types:

1. Same problem, same day

2. Same problem, different day

3. New problem, same day

4. New problem, different day

When looking for solutions, we want to consider what Wes Gray calls (paraphrased), “the benefits to brain damage ratio.” In other words, we want to put in enough effort to receive a benefit, but not to think so hard that we’ll cause brain damage.

“Same problems” can be handled with systems, algorithms, and “best practices.” These help us to know how to respond when today’s problems occur again tomorrow. Usually they require more brute force than mental effort, and are therefore a low risk for causing brain damage.

“New problems” require us to slow down, hold the brute force back, and actually apply some mental effort. New problems require thought, and are therefore a higher risk for causing brain damage.

Where it gets problematic is when we realize that sometimes “same problems” deserve, or even require, “new problem” level thought. The seeds of failure are planted by owners/managers/assistants-to-the-regional-manager who, for fear of brain damage or outright laziness, deny this reality.

Sometimes we’ll find that a “same problem” needs to be treated as a “new problem,” just like sometimes a “new problem” can be reduced to a variation of a “same problem.” In all cases, if we can envision a potential benefit, we should consult Wes’ ratio, and if it makes sense, roll up our sleeves and get to thinking. Again, beware of the owners/managers/assistants-to-the-regional-managers who want to maintain the status quo and reduce everything to a “same problem.”

Their behavior is usually predictable because time has a cost. If we can train ourselves to see that cost an investment, then we can make a lot of good use out of those “same” and “new” problems. If we can’t, it might save us from the cost now, but the cost to catch up later can become insurmountable.

We’ve got a lot of issues. There will never be a shortage of them floating around. However, last time I checked, solving problems are still where all of the opportunities are.

By focusing on limiting our own brain damage, we can focus on the problems where we can get the best return on our own time investment. That way we can deliver real benefits to those we work with and for.

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