The Problem Problem

We have a problem with problems. We’re not very good at recognising them. But, on the other hand, we’re brilliant at symptoms. Give us a symptom, and we’re all over it because there’s money to be made from symptoms. We spent 1.26 trillion dollars on pharmaceuticals last year, up 43% on a decade earlier, and it’s forecast to increase to 1.595 trillion by 2024 – up another 27% in four years. The most significant categories address lifestyle issues, from obesity to mental health. There is far more money to be made from symptoms than problems – much less money to be made from healthy people than from selling the illusion of health to ill people.

The same is true of business. In pursuit of endless growth, we promote “scale” as a virtue, and end up with mass mediocrity rather than the true excellence of products and services that combine “enough” with function and beauty. Scale is a godsend to those in the symptom alleviation business – the pressure of scale and its complexity create a breeding ground for symptoms. We cannot move for symptoms created by combining extended supply chains with complex products (4000 chips in the average new car) and finite resources. It creates opportunities for arbitrage, consultancy, and corruption without improving the lives of 99% of the population. It is the closest we get to perpetual motion.

Our love affair with the scientific method has brought us immense short term wealth at the possible, even probable, cost of our extinction. We are so busy analysing symptoms thinking that they are problems that we cannot see the real issues. We have become willfully blind. 

We mock more ancient traditions for their primitive approaches to understanding the world. Still, we are beginning to realise that their approaches to understanding life have much to offer that we have lost, and we would do well to reintegrate them into our lives. Of course, it might play hell with the pharmaceutical and consultancy markets, amongst others, but I can live with that. 

As we occupy our day with the busyness of objectives, goals, KPIs and performance appraisals, consider the questions that would be asked of you in previous, slower times. (These examples taken from the “Star Maiden” map of the medicine wheel of North American Indian Tradition):

  • What cries out to be expressed by my spirit?
  • What arouses my curiosity and adventure?
  • How do I balance and maintain the energies of my life?
  • What does my heart say the next step is and how?
  • What am I here to learn?
  • What is my present concept of myself?

I guess that for most, these topics will not be on the agenda of the meetings you attend today, yet they are fundamental. They address the problem of our lives, not the symptoms.

We are at a choice point. We can continue to accelerate the hamster wheel existence of addressing symptoms, or we can get off for a moment and consider the real problems we face as we seek to define the opportunity represented by each of our lives.

As with any addiction, going “cold turkey” on consumerism is painful, but necessary to avoid an even more painful decline to extinction.

It’s time to address the problem.

Enough for today. I’ll move on to thoughts about addressing the problem on Friday.

One response to “The Problem Problem”

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