The Silver Bullet

Its been a few weeks since Sandy Hook and I have to get something off my chest that was nagging me before and really came to the forefront of my thoughts after Sandy Hook. Now I don’t know the reason and I am as guilty as anyone, but we (humans it would seem) have this voracious appetite for solving complex problems with a single fire silver bullet. With Sandy Hook that silver bullet was gun control and if you made the issue a little more complex, gun control and dealing with mental illness. I will not use this space to argue for or against gun control other than saying I found it tragic that within a 24 hour span Sandy Hook happened and in China a man savagely stabbed 22 children and what seemed to make China less tragic in the eyes of the media was that most of the children lived (if not all). That 22 children didn’t die at the mercy of an assault rifle to me is trivial (to you maybe not so and I accept that) but should certainly be part of the discussion on gun control. What digs into my mental rib cage and pokes my inner sensibilities is that the factors surrounding the Sandy Hook event are so complex and are insurmountable in quantity that any one piece of legislation is going to be as effective as fighting for peace. Its not even a ‘step’ in my mind towards a solution. There are philosophical, psychological, social factors at play along with global issues like overpopulation and unsustainable economic models that even if you solve the Sandy Hook killer’s problem, its not going to end the savagery we see in our own backyards and the backyards of our neighbours, allies and enemies.

This does not mean that we ought to simply throw our arms up in despair and say ‘Fuck It!’. In fact, throwing legislating gun control at the problem seems to me more of a cop out than anything. Instead of trying to solve the problem (the silver bullet) right now, we need to work the way nature works or the way we learn, which is through a process. That process won’t be clean, it won’t be straightforward and won’t happen tomorrow and all those things are for some reason incredibly difficult for us to swallow and makes very difficult working conditions. It also means not focusing on the problem itself but looking at the systems in place even if they don’t seem linked.

Example: Howard Stern (like him or not won’t change the example) was talking the other day and made this suggestion. Stop the war on drugs. Legalize drugs. Take the money from legalization and throw it at helping the less fortunate access mental health care. Not gonna happen but thats a great example of looking outside the problem (the war on drugs) and evaluating the system (federal budgets). In addition, part of the solving the problem is to put feedback loops into the surrounding systems to monitor some of the influencing factors that simply give you better information about the issues at play.

So enough Sandy Hook and let me turn this into how this applies to my world. In education, training and development our silver bullet is the course. A client of mine has asked us to build a course that will help increase sales of a product they sell. This is kinda an easy one for most of us, where we go back to the client to say, I’m not sure we can increase sales through training alone. My approach however, isn’t to go back to say I can’t increase sales through building a course. Rather, I can influence and monitor some of the factors and systems that play into sales while providing tools that are linked to the environment in which sales happen.

Example: Instead of training employees, provide customer education programs. Provide sales journals that allow sales people to see where they excel and where they don’t and what influences customers (Are they better with different socio-economic demographics? Do sales happen more frequently on a Thursday than any other day)

Even with this, there are factors I simply won’t be able to influence (Ex: Compensation packages) but which if given access to the right information, I can help the organization understand what influence these might have.

There is no silver bullet. We have to really fight with ourselves and with the people around us to step back and get comfortable with an unnatural tendency to stop solving the problem right now. Let the pain sit, absorb the complexity, and work at a system level before tackling the ‘problem’, ‘gap’ or ‘pain’.

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