It’s bedtime with a three-year-old and a five-year-old. They become wild animals the minute the clock strikes 8. And I hate it. More than I hate Microsoft Word, how quickly I wear out running shoes because I’m an extreme heel striker, or pumping gas when it’s freezing out.
Every night, I know it’s coming. And it feels like such a complicated problem because the kids have all the leverage. What can you take away when they misbehave at bedtime? Their pillow? Their nightlight? Please, I’m not a monster. What logical consequence can you apply? Time outs don’t work (“Time out from bedtime!”). Threatening stuff for tomorrow? Also not that effective, because it’s tomorrow, and their brains are cheesy blobs of not connecting right now with tomorrow.
It feels like a very, very complicated problem with a very, very simple answer: just go the [bleep] to sleep! (Listen to Samuel L. Jackson’s hilarious reading of the book named this—but don’t listen if you dislike bad language.)
So, we have a complicated problem (I’ll never figure this out!) with a simple answer (just sleep!). But what if it’s the other way around? A simple problem (the kids won’t go to sleep on time) with a complicated answer, (eat an earlier dinner and reduce their sugar, don’t watch crazy things on TV after dinner that get them hyped up, don’t engage them when they start with the whining and negotiating, etc. . . .).
It all still stinks. So what does flipping it around matter anyway, you’re asking? Well, I think it might matter. Actually, I know it does.
First of all, bedtime is sort of a stupid thing to write about. But as I sat down to write this newsletter about something else, I found myself in the middle of one of these cycles of 8 p.m. horribleness—so naturally, it popped into my mind. Why won’t these kids just go the bleep to sleep?
But here’s the deal: when you flip around what’s simple and what’s complicated, it gives you more power. With a complicated problem and a simple answer, you see the answer out there, so simple—yet so far away because the problem seems insurmountable. It’s all too complicated to begin with.
But when you reduce the problem itself to something simple and put the complication into the solution, it just becomes a simple problem with lots of options for solving it.
Let’s look at a better example from a new client I met with a few weeks ago. They are a great organization (a non-profit), but they are overwhelmed by what seems like this complicated problem: their brand is outdated, they are getting ready to start a capital campaign, and they don’t know how to talk about their competitive advantages in an increasingly competitive market, which is largely dominated by the fancy for-profits. The simple answer to this multi-faceted, complicated problem, it seems, is that they have to do a better job competing. But that simple answer leaves them stuck behind a wall of complication.
From my viewpoint, it’s actually the problem that is simple: their web site is just no good. Simple problem = bad web site.
Once we have that established, it’s so much easier to layer the “complication” (which isn’t really complication at all—it’s just steps) into the solution. As in, first, let’s create a BrandStory for you. Let’s get your messaging set, which will set you apart from your competitors. Let’s figure out how to cut costs by using a simple Wordpress template. Let’s find a designer who will work with a non-profit budget. Let’s think about how we can use the site to appeal to donors. Let’s think about what messaging can flow from the site and right into your capital campaign. Let’s think about what momentum we can create, just from talking about what you do in a much better, much cleaner, much more modern way. Yes, there is a lot of complexity in the answer. But at least we know exactly where to start.
Complicated solutions feel so much more active than complicated problems. At least to me. Maybe the whole thing is just semantics and trickery (I’m not above trickery). If I’m going to get stuck, let me get stuck in the solutions—not the problem itself. Because if I’m working through solutions—even if they are daunting and multi-step and not even guaranteed to work—at least I’m doing something, instead of just sitting there, staring down a complex problem, feeling inadequate because the simple solution is unreachable.
As for bedtime. Yeah, the best thing for that is for my kids not to be three and five anymore. But time travel is a truly complicated solution. So, for now, I’ll just try cutting out the cookie after dinner.