The “Smart Loves Problems” TV Ad — But What Does Fear Do to Smart?


This ad caught my attention while watching a little bit of Monday Night Football this week.

It's an IBM ad titled “Smart Loves Problems.”

The ad's voiceover says, in part:

“Problems. It's human nature to hate problems. But why is that? After all, problems inspire us to mend things, end things, make things better. To rewrite the rule books, the history books. And future books.

Problems even got us to the Moon and back, on one tank of gas. And who knows where they'll take us next?”

It's thought provoking… but I'm not sure I agree with all of it.

It might be true that “smart loves problems,” but it might also be said that “brave loves problems” or “fear makes smart hate problems.”

In my experience, it's not” human nature” to hate problems. I think it is human nature to hate how others respond to problems.

People hate being blamed for systemic problems that aren't their fault. People hate being yelled at for problems. People hate being “empowered” to solve problems that are out of their control.

As I quoted John Dyer, from our upcoming podcast, the other day:

“Fear causes good people to do stupid things.”

John Dyer

I agree that problems “inspire us” to “make things better.” That is, if the culture of the organization doesn't make them hate problems.

There are many problems worth solving in healthcare, such as the patient safety crisis — a crisis that's been a crisis forever, it seems. People in healthcare are driven to solve those problems — if their organization will let them solve them, which starts with being able to admit they exist.

As the famous Toyota expression goes, “No problems is a problem.”

Problems are a fact. How we react to them is a choice. And that choice is influenced by our environment…


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Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

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