Photo by Tucker Good on Unsplash

The issue with solving big problems, say market share or racism, is we tend to think we need to solve them with one big fix. We often discount ideas when they aren’t the entire solution — more of an “all or nothing” approach. But problems are like a great meal — and no great meal is made up of a single component. Each is made up of lots of different ingredients and flavors. Heck, even water has two parts of H and one of O. And even if you like your steak “naked” as my dad likes to say, he still eats the meal with its classic side-kick of potatoes on which he likes to add salt and pepper.

Like ingredients that aren’t the whole dish, or seemingly even part of the final flavor, solutions have many parts. In theater the saying goes: there are no small parts, only small actors. What if we looked at problem-solving that way?

Take me, for instance; I don’t have the specific skills to help a company sell paper clips or harvest corn. I can discount my experience and say I have nothing I can add to help the productivity of these companies, but that would be dead wrong. I can be an incredible asset by helping them improve their reluctant leaders or repairing dysfunctional teams — both of which could destroy a company and have nothing to do with the sale of a product. I’m not everything. I am part. Sometimes I’m the whole Pesto Pasta and sometimes I’m just the Pesto, and sometimes, I’m just the basil in the Pesto. In either case, without me, you don’t have a complete dish. Are you losing your solutions because you are missing the subtle ingredients that make it so flavorful?

Some leaders are afraid they will be wrong — or worse, they will actually be changed if someone brings up a perspective that made them reconsider their original thinking. If you are worried certain ideas/players/flavors will overpower you or the solution, that’s fair. Too much salt is sure to ruin a great dish, but too little salt and you miss bringing out other flavors. Not every dish needs every ingredient, and not every idea is part of the solution to a problem. But like every great cook, it’s the dashes of this and the pinches of that which makes all the difference. Subtleties are lost in broad brush strokes or big picture problem-solving.

If by chance you are one of those leaders that say, “No! My steak is absolutely naked. Nothing but steak, no salt, no pepper, nothing…” Then remember this: Those amazing $50+ steaks you get at Ruth’s Chris, or El Gaucho, aren’t naked. They’re aged for weeks to cultivate the enzymes necessary to bring out the flavors and break down the muscle tissue to create the tenderness you so relish. It’s the subtle ingredients that make things great. And the toughest lesson for a leader: just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Take away the enzymes and I am confident the steak isn’t worth $50 anymore.

What are you ignoring because you can’t see it? What ingredients are you leaving out of your gourmet problem-solving feasts?