Not Every Problem Is Yours

As an employee in a company, this is easy to understand. It’s a rule that drives thousands of dedicated workers nuts every day — because they refuse to accept it and want to do more than what’s asked of them — but it also lets billions sleep peacefully at night, knowing they’ve done all they should and no less.

But what if you run a small business? What if you’re flying solo? Can the same logic still apply? After all, there is little to no one to hand things off to, and as the founder or head of a company, at the end of the day, every problem is yours, even if less than half of them are your fault.

Then again, not every problem needs to be solved. Some, you can ignore forever without consequences. Others should fall into someone else’s purview but needn’t. If your marketing person can’t do Facebook ads, do you really need to hire someone external? Or can you just grow your business without Facebook ads? Find a way that plays on that person’s strengths. Don’t insist on one that forces them to start fixing weaknesses.

If you’re a solo operator, ask whose problem it would be as if you had a staff of 100 people. Is this an issue that would land all the way down the chain? Then you can probably take care of it later. When someone tells me my website lacks a certain feature, I can think: “Well, that would be a developer’s task. I’m not a developer. Do I want to wear that hat so I can solve this problem? Or should I ask an actual developer? Or will most people be fine without this to begin with?”

Businesses draw lines between people so that everyone can do their job and feel satisfied about their quota. We rarely bother verifying these lines, applying them to our own work, or extending them outside of business hours — but interesting insights appear when we do.

Not every problem is yours. Make sure each challenge stays with who it belongs, even if, often, that’ll mean no one will tackle it at all.