Problems and Obstacles

I was recently talking with colleagues, discussing an issue and, unexpectedly, i asked: "is this issue a problem or an obstacle?"

While i spoke the words, i remember thinking that i needed to devote some brain cycles to think about it. Hence this post.

The first thing to understand is we usually use the terms interchangeably, but they mean different things (see Wiktionary's definition for problem and obstacle).

A Problem is something active, that you interact with and that can even change you. An Obstacle is passive, something that you have to circumvent. Unnecessary.

Being a natural engineer of sorts, i like Problems. I don't very much like obstacles. But both require energy.

Many startups become successes by solving Problems, but probably many more thrive by solving one type of Obstacle for their customers (the startup's problem is then to efficiently and scalably solve said obstacle).

Normally, companies build Obstacles to enforce specific behaviours into their workers. Yet, the worst expression of Obstacle comes to be when companies turn this behaviour-enforcing Obstacles into cysts that plague work. Bureaucracies are just cysted piles of Obstacles.

As a worker, you normally should scale up Problems to your boss and handle Obstacles yourself, but this is not always possible. Sometimes your boss is an Obstacle on it's own. Sometimes the company you work for loves to make Problems out of Obstacles, so that no employee can ever make any decision. Sometimes you are the Obstacle... or Problem.

Yes. We all sometimes create Obstacles and Problems for ourselves or others. We usually do so because of our personalities, fears or bad habits. The worst self-delusional use of Obstacles is to hide Problems (circumventing something is a nice way of not examining that something). Another annoying personality trait is to turn Obstacles into Problems (aka: the resident renegade).

For some reason that escapes me, Obstacles tend to rapidly become part of the Culture, while Problems tend to remain ignored. Yet, Problems usually hide a huge opportunity for economic, personal and/or social growth.

Finally, a life with only Obstacles makes you feel worthless; a life with only Problems makes you feel overwhelmed.

Learn to tell Problems from Obstacles. May your Obstacles be small and your Problems sparse. Fill the rest with satisfaction or happiness.

This is enough to be my sixteenth post.