Many ground breaking, earth shattering, paradigm shifting solutions have begun with the words, “wouldn’t it be really great if…” Great ideas and solutions require people of vision with the ability to see beyond the current reality and dream fantastic possibilities for the future. Unfortunately, many stupid, dead-end, wastes of time have started exactly the same way.  How do you know when someone speaks these words which outcome will result?  Well, there’s no way to be entirely sure. Geniuses make mistakes and blind chickens occasionally find seeds, but asking the question in the title is a good place to start.
What problem are we solving?  If the answer is clear and obvious to everyone present, then go for it, there’s a good chance you will create value for your firm.  If the question is met with silent contemplation, then run screaming from the room with your fingers in your ears.  The phrase, “wouldn’t it be really great if…” usually precedes an idea that is undeniably cool. While there is value in cool, that value is rarely sufficient to justify the time and expense required to see the project through, unless it also solves an existing problem.
IT and KM are first and foremost problem solving disciplines. Like the old adage says, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.  Likewise, if we’re not solving problems, we are usually creating them. An IT or KM project that meets the cool criteria, but fails the “what problem are we solving” test is almost guaranteed to create more problems down the road. 
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Photo of Ryan McClead Ryan McClead

Ryan is an executive at a small, but well-known legal technology company. Prior to his jump to the vendor side, he served for 3 years as Legal Technology Innovation Architect at Norton Rose Fulbright, running Technology Innovation projects around the world. His sense of humor and remarkable tolerance for verbal and psychological abuse has gotten him through more than 15 years in Legal Technology. In 2015, McClead was named a FastCase 50 recipient, and in 2018, he was elected a Fellow in the College of Law Practice Management. In past lives, he was a Knowledge Manager, a Systems Analyst, an “IT Guy”, a Fashion Merchandiser and Theater Composer.

  • That's really the fundamental test: Whether something is needful or just neat.

    Some good follow-up questions might be "How many people does this impact?" and "What's the benefit to the business?"

  • Sometimes when you solve a problem, you inadvertantly create a new one.