There are technical problems and adaptive problems, author and entrepreneur Dean Jackson believes.

“Technical problems are when the answer is already known,” he shares with Dan Sullivan and Ben Hardy in Who Not How: The Formula to Achieve Bigger Goals Through Accelerating Teamwork.

Let’s say we want to set up a WordPress website.  That is an example of a technical problem.  For these types of challenges, we want to ask ourselves: Who?  As in “Who can do this for me?”

Why?  Because our time is linear and finite.  When we ask: “How can I set up this blog?” we are creating an “enormous and long-term commitment,” Dan and Ben write.  We are telling ourselves: “I’m willing to spend my finite attention on this task—finding out how to learn it, learning it, actually doing it, and one day, maybe, training someone else on how to do it.”

Adaptive problems are the second type of business problem.  “Unlike technical problems, adaptive problems do not have a known answer,” Dean says.  “Because they don’t have a known answer, they require a creator.”

That’s us.  We are the “Who.”

“Everything that has ever been invented or innovated was done by a Who, acting as a creator, solving an adaptive problem,” Dan and Ben write.  “Dean chose to create products, coach people, and do podcasts because, for him and his business, these are adaptive problems.  No one else would say what Dean would say, think what Dean would think, or analyze the way Dean would analyze.  He’s the only one with direct access to his own brain and vision, so he engages in tasks that only he can do.”

For everything else?  He finds a “Who.”  “How” requires our time and attention.  “Who” requires someone else’s.

As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Time is money.”

“Money avoids the person who doesn’t value their time,” Dan and Ben write.  “Only those who improve their time, value it, and use it more effectively experience money freedom.”

Once we have Whos to handle our Hows, then we can focus our time on the ideas and actions with the biggest impact.

“Ours is a culture where people don’t value their own time and instead want to win the lottery,” Dan and Ben observe.  “They want money freedom without having earned time freedom.  They want ‘Freedom of Money’ with ease, which isn’t how freedom is created.  Freedom comes through purpose, investment, and teamwork.”

And what about those who do win the lottery?  Because they are “uninterested in expanding themselves as people, they quickly lose all their money because they have no clue how to use their time,” Dan and Ben write.  “Having lots of money without valuing time leads to high levels of gluttony, self-destruction, and poor decision-making, until the money quickly evaporates.”

Asking “How can I do this?” often leads to isolation in our goals.  “There is no reward for doing lots of tasks and working [ourselves] to death in mediocre fashion,” Dan and Ben write.  Not only that, but our “vision shrinks and becomes focused on what [we] solely can do.”

We see people “dogmatically and inflexibly,” including ourselves.  Asking How blocks us from becoming a leader or decision-maker.  We “don’t experience the joys and transformation of teamwork and growing success,” Dan and Ben note.

“Too much self-centered attitude, you see, brings, you see, isolation,” says the Dalai Lama.  “Result: loneliness, fear, anger.  The extreme self-centered attitude is the source of suffering.”


Reflection: When faced with a problem or challenge, do I typically ask “How” or “Who”?

Action: Discuss with a colleague or with my team.

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