June 13, 2020
“It’s not that simple”
It’s not uncommon for a student to come to me for advice about some sort of relationship-related dilemma they’re facing. Stuff like:
- “I agreed to hire my good-for-nothing brother-in-law and now he’s destroying my business!”
- “After working together for years, my biggest client is considering a cheaper firm and wants us to cut our price in half!”
- “My business partner wants to pivot into a business direction that I feel is unethical and I can’t talk him out of it!”
Statements like these are usually followed by thousands of words of backstory full of slights and subtleties and worries and so forth. When they finally run out of steam, they conclude their monologue with the question:
“So what do you think I should I do?”
To which I would reply (in order of above list):
- “Fire him.”
- “Politely refuse.”
- “Split up.”
Usually, this is greeted with a few seconds of stunned silence, followed by:
“But it’s not that simple!”
Yes. Yes, it is that simple. It’s just not EASY. There’s a big difference.
When a problem is complex, a reasonable approach is to do research. When a problem is simple, research is procrastination.
If your good-for-nothing brother-in-law is destroying your business, you need to fire him. It’s not a complex problem, it’s simple.
The additional backstory (e.g., how mad your sister might be or what the BIL might do in retaliation or that your parents might disown you) doesn’t change the fact that you have to fire him if you want to save the business. If your sister gets really mad at you or whatever, that’s a separate problem to be dealt with separately.
You might think I’m splitting hairs about the difference between “simple” and “easy”. It’s true that these two words are very similar and can be used synonymously sometimes, but in cases where you’ve got a hard decision to make, one’s mind seems to want to put it off by tricking itself into thinking it’s complex.
Deep down, you know what needs to be done, you just don’t want to do it. So you pretend it’s complex and respond to the phantom complexity by “researching it” (e.g., asking for outside opinions, waiting yet another day to see if things change, back-channeling with parties who are familiar with the matter but not in a position to influence anything, etc). It’s just stalling, which makes the problem worse.
Once you recognize that what needs to be done is simple (albeit hard), your next steps will become clear.