Oswald Letter

First step in fixing a problem is admitting you have one

American flag on grunge wooden backgroundby Dan Oswald

It’s the evening of September 11, 2016, as I write this, the 15th anniversary of the attacks on our country that resulted in 2,996 deaths. If you’re like me, you remember both the horrific and the heroic from that day. I’ll never forget the scenes of destruction that resulted from the cowardly attacks on our country, but what stands out even more to me is the way Americans and those from around the world came together.

The heroic actions of those who sacrificed their lives to save others and the way the people in this country rallied around one another made me proud to be an American. I’m proud of the great history and much of what our country stands for. Having said that, I also realize our country isn’t perfect. Right now, we have one candidate for president of the United States who is running on the slogan “Make America Great Again.” The second candidate is telling us that America is already great.

Let me begin by saying there is no place I’d rather live than the United States. I’m a believer in the potential and the spirit of the American people. I’m thankful for the sacrifices of so many that have allowed us the freedoms we enjoy. But I know our country isn’t perfect. We have a tremendous amount that needs to change. We have a lot that needs to be improved. Our country could be better than it is!

Maybe you’re familiar with the HBO television series The Newsroom starring Jeff Daniels. In the very first episode, there’s a scene on a university campus in which news anchor Will McAvoy, played by Daniels, is asked what makes the United States the greatest country in the world. You can see the entire scene here. I should warn you that it does contain some strong language.

You might agree partially or completely with what McAvoy says. Or his statement about America might elicit strong emotions and disagreement. But if you listen carefully, in the middle of his long response to the question from the university student, McAvoy says, “The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one.” Our country isn’t perfect. If we ignore our weaknesses, if we ignore our faults, if we ignore our shortcomings as a country, we can’t fix them. And problems that aren’t addressed tend to become bigger and ultimately can be our undoing.

I believe we live in a great country, but it’s an imperfect one. I believe we have issues that need to be addressed. Recently, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand during the playing of our country’s national anthem. He explained his action this way, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” I disagree with Kaepernick’s method of protest, but I can’t argue that our country doesn’t provide him the freedom of speech to express his opinion. Race relations in the United States is one area where we can certainly improve, but if we don’t recognize the problem, we can’t fix it. The first step in solving a problem is recognizing there is one.

It’s the same way in business. We must understand our weaknesses if we want to improve. Remember the old Avis rental car slogan “When you’re number two, you try harder”? Avis didn’t try to argue it was number one. It didn’t try to find a measurement where it came out on top. In a world where everyone was claiming they were the best or the leader or on top, it was refreshing to hear Avis admit that it wasn’t. And the company turned a perceived disadvantage into an advantage. It very publicly admitted it had a problem and it wasn’t the market leader, but the company committed itself to doing something about it by trying harder.

If you surround yourself with people who tell you about the successes, if you surround yourself with people who want to constantly pump sunshine and ignore the realities of the problems you have in your business, then you will be in no position to address them. Those problems, if ignored over time, will be your undoing. Just because you pretend they don’t exist doesn’t mean they aren’t real. Don’t fool yourself into believing that your problems aren’t real. Figure out what they are, and address them. That’s how you can make something really great.

Nobody’s perfect. No company is perfect. No country is perfect. We all have weaknesses. We all have faults. The first step in fixing a problem is admitting you have one. Figure out what your problems are, and then go about fixing them. It will help keep you on top.