The Engineer’s Brain

I've been reading The Corrections this long weekend. This book came out over ten years ago, but I'd never read it so I pulled it out of our bookshelf and cracked it open after we got off the mountain on Saturday. I hope to finish it on the plane ride home today.

The father figure in the book is Alfred. He's a railroad engineer who also dabbles in metalurgy experiments in his basement. He's a familiar character to me. My dad is an engineer and I have an engineer's brain as well. Apparently so does my friend Brad Feld.

The Gotham Gal tires of this mindset at times. She will say in exasperation "you can't solve every problem Fred." But that's how my mind works. Find problem, solve it, move one to the next one.

My engineer tendencies are reinforced by the work I do. Most entrepreneurs we back are also engineers. They find a problem and they set out to solve it. That journey is often a startup and we are along for the ride. Solving problems creates value in our business. Value creation is success. So the feedback loop is reinforcing and problem solving is the name of my game.

But the Gotham Gal is right. I can't solve every problem as much as I want to. The person or organization that has the problem has to want to solve it too. And when the will is not there, as clear as the solution is, its best to leave it alone.

I've been trying to decide what to do on the subject of online piracy. I think there are good solutions to the problem that involve technical approaches that leverage the work the technology industry has done with domain name registration and spam/virus/malware filtering. I laid them out in a discussion I participated in last week at the Paley Center. But the entertainment industry must want to solve the core problems, not just the symptoms. And it is not clear to me that the entertainment industry wants to solve the problem. So maybe I should move on.

The same is true of the companies we work with. They often have problems that can be solved, and have been solved in many other companies. But if they do not have the will to solve them, then all of our effort to address the issue is wasted. Our desire to solve the problem will simply come across as interference, meddling, or worse.

So as I move from youthful enthusiasm to elderly wisdom, one of my development goals is to supress the desire to solve every problem and focus on the ones where I can make a difference. I'm not there yet, but I'm working on it and making progress.