Problems Are Opportunities, Not Threats

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” – Albert Einstein

People learn best from experience.

Experience tempts us to accept that a particular solution to a problem is the best solution. For example, an engineer who solved a complex technical problem in a certain way might assume that similar technical problems could be solved in the same manner. A marketing person who achieved success with a viral marketing campaign might assume that when they next need to build buzz about a product or service, a viral marketing campaign would be the best way to proceed. An entrepreneur with a successful startup and exit might assume that they can repeat again by simply doing the things that made them successful in the first place.

I was reminded of this when recently talking to my engineering team about scaling crowdSPRING and the different approaches we can take to scale our site.

As we talked about a menu of options (hardware improvements, threading, database scaling, cache strategies, etc.), I was struck by this: we were all relating our personal beliefs based on our experiences with different scaling solutions as if those beliefs and our experiences were the only truth. For example, those who had negative experiences with reverse proxy solutions were critical of such solutions. Those who had good experiences with reverse proxy solutions spoke favorably about them.

Experiences can lead us to stop questioning, and that’s exactly what was happening in our discussion about scaling strategies. That’s a dangerous situation to find yourself because true innovation requires us to see problems as opportunities, not as threats.

It’s natural, when we see problems as threats, to try to solve them quickly and to solve them in ways that we successfully solved other similar problems. And that’s sometimes not unreasonable – solutions that worked for us before are sometimes the best solutions.

But if we want to see problems as opportunities – so that we can innovate and build on our experience, we all must remember to never to stop questioning.


  1. Insightful post. I agree that it’s all too easy to use the same solution you’ve used in the past rather than consider if there’s an even better solution. But you’re right by making that little bit of extra effort, you have a great opportunity to increase your knowledge!

  2. Very insightful indeed. I think it’s also related to comfort boundaries we tend to create along the way, both in action and in mind. Many people find it hard to step out of their comfort zone, but I think it’s only a matter of perspective and you could’ve seen it simply as enlarging your boundaries.

  3. Ray – the effort is sometimes more than a little bit, but of course, the benefits can also be significantly greater.

    Monika – good point about comfort boundaries. Those surely play a huge role in limiting us. Seth Godin calls this our “lizard brains” – when we stop ourselves from going outside our small comfort zones.

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