The Quick Fix.

journals Apr 27, 2021

In his latest book, The Quick Fix, author Jesse Singal, takes psychological research to task. He demonstrates over and over again how only half of all published experimental psychological findings are successfully replicated by other researchers. The subfield of social psychology fares even worse. Without a doubt, you’ve seen these trendy and popular concepts touted in TED Talks and the best-seller corners of your favorite bookstores. I’ve written about them at length, here and elsewhere. They offer simple solutions to complex problems. And, that’s why they are so popular.

Who wants to be told the solution to their management, marketing or leadership challenge is too difficult to cover in a single TED talk, book or research article? 

I get more than a handful of member requests and questions sent to my desk each day. That’s after the easy ones have been filtered out and handled by the appropriate team member. I welcome the hard questions. I’m honored to help. And, I can summarize a good 50% of the desired (easy) versus required (difficult) solutions, like I would summarize my desire to sit on the sailboat and eat pizza non-stop without gaining weight: possible but not likely.

Write this down. It’s hard to solve complicated problems. That’s why they are called complicated problems and not easy problems. I’m not being (too) cynical here. I think we’re often entitled as doctors and professionals into thinking, or at least I was often tempted to think this way years ago, that things shouldn’t be this hard. 

Most of the psychological quick-fixes you’ll see on TED stages or in the best-selling section of your bookstore are really just a relief from reality.* 

Put someone on stage who looks and sounds like an expert. Show some graphs. Tell a cute and memorable story. Add dramatic lighting and multiple camera angles. Offer simple solutions to difficult and imposing problems. And, “abracadabra!” we’re all mesmerized. We can give ourselves a mental cookie for doing something “intellectual” with our time and “opening our minds,” etc., etc. 

But, this is no more effective in changing our lives or solving our problem than watching a video or reading a book about exercise improves our health. We have to actually get up off the couch and put in the effort. We have to sweat. And, given our druthers, we prefer not to sweat.

This is how big companies settle with band-aid approaches to their complex HR problems. This is why school systems adopt a cute or clever index instead of acknowledging the gaps in kindergarten and early-childhood education that only grow larger with time. Instead of doing the hard work and accepting the trade-offs that come with staring down complicated problems in the eye, we become overly fixated and reliant on checklists or a false sense of security and control through simple solutions without proper acknowledgement that hard stuff is hard.

So, Faithful Reader, peel back the onion this week and level up. Where are you hiding from the painful trade-offs in your practice or in your life? How can you accurately assess the quick fixes that encourage you to ignore reality? Decide when will you do the hard stuff and circle it on the calendar.

A few thought-provoking examples:

Hiring new assistants is hard: In a new world where millions of prospective employees left the workforce and many were laid off and switched careers, you have two options. You can take the quick-fix, ignore reality and try to write better hiring ads, recruit through friends and family, offer signing bonuses, etc. Or, you can take the engine out of the car, so to speak, and entirely rebuild your benefits package and new-hire recruitment process in order to attract the best talent to bigger opportunity. 

Core business reality checks are hard: In a recent interview, the CEO of Hint beverage company shared how devastated she was when she learned, with only 2 weeks notice, that Starbucks would no longer carry Hint drinks in their stores. She knew nothing about their customers, only that they were selling a ton of product through a gatekeeper called Starbucks. 

Years later, she was selling a ton of product on Amazon and had a hunch that diabetic patients were really latching onto the Hint product in their quest to ditch sugary sodas, but Bezos and Co. wouldn’t share the customer email addresses with her either. She finally acknowledged the hard reality check in her business. She would never be able to learn about the customer until she went direct to consumer. It was a complex and painful new division to build and grow, but it is now responsible for more than half of the company’s sales.

Are you still ignoring the fact that the most valuable asset in your business is the patient, client, customer or donor list and the relationship you’ve built with that list? If so, you need not wait 9 years like the CEO of Hint water to address the hard stuff.

Making it look easy is hard: from Dave Chappelle to Joan Rivers and Jerry Seinfeld to Chris Rock, all of the best stand-up comedians make it look easy. They all admit it’s incredibly hard. Countless hours of work, practice, writing, more practice, re-writing and painful bombs on stage were required in order to achieve their level of peak performance. They’ve all admitted in interviews that they still love the process, regardless of how painful it is.

Do you love what you do so much that you’re willing to endure the pain and trade-offs that make it look easy? Will you stay in the fight, doing what you love, day in and day out, or do you only dream of selling the practice “for a big multiple” and walking away from everything you’ve been working so hard to build?

* If you’d like to watch a TED talk that does the opposite of providing a relief from reality and instead asks you to confront reality, check out Julia Galef’s brilliant presentation on Scout Mindset and pick up her new book on the same topic here.

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