by Dr. Ichak Adizes

One would expect that the more effective one is, the more problems one will solve and thus the fewer problems one will have. Right?

Wrong.

In reality, the more problems you solve, the more problems you will have; and the faster you solve them, the faster new ones will emerge.Conclusion: The more effective you are, the more ineffective you will feel. How come?

I grasped this insight from my travels. I noticed that the more developed the country was, the more stressed its citizens were. The enormous stress is a consequence of the accelerating rate of emerging problems that develop as the country becomes more efficient. In underdeveloped countries, on the other hand, they are less stressed. It is not that they have fewer problems; it’s just that they take them more in stride. In underdeveloped nations, a normal reaction to an emerging need to solve a problem is “mañana.”

What is going on?

We all know that change is constant: it has been going on forever, and it will continue forever. Whenever there is change, there is by definition a new event. That event can be either a problem or an opportunity. I call it an “opporthreat,” because every problem is de facto an opportunity to improve one’s know-how – if it is handled correctly. On the other hand, an event that seems like an opportunity might turn out to be a real problem if we mishandle it. Thus, an event is initially both a problem and an opportunity. What it turns out to be depends on what we do with it.

The point I want to make, however, is that regardless of whether the event is a problem or an opportunity, it needs to be handled. It needs to be addressed. We must decide what to do and then implement that decision. When we act in response to the event, regardless of whether it’s reactively or proactively, once we make a decision and implement that decision our action has caused a change. Now we have a new situation – which creates new problems. That is why problems will be here to stay forever, as long as there is change. But something interesting is happening that leads me to write this insight. Imagine that devices and/or managerial tools have been developed that enable you to diagnose a problem faster, make your decision faster, and implement your decision faster. That sounds good, does it not?

You can address the problem promptly and deal with it promptly. But that means that you will also create a new situation just as promptly – a change that will bring new problems to your plate – because the faster we solve problems, the faster the new ones will appear. Take e-mail, for instance. It was supposed to facilitate faster, paperless communication and thus make us more effective. And what happened? I, for one, have many more problems to deal with than I had before the e-mail innovation occurred. The more effective we are, the faster we advance, and the faster new problems confront us. The more developed the country is, the more smoothly things get done; thus the faster new problems appear; thus the more stressed the people are. When I work in a developing country, nothing works easily and smoothly. It is difficult to get a phone connection; transportation is not reliable; there is lots of waiting around for anything to happen. It is ineffective and inefficient – but guess what? People have smiles on their faces. They have time to talk to me and to each other. You hear more laughter in one day in those countries than you hear in a whole month in a developed country. People are poor but happy, while in developed countries they are rich and miserable.

In December, I diagnosed a new country – Montenegro – with the whole cabinet in attendance. We analyzed what issues the country has now as well as its vision for the future. And as expected, they all want to be like “America.” I am putting “America” in quotation marks to indicate that it is not a geographical location but an idealistic concept of an efficiently running country, with highways, an excellent banking system, a developed IT infrastructure, etc. To truly become a developed country looked to them like a dream. But to me, who has experienced this dream, it is more like a nightmare. Right now in Montenegro, I found that friends meet at least once a week and drop in at each other’s homes without announcing their intentions in advance. At least once a month they get together to celebrate something, a birthday or anniversary or some religious holiday. And they have the time for community singing and for eating “slow food” rather than “fast food.” The restaurants are filled with people drinking, talking, laughing and, unfortunately, smoking.

Where I live in California, best friends get together at best once a month; communication is more by e-mail and phone than face-to-face; and no one would dare to show up at my home unannounced. The get-togethers are scheduled months in advance. The same holds true for my 12-year-old son. He does not go out to the street and play with his friends like I did. Instead, a play date has to be scheduled in advance, and he has to be driven back and forth, monitored, and supervised. In a developed country, in other words, the standard of living is higher but the quality of life is lower. In developing countries the situation is reversed: the standard of living is lower, but the quality of life is higher. Family and friends are truly valued, and people have time for themselves and for each other.

My recommendation to the government of Montenegro was to skip development of highways and television and wi-fi. Not only small is beautiful; underdeveloped is beautiful, too. No big hotels, I told them—just small bed-and-breakfast inns. And keep the national cuisine alive. Prohibit any of the fast food chains from establishing themselves in the country. Slow down. In fact, “slow down” was my slogan. Do not develop. Protect what you have. Make your disadvantage into an advantage. Make lemonade out of a lemon. Keep your underdeveloped country protected from development. (Imagine: the people of Montenegro can still drink water directly from the flowing river. Where else can you do that?)

But guess what? I doubt that there is any chance my recommendations will be accepted. I tried the same thing in Macedonia years ago. No one would listen. People feel that they will be left behind, that they are missing the good life, with the big department stores and the enormous range of choices one is exposed to. It is only after they experience the disintegration, the alienation, and the stress that inevitably accompanies development that they decide to pull back and slow down. But by then, of course, the rivers have been polluted and the air is dangerous to breathe. Time flies, and there is no time for anything. Life is short because it is too fast, and it is too fast because we have made our world too efficient.