If you’ve ever heard someone say, “We don’t have problems we have challenges,” you probably thought, what nonsense. Even after they explain that what they really meant to say was that the problems are just challenges to be overcome, you may still be left feeling as if there is something wrong with their statement.
It seems to me that whoever said this particular piece of misinformation had been taking lessons from Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carroll’s Thru the Looking Glass. “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
In the real world, words have accepted meanings and for many of us Webster’s dictionary is the authority.
Challenge (From Webster’s)
1 : to demand as due or deserved : REQUIRE <an event that challenges explanation
2 : to order to halt and prove identity <the sentry challenged the stranger
3 : to dispute especially as being unjust, invalid, or outmoded : IMPUGN <new data that challenges old assumptions
4 : to question formally the legality or legal qualifications of
5 a : to confront or defy boldly : DARE b : to call out to duel or combat c : to invite into competition
6 : to arouse or stimulate especially by presenting with difficulties
7 : to administer a physiological and especially an immunologic challenge to (an organism or cell)
Problem (From Webster’s)
1 a : a question raised for inquiry, consideration, or solution b : a proposition in mathematics or physics stating something to be done
2 a : an intricate unsettled question b : a source of perplexity, distress, or vexation c : difficulty in understanding or accepting <I have a problem with your saying that
Only the 6th option for challenge deals with “presenting with difficulties,” so using the word in the way that the statement, “we don’t have problems we have challenges” implies, is a real stretch. The definition of a problem Webster’s first definition says, “a question raised for inquire, consideration or solution.” Clearly, using the word “problem” helps describe the issue as something that you and your business need to solve.
This puts the misstatement, “we don’t have problems we have challenges,” in the same category as the old Confucian conundrum, “If you call a tail a leg, how many legs does a tiger have?” Far too many people answer 5 since we all know that a tiger has four legs plus the tail we called a leg equals 5! The Confucian answer is 4 because “calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it one.”
If you will drop the false statement about challenges and adapt the more accurate description of problems, it will help direct you and your workers’ attention to solving the problem. By accepting Webster’s definition of a problem you will state an issue or questions raised for solution rather than one that is demanded as due or deserved.
If this makes you think, “I’ve been misusing the word challenge,” then it’s time to stop mislabeling the events around you and to clarify your thinking; and that my friend is always the first step in solving a problem.