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ne of the more interesting phenomena of language is our ability to convey a lot of meaning with a few simple words. From “I have a dream,” to “To be or not to be,” to “it was the best of times; it was the worst of times,” we have phrases made of no more than eight simple words that immediately resonate deeply with listeners.
Business, too, has its own aphorisms that when spoken indicate everything you need to know about the speaker’s mindset. At Flint & Foster, our favorite is “we’ll figure it out,” because when someone says it, you know with confidence that that person has the exact right attitude to get it done.
We tend to use the phrase a lot which is how we realized it was so powerful. Here’s why:
1. It indicates a collaborative mindset
Nothing important gets done alone. And the use of first person plural pronoun, “we,” is one of the best ways of indicating that someone knows this. By using “we,” the speaker is suggesting that they are going to put together an impromptu group to work on the problem. And there’s a lot of data that suggests putting together small ad-hoc problem solving groups works.
In their seminal work, In Search of Excellence, which vigorously outlines the common patterns that emerge within America’s most excellent companies, Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr. spend a great deal of time speaking about “skunk work teams” or ad-hoc problem solving groups.
The two actually begin the book speaking about Boeing’s group of product champions who, during a sleepless weekend, completely reimagined the design for the B-52 bomber after pouring through recently seized Nazi files. They confirmed days before the presentation that a swept-wing design was best for the wind tunnel and that if the engine couldn’t be on the main body, it was best to be suspended in front of the wing. Over one weekend, a small group of Boeing engineers were able to put together a 33-page proposal and a 14-inch scale model put together from $15 worth of craft materials bought a local hobby shop.
Peters and Waterman go on to say: “The Boeing pattern emerged as the norm in companies as disparate as 3M and IBM; small, competitive bands of pragmatic bureaucracy-beaters, the source of much innovation.” While examining excellent culture, the two authors repeatedly detail walking into various great companies to find groups of people made up of random members from all sorts of divisions gathered around cafeteria tables, in front of white boards and convening in open conference rooms to work through problems.
All it takes to create these skunk work teams is one product champion who walks out of a meeting with a we-mindset and recruits whoever is around to work on the problem. Because at the end of the day, there is no mandate for creative problem solving, no step by step procedure, no rule book, there are just small groups of product champions who came together because one person said: “we’ll figure it out.”
2. It concedes that there is a problem without an apparent solution
The reason the term “solution” gets thrown around so much in business is because innovation and progress boil down to series of problems and hurdles that have to be overcome. Knowing that one of these issues has arisen is obviously the first step to solving it.
Admitting that there isn’t an apparent solution to the problem adds a level of nuance to the situation: “we know something’s wrong and we don’t yet know how to fix it” still conveys more information than “we know something is wrong.”
Essentially, this portion of meaning states that the speaker isn’t dancing with their language, they admit they know something is wrong and they don’t know how to fix it.
3. It affirms that the group will find a solution
While the speaker concedes the absence of a solution, they do affirm that they are taking control of the situation and through a collaborative process will find an answer. This portion of meaning, then, conveys that the speaker is responsible for leading the search for a solution to a problem.
By saying “we’ll figure it out,” then, a leader in a meeting can say that there is a problem that doesn’t have a solution, but that leader is responsible for finding one by working with other people. Not bad for four words.