12/03/2012 05:12 EST | Updated 02/02/2013 05:12 EST

The Difference Between a Solution and Answer

It was a bold challenge from a young entrepreneur.

He identified a weak link in an important aspect of my business ("It kind of sucks" was his actual prognosis), and offered his services to fix it.

Now I get this type of come-on all the time at Just For Laughs, and I suspect a similar refrain is oft-heard throughout corporate corridors everywhere. I wasn't put off by him; the challenging of the status quo was this person's job, and how he made his living.

And because I'm always trying to embrace anything that will make my business better and more profitable, I gave the young man a chance to make his pitch.

At the meeting, he summarized the problem: a portion of our social media output was weak and underdeveloped. It needed to be re-thought, and bolstered.

He then stated the solution: hire him and his company to do the bolstering with additional manpower and manhours. Male-dominant terminology aside, I paused when he was done and looked him straight in the eye.

I was kind, I was polite (I really like this guy), but I was also direct as hell in my response.

"Tell me something I don't know" was how I started. And then, the floodgates opened. "I hope you don't think I'm stupid, but do you really think I don't see the problem, or know the solution? If I had the money, I would ramp up and staff up; that's the solution. I didn't need you to tell me that."

What I needed was "the Answer."

How do I do this without additional labor costs? Are there new tools that could make things easier? Is my overall strategy messed up? And if more people are an unavoidable inevitability, where/what do I cut to provide for them? Tell me something I DON'T know.

He had no answer for my search for one.

Although they're seemingly cut from the same cloth, there's a gaping divide between "the Solution" and "the Answer."

"The Solution" is usually obvious. It's freezing cold and you have to go outside, so what do you do? You wear a coat.

"The Answer" is not a simple problem-solve. Let's say you don't have a coat. Or can't afford to buy one. What do you do then? What options are at your disposal? And do you really even have to go out?

These days, people are getting smarter and business problems are getting tougher. Unfortunately, "the Solution" doesn't solve things anymore.

For example, take the much-discussed Fiscal Cliff scenario being faced by the U.S. Government.

"the Solution" is easy -- change the laws.

But that's far from "the Answer."

"The Answer" to the Fiscal Cliff may never be found, but it's going to require tough action, opinion swaying, people skills, new paradigms and courageous leadership to even come close.

In other words, "the Answer" is what separates the contenders from the pretenders.

"The Answer" requires profound research, critical thought and usually a mind-bending creative swing to tie the two together with a plan of action that actually confronts and defeats the problem.

Put another way, "the Solution" is surface, school-book theoretical; "the Answer" is deep, street-level action taking.

In the end, "the Solution" is the difference between "what's wrong" and "what's right"; "the Answer" is the difference between "what's right" and "here's how to make it right."

Keep looking.