Tag: asking why

Are You Solving The Right Problem?

solving the right problem

Out of all the people in the world, the people we tend to trust the most are probably doctors. We believe them to be experts, because if we didn’t we would probably be terrified every time we became ill.

Given this faith in doctors, how often do you suppose they actually get it right? Or more terrifyingly, how often do they get it wrong? It is not very likely that your doctor will tell you are okay when you are critically ill but what about the cases where they diagnose a common cold but your elevated temperature is related to something much more serious? Are they solving the right problem?

Studies in the US indicate a 40% misdiagnosis rate with a reasonable percentage (around 10%) resulting in avoidable death. These statistics are easily verified following autopsy.

In medicine, as with many other disciplines we need to diagnose the right condition in order to treat it. In the world of creative problem solving we must do two things. Firstly correctly identify that the problem really is causing the symptoms (business issues) that have been observed and secondly when we apply a solution, it must be tailored to the actual problem.

So what is the issue here, how does this come about? Overconfidence and over-familiarity are two good reasons. If we have experts who become complacent, or who see the same issues day in, day out they might be tempted to assume that the problem is the same problem.

Many readers will be familiar with the humorous examples regarding correlation between two completely unrelated variables appearing to show causation. For instance, per capita cheese consumption closely correlates with the number of people who died by becoming tangled in their bedsheets!

This is of course ridiculous but there are more examples on the website https://www.tylervigen.com/spurious-correlations.

A common example that I use is that of a company where sales are falling. The boss states that sales force is useless and need to be sorted out or replaced. He thinks the sales force are the cause of falling sales. A simple application of ‘Asking Why?’ is very revealing. Consider the following:

Q. Why are sales falling?
A. Because customers don’t like our products

Q. Why don’t they like our products?
A.  Because they are outdated, not as cool as this year’s model

Q. Why are our products outdated?
A. Because we have not developed any new ones for 5 years

Q. Why have we not done this before?
A. Because the boss has not allowed us

Q. Why has the boss behaved in this way?
A. Because they have no spare time to spend

In this simple example our initial assumption of having a poor sales force is incorrect, the underlying issue is that the boss (possibly you!) has no time either because of high workload or poor time management. We can also see that the issue has multiple layers and unless the issues at lower layers are resolved then our initial problem is unlikely to be properly resolved. So it could also be a case of not just ‘solving the right problem’ but solving the right problems’ (in the right order).

Einstein is reputed to have said, ‘If I had one hour to save the world, I would spend 55 minutes analysing the problem and 5 minutes coming up with a solution.’ We tend to do the opposite. We assume we know the cause and then charge ahead designing remedies for the wrong issue. We need to find the root cause of the problem before even starting to think about possible solutions.

Most people from middle management upwards are expected to solve problems as part of their jobs. In fact, their superiors often say ‘don’t bring me problems, just solutions’. These people will then take the route of least resistance to pleasing the boss.

On many occasions this might work but it is always worth asking Why? Whether we are solving standard business issues or Innovators trying to solve problems that have been puzzling the world for ages, we must avoid making assumptions in order to correctly identify the problem and hence provide the ideal solution.

If you want to know more or would like a little help with this please do get in touch.