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  • jeffreywenhao

The value of really defining and understanding the problem, as opposed to rushing solutions

Updated: Dec 19, 2020


"What happens when the aircon is too cold?


The obvious answer is to adjust the thermostat.


But in reality, are we really surprised if people choose to bring in a heater instead? Never mind that the heater would be ineffective - the aircon's thermostat works to regulate the temperature at the value that has been set (which might eventually spoil the aircon).


Bringing in a heater seems more impressive. More people can contribute bright ideas on what specifications the heater should have. And the immediate heat that emits from the heater is a lot more tangible, compared to the gradual change of temperature from adjusting the thermostat. The boss can even be invited to turn it on and feel the hot blast. Introducing the heater is a great way to score at work.

Eventually, more manpower is required to man both heater and air-conditioner. If the aircon is strong enough to regulate the temperature, the heater may seem to be an ineffective, and discarded. If the aircon breaks down because it requires too much effort to regulate the temperature, the room becomes too warm and there is a new set of problems. The solution to a poorly defined problem leads to more problems, and the organisation is in a worse state than before. Sometimes, in our eagerness to change things, we become too focused on solutions. We end up discussing at length what the heater should be, and use frameworks and toolkits to help us make sense of the heater. But if we think about it, good changes typically come from a correction of flawed thinking, rather than a completely new idea. If this is the case, wouldn't it make sense, as Albert Einstein espoused, to spend more time understanding the problem, before jumping into the solution?

This is especially as most of us are not doing Einsteinesque tasks. Our work is not as complex as solving for relativity, not even close.

Mostly, our toughest challenge is differing human thoughts and actions. Instead of simply acknowledging these differences, and thinking of ways to solve it, a much more effective method would be to understand what causes these differences.

Often, we fall prey to not developing this deeper understanding because people believe they have a rough idea of what the problem is, except they don't. We also fall prey to the belief that explaining why something needs to be done is sufficient to drive action. Besides, every expert I've spoken to concluded that when significant and beneficial change actually (and not theoretically) took place, it happened because the change was aligned to the interests and beliefs of the individuals executing it. Try selling something that is good for the organization, but perceived to be only disadvantageous to the individual.

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