For many months now, I’ve have a rash of random encounters and conversations with people who mention in one form or another that they want “easy.” I, too, am a fan of easy. I want intuitive products, a rare need to call customer service departments, and smooth encounters when I do. If a company makes my life difficult, I’m gone. We all have enough complexity to contend with in life. A little “easy” goes a long way.
But what about improvement and problem solving? Initially when I heard these requests for “easy,” my mind went straight to something my mother used to always say: “Life isn’t easy.” And each time, I felt a little impatience toward people who I felt didn’t want to do the heavy lifting that robust problem solving requires. They wanted the easy way out.
As though that was a bad thing.
Historically, when I’ve taught problem solving workshops or coached people one-on-one, I’ve spent a fair amount of time on exposing them to basic root cause analysis tools: the five why’s, cause-and-effect (Ishikawa) diagrams, Pareto charts, and so on. But this “easy” thing was gnawing at me. Does the average business leader or front-line supervisor need proficiency in Ishikawa and Pareto?
A scientist at my core with a yen for experimentation, I formed a reluctant hypothesis: people could become better problem solvers without teaching them any root cause analysis tools.
I’ve now run my experiment four times and, while that’s by no means a significant data set, I’ve obtained consistent results. I invite you to try my experiment—or your own variation—and report back on this blog so we can learn from each other. Here are the steps I took:
So far, in 100% of the cases, the “countermeasures” they’ve listed are different from the “solutions” on the first side of the worksheet. It appears that merely inserting the “root cause” step, has fundamentally changed the thinking and, therefore, the outcomes of their problem solving work.
Now can we assume those countermeasures are the “best” countermeasures without deeper exploration and data analysis? In many cases, probably not. But, given the nature of the problems these individuals have mentioned and their initial knee-jerk “solutions,” in all cases the countermeasures they proposed have been significantly better than the habitual band-aid path they would have otherwise gone down.
We are not a root cause-thinking society. It’s not a natural place for the average person’s mind to travel to. I’m increasingly interested in helping people slow down, take a breath, and think…really think…what the root cause of a problem is. Think of what that practice could do to solve not only business problems, but family problems, relationship problems, political problems (Washington, do you hear me?), and societal and global problems.
I believe we need to make problem solving and improvement more accessible to the masses. I believe that I may have been guilty in making problem solving more difficult than it needs to be. I’m now considering that it may be more important to build critical thinking and problem solving mindsets than skill sets. And I believe that it may be easier to establish a root-cause mind than I initially thought.
While there will always be problems that require the “heavy guns” provided by DOE (Design of Experiments), Pareto and the like, my new hypothesis is this: society and its organizations are better served by having a army of people who habitually THINK a certain way than by having an army of people who are skilled in applying analytic tools.
What say you?