Solving a problem

8 Aug

>Solving problems is lot of fun. It gives us chances to be creative, implement new strategies or engage in new activities. But as I have recently realized that is only the easy bit in problem solving and on its own it would not take us too far.

What is far more important (and sometimes less fun) is to understand what has caused the problem in the first place. Think and ask about all possible reasons why someyhing went wrong. And it is important not to get comfortable with first couple reasons that spring up but to dig deeper and deeper until we get a reasonable understanding of all domains that could be potentially be related to a problem.

Some time ago I heard an interesting story. One of the problems they had in Washington DC was very high costs for cleaning memorials from bird faeces. The problem we have is dirty memorials which are very expensive to clean. For possible solutions, you can start thinking about introducing new cheaper cleaning techniques or about turning to various bird scarers and that is what some were proposing. But when they looked at what had really been causing the problem, they saw that there was much simpler solution at hand. The memorials were dirty, because there were lot of birds around. There were lot birds, because there was lot of insect. There was lot of insect, because there were many lights pointing at the memorials in the evening and at night. So the solution was to simply turn the lights on two hours later every day.

The thought process was following:
1) What is causing the problem? – answer – A.
2) What is causing A? – answer – X.
3) What is causing X? – answer – M.
4) The final solution is than preventing M.

What I have realised lately is that preventing M is often much cheaper and easier that preventing A.

So next you will be facing a problem, do not get immediately excited about coming up with possible solutions, try to understand the real causes first. It might take more time in the short run, but it will definitely pay off in the long run!

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