Are You So Focused On The How You Forget About The Why?

06.02.22 5:05 AM

When a problem presents itself, whether in the work environment or in personal life, human nature is to tackle the issue head-on.  There is great merit in having this as a response, as typically ignoring problems does not make them disappear (though on rare occasion they do).  Diving head first into solutions does have an unintentional side-effect, however, in that it puts you in a reactive state.  Rather than anticipating problems, we are too caught up, too focused, expending too much energy simply on firefighting.  Especially in business, there is no shortage of concerns that demand immediate attention, or threaten to cause serious disruption if not addressed in a timely manner.  Firefighting in this manner, unsurprisingly, is symptomatic of a much bigger problem.

In previous newsletters, and even in several videos on BMI's YouTube channel, the idea of the tyranny of the urgent has been touched on.  In fact, if you've been reading for a while, you might even wonder if BMI is stuck on repeat.  The truth of the matter, really, is that this is just too important of a topic to not continually cover, and remind everyone of the counter-intuitive way that real progress and solutions come about.  As with all habits, ongoing practice is key to making them stick.  Bringing the topic back into conscious decision-making, and practicing it a bit more actively will further cement it as the go-to, rather than sliding back into old habits.

A problem, when first approached, can be broken down into one of two categories: whether it is a perceived problem or not.  In this regard, the problem must be challenged on the foundational level as to whether it actually is a problem, or something masquerading as one.  By the very act of pausing to reflect on the issue at hand, time is afforded to actively weigh the cost and consequences of all possible solutions.  Implementing any solution has a cost associated with it, be it the cost of your time and effort, the cost of the salary to pay an employee to solve it, or the opportunity cost of allocating resources to a solution.  Concurrently, the non-solution (i.e. ignoring the problem) also has a cost.  The issue, then, is only really a problem if the cost of not solving it outweighs all of the other solutions' costs.

A problem, when first approached, can be broken down into one of two categories: whether it is a perceived problem or not.

Assuming that the issue is not dismissed at this point as a problem that is less costly to ignore than solve, the second question to be posed is whether the problem is a symptom, or whether it is a cause.  All efforts to treat a symptom problem are ultimately going to be in vain, for if the root cause continues untreated, the symptom will inevitably manifest itself again (though not necessarily in the exact same manner).  To use a medical analogy, if you go into anaphylactic shock every time you eat shrimp, solving the surface-level problem of difficulty breathing with an epi-pen will do nothing to prevent the issue in the future.  The root problem - that of eating shrimp - must be addressed.  When a novel problem first arises, such as the aforementioned shock, providing a solution is often a critical first step.  The second step, and the part that you must practice over and over, is to ask what really caused the problem, such that a proactive solution can be put in place.

Without taking this critical second step, a manager will always be stuck in reactive mode, responding to problems and expending all their time treating symptoms.  Distressingly, a negative feedback loop can creep in, where you are so busy treating problems that you have no time to solve the real problems.  To get back out in front, you have to dig to the real cause, and begin treatment there.  Only then can your business heal.

- Your BMI family