How People Misdiagnose Problems
This blog post was featured in the Huffington Post on November 01, 2017.
A problem can be caused by doing what needs to be done but doing it wrongly; i.e., HOW it was done was bad.
It could be that the problem occurred because the timing of the solution was bad or the problem was allowed to grow over time without being addressed; i.e, the cause of the problem is in timing, i.e., the WHEN.
Or it could be that WHAT was done was wrong. And the last cause could be WHO did it; the wrong person was doing it, being either ignorant or driven by self-interests that were in conflict with the general interests.
It also could be all of the above: WHAT was done was wrong, WHEN it was done was wrong, and HOW it was it done was wrong, and add to it that the wrong person did it. That is called a complex problem.
To diagnose a problem and find what was wrong, how it was done wrong, and when was it done wrong takes time and effort. Energy. To decide that it was the wrong person, to judge and accuse someone of being the culprit, does not take too much energy. You just hang the bell on his or her neck, and you are done with the diagnosis.
Hoffman discovered that people will try to minimize the use of energy whenever they can; they will look for the least energy-consuming strategy. Look at people who drive to the gym. They park as close to the doors as possible.
When diagnosing a problem, people are inclined to very quickly get into a witch hunt solution and they decide that the problem was caused by so and so. Done. Easy.
A manifestation of this approach to easy diagnosis is attributing the problem to God or the Devil. The Devil made me do it, or it is God’s will.
In Eastern cultures, they attribute the problem to God but differently: If it happened, it was supposed to happen, and they are done with diagnosing the problem.
An extreme manifestation of the easy-to-diagnose approach is racism, anti-Semitism. There is a problem? The Jews did it. The Muslims did it. They are the cause of our problems.
Obviously, most problems are complex and involve more than one decision imperative: who, what, when, and how.
In my consulting work, I ask to ignore the who. Forbid even to look at it as a possibility. That frees the energy to diagnose the what, when, and how first. When that is done, we can only then ask whether someone is guilty too.
Ichak Kalderon Adizes