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“If you don’t find the solution, it’s because you didn’t see the real problem.” Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn shared leadership lessons in an interview with Bloomberg TV’s Francine Lacqua at the Paris Auto Show. Bloomberg Businessweek, October 8, 2018. Photo: Business Insider UK

What seemed to be my advantage was that I was always genuinely curious about what was going wrong and why. This curiosity to understand, as opposed to a focus on finding a solution as fast as possible, always paid dividends because I really understood a problem before trying to fix it.

See, for example, It Sure Sounds Like The Solution

What seemed to cause the most problems, in my experience, was not that people didn’t find the real problem, but that most people had never experienced deeply understanding a problem before trying to fix it. I’ve seen computer programmers thrashing away making change after change to their code trying to find something that fixes their problems. Too often, they’d make a change that seemed to fix the issue they were seeing but, without fully understanding the problem, there was a good chance they’d only fixed just one symptom of the real problem.

“If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” ― Albert Einstein

The one catch I’ve experienced with emphasizing understanding before solving is that we’d often then over-think and over-organize the understanding of the problem. We would then end up in a variant of “analysis paralysis” where nothing would get done. Sometimes the way to figure out the real problem was to just try some things, to do what were essentially experiments, and then see what happens. The trick here is that even when our experiments seemed to work, we still needed to understand why it worked to assure ourselves that it was a rock solid solution. Too often when something appeared to work, we’d too quickly declare victory.

Finally, trying to reason out any problem or solution with insufficient information when we don’t realize we have insufficient information is another failure mode. I’ve even heard the argument that all we have to do is follow some prescribed process and the resulting solution is assumed to be optimal. If it turns out not to be a good solution then that is OK too because we followed the prescribed process so we are not at fault, it is the methodologies’ fault.

Compare with How To Avoid Second Order Ignorance

Are you really understanding the problems your team is fixing and is it evident by solutions that are rock solid and endure the test of time?

Thank you for sharing!