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Solving the Wrong Problem?

Tan Hong Wee

Author / Affiliate & Senior Consultant / Flame Centre - Future Skills Institute

Updated on 17 May 2023

Have You Ever Felt You Were Solving The Wrong Problem?

Two daughters constantly fighting

A friend, Anna, related her parental experience –

her daughters were constantly fighting, accusing each other of ‘taking too long in the toilet’, ‘wearing my clothes’ and ‘you delayed because you know I have a school test’. Anna and her husband tried everything, from mediation to meditation to arbitration. The fights continued.

Then Anna noticed patterns. The fights occurred mainly during the morning rush for school. The later the girls woke up, the more likely were the altercations. She expanded her scope of investigation and found that usually, the late wake-up correlated with late bedtime on the previous night.

Then it struck her – the fights were only a symptom; the contributing factors were fatigue and low-sugar level, and the real cause was late bedtime. So she instituted 2 solutions – early bedtime and a glass of orange juice after waking up. The fights were reduced by 90%.

It Is Critical To Differentiate Symptoms From Causes

In life, we often react to symptoms, because symptoms cause discomfort or pain. We end up fire-fighting, struggling with each symptom as it happens. And they often happen with increasing regularity. What is less obvious to us is the cause, as the cause can be far away from the symptom (either in physical distance or in time). As a result, we end up fighting the symptom, ignoring the real cause.

A good example is customers complaining about the After-Sales Service Department, when in fact, the problem was caused by Sales Team overpromising (in order to meet sales target).

How Do We Overcome This?

Systems Thinking approach
Systems Thinking Approach

How can we expand our horizons when it comes to problem-solving? A simple way is to map out the entire process, the systems view – who are the stakeholders, what are their interests and how they interact with each other. These tools enlarge our searchlight so that we are aware of the larger system at play.

Try It. Expand Your Horizon. Adopt the Systems Thinking Approach - because there is nothing more frustrating than getting the right answer to the wrong problem.

“Very good blend of theory and practice. I gained a new learning experience and a better perspective to solving complex problems. Your immense depth of knowledge and comfortable atmosphere created made me feel it was worthwhile travelling from so far to be part of this workshop. A great learning experience!” - Mr Alejandro Marin, PSA, Panama


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