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Why Simplistic, Reductionist Thinking Is Not Enough

There are three types of Thinking Skills available to us

– in particular, Reductionist Thinking is easy to understand and easy to apply; simply reduce your problem in scope, identify the root cause, and voila, you have the solution.

Unfortunately, in today’s complex world, resolving complex problems is not quite as simple as that. You see, Reductionist Thinking breeds linear thinkers — people for whom causes, symptoms and consequences occur in a sequential, orderly fashion, and for whom a methodical, step-by-step process (such as the fishbone diagram) will be able to uncover root causes.

A client had problems with his After-Sales Department

There were adverse customer complaints, citing ‘the worst customer service ever’ and that ‘the After-Sales was not as promised’. Naturally, my client investigated the After-Sales Department process, their Standard Operating Procedure, their training and induction programmes. They found that many staff only had 1 week of training and were thrown into work, as the customer demand was high. So they added additional Customer Service Training, as well as Core Values Alignment Programmes. In addition, there were obvious lapses in the SOP, which were tidied up.

Fast forward three months later, the results were still the same. Customers were not satisfied. Well, what went wrong? When we took a step back and looked at the entire system, we realised that Customers first met the company Salesperson. Increase in sales targets meant that the company Sales team had to aggressively promise Customer differing levels of service agreement (SLA). This caused tremendous stress upon the After-Sales, who were under-staff and un-equipped for these differing SLAs. The result? Customer complaints against the After-Sales.

This is a classic example of looking narrower and narrower at the symptom of the issue (Customer complaint against After-Sales) and missing the fact that the cause of the problem lies elsewhere (co-ordination between Sales and After-Sales, under-staffing of After-Sales vis-à-vis increased Sales target).

Systems are force multipliers. They are also problem multipliers.

As such, H.L. Mencken puts it,

For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.

Excerpt from Be Smarter Than Your Problem

by Tan Hong Wee


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