The power of solving small problems

There are all the time a lot of problems to be solved. Just open your electronic mail inbox and absolutely there shall be one thing in there that isn’t fairly proper and requires intervention. You definitely don’t have time or capability to resolve all of them, and so it’s essential to prioritize. The two commonest choice standards used for prioritizing this record of problems are the noise about it (as in “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”) and the magnitude of the issue.

The squeaky-wheel criterion is definitely flawed, however typically is predicated on some basic benefit. To some extent, you could possibly argue that that is crowd-sourcing the prioritization. While this technique will definitely generally get it incorrect, it gained’t all the time get it incorrect.

Prioritizing drawback solving based mostly on magnitude, nevertheless, is inherently flawed as a main criterion. Just as importantly, the blindness with which this filter controls us is harmful, as a result of we function as if nobody might or ought to push again on the choice. This doesn’t imply that we flip the mannequin and swing the opposite approach, however placing this criterion so excessive in our psychological algorithm has a large and usually unseen unfavorable affect. It makes us devalue the act of solving small problems.


The knowledge of solving small problems

The knowledge of solving small problems is on no account new, however perpetually forgotten. The parable of the nail conveys the affect of seemingly small problems. While its origins are unknown, variations of the next return so far as the thirteenth century:

For need of a nail the shoe was misplaced.
For need of a shoe the horse was misplaced.
For need of a horse the rider was misplaced.
For need of a rider the message was misplaced.
For need of a message the battle was misplaced.
For need of a battle the dominion was misplaced.
And all for the need of a horseshoe nail.

This captures the elemental fact that the majority massive problems started as small problems that left unattended grew or propagated. While we are able to’t clear up each small drawback that comes alongside, we must always at the very least worth them. They are essential, not as a result of of what they’re at this time however as a result of of what they might turn into.

The different essential actuality is that it is rather tough, if not inconceivable, to really decide which small problems might probably turn into massive problems. If nothing else, the work to judge the potential danger of every unchecked small drawback is undoubtedly much less effort than to really resolve the problem itself. Therefore, we should at the very least respect all of the small problems, as some of them will in the future develop as much as be one we’ll really care about.


Examples of this precept

Albeit excessive, an excellent instance of that is the Mariner 1 program. NASA has a lot of comparable tales, so that you would possibly marvel if that is only a NASA drawback, however the reason being that they make nice efforts to review and publicize their very own failures, and subsequently turn into a real laboratory for the examine of failures.

Mariner 1 was constructed to fly previous and examine the planet, Venus. It was launched in 1962, and rapidly veered off beam. Unable to recuperate and to stop potential hurt to individuals, the rocket was triggered to self-destruct, inflicting a complete loss of $18.5 million. The failure occurred as a result of of a lacking bar over an R image. R was for radius, and the bar that ought to have been over the R would point out to take the common, or fairly to clean out the information, not reacting (or overreacting) to every information level. The one omission was carried ahead from the written directions, into the coded software program, and finally into the rocket, leading to huge failure. This instance demonstrates that small errors in work product can have an outsized affect.

In one other theme, does each electronic mail in your inbox obtain the identical quantity of consideration? Is something ever missed? I dwell not removed from Washington Crossing, the place throughout Christmas 1776 George Washington crossed the Delaware River along with his troops to assault a gaggle of employed German troopers. It was an essential ethical victory, and the portray representing the second is one of the extra iconic photos of American historical past. Because they had been unnumbered, the American assault needed to stay a shock to achieve the benefit. Unfortunately, a loyalist farmer alongside the route noticed Washington’s troops and despatched phrase to the German troops. The message was associated to the commanding officer, Colonel Johann Rall, who both by no means learn it or by no means requested anybody to translate it. The unread observe was discovered on the Colonel’s useless physique, and Washington’s victory on the Battle of Trenton was a big milestone within the battle. Of course, for the Americans, this was a contented mistake.

Not all small problems with outsized affect end result within the loss of thousands and thousands or turning round a battle, however the premise is that throughout your group there are seemingly small problems which might be all equally mundane, till their affect propagates into one thing greater. It might affect your clients, your staff, or simply your funds, however these problems are throughout you.


What are you able to do about it?

So, let’s begin off with the excellent news. Although it appears apparent, solving problems whereas they’re nonetheless small is quicker and simpler. One purpose is that you just don’t should right all of the unfavorable outcomes from the issue rising massive. The different purpose is that tracing an issue again to the unique trigger when time has elapsed is far more tough. If you’re in a automotive accident and break your leg, you realize why it’s damaged. If you’re sick in your 50s as a result of of one thing you had been uncovered to in your 20s, it is rather tough to determine why, or to show it.

Therefore, for starters, we wish to design our work processes and our administration programs to show problems as early as doable. Maybe you gained’t go after solving all of them, however at the very least you’ve gotten the choice. Make problems seen as they happen, and they are going to be a lot simpler to seek out the trigger and to resolve.

Even if problems are just one/tenth of the trouble to resolve whereas small, if in case you have 100 instances as many, you’re nonetheless behind. The different key answer is that this: interact extra of your group in drawback solving. There is nothing less complicated for solving extra problems than having extra drawback solvers able to do the work. Many organizations suppose this implies placing extra individuals on drawback solving groups, subsequently partaking them. This typically truly defeats the aim. While the collective intelligence of the group would possibly make the issue solving in the end more practical, it additionally typically slows down the method, and does nothing to extend the quantity of drawback solving. Instead, deal with consistency and depth of problem-solving abilities throughout the group and put them to work solving the problems they’re closest to. 

Problem solving is a really human factor to be doing. People really feel a way of accomplishment and contribution. Why not lean into that power? Build mechanisms akin to coaching and training, requirements, and strategies for escalation when limitations are struck, to assist incite the power of individuals solving problems, each individual, each day, and if doable, each drawback. 

Jamie Flinchbaugh is the founder of management consultancy, JFlinch, and creator of People Solve Problems: The Power of Every Person, Every Day, Every Problem. He can also be cofounder of the Lean Learning Center. 

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