You will be much more effective if you focus on diagnosis and design rather than jumping to solutions.
It is a very common mistake for people to move directly from identifying a tough problem to a proposed solution in a nanosecond without spending the hours required to properly diagnose and design a solution. This typically yields bad decisions that don’t alleviate the problem. Diagnosing and designing are what spark strategic thinking.
You must be calm and logical.
Root causes, like principles, are things that manifest themselves over and over again as the deep- seated reasons behind the actions that cause problems. So you will get many everlasting dividends if you can find them and properly deal with them.
It is important to distinguish root causes from proximate causes. Proximate causes typically are the actions or lack of actions that lead to problems—e.g., “I missed the train because I didn’t check the train schedule.” So proximate causes are typically described via verbs. Root causes are the deeper reasons behind the proximate cause: “I didn’t check the schedule because I am forgetful”—a root cause. Root causes are typically described with adjectives, usually characteristics about what the person is like that lead them to an action or an inaction.
Identifying the real root causes of your problems is essential because you can eliminate your problems only by removing their root causes. In other words, you must understand, accept, and successfully deal with reality in order to move toward your goals.
Recognizing and learning from one’s mistakes and the mistakes of others who affect outcomes is critical to eliminating problems.
Many problems are caused by people’s mistakes. But people often find it difficult to identify and accept their own mistakes. Sometimes it’s because they’re blind to them, but more often it’s because ego and shortsightedness make discovering their mistakes and weaknesses painful. Because people are often upset when their mistakes are pointed out to them, most people are reluctant to point out mistakes in others. As a result, an objective diagnosis of problems arising from people’s mistakes is often missing and personal evolution is stunted. (As I mentioned in the last chapter, most learning comes from making mistakes and experiencing the pain of them—e.g., putting your hand on a hot stove—and adapting.) It is at this stage that most people fail to progress. More than anything else, what differentiates people who live up to their potential from those who don’t is a willingness to look at themselves and others objectively.
I call the pain that comes from looking at yourself and others objectively “growing pains,” because it is the pain that accompanies personal growth. No pain, no gain. Of course, anyone who really understands that no one is perfect and that these discoveries are essential for personal growth finds that these discoveries elicit “growing pleasures.” But it seems to be in our nature to overly focus on short-term gratification rather than long-term satisfaction—on first-order rather than second- or third-order consequences—so the connection between this behavior and the rewards it brings doesn’t come naturally. However, if you can make this connection, such moments will begin to elicit pleasure rather than pain. It is similar to how exercise eventually becomes pleasurable for people who hardwire the connection between exercise and its benefits.
Pain + Reflection = Progress
Much as you might wish this were not so, this is a reality that you should just accept and deal with. There is no getting around the fact that achieving success requires getting at the root causes of all important problems, and people’s mistakes and weaknesses are sometimes the root causes. So to be successful, you must be willing to look at your own behavior and the behavior of others as possible causes of problems.
Of course, some problems aren’t caused by people making mistakes. For example, if
lightning strikes, it causes problems that have nothing to do with human error. All problems need to be well-diagnosed before you decide what to do about them.
The most important qualities for successfully diagnosing problems are logic, the ability to see multiple possibilities, and the willingness to touch people’s nerves to overcome the ego barriers that stand in the way of truth.
For a more detailed explanation of diagnosing problems, please read My Management Principles.
• In diagnosing problems, how willing are you to “touch the nerve” (i.e., discuss your and others possible mistakes and weaknesses with them)?
• Are you willing to get at root causes, like what people are like?
• Are you good at seeing the patterns and synthesizing them into diagnoses of root causes?