The power of solving small problems

There are at all times lots of problems to be solved. Simply open your e mail inbox and certainly there shall be one thing in there that isn’t fairly proper and requires intervention. You actually don’t have time or capability to resolve all of them, and so you could prioritize. The two most typical choice standards used for prioritizing this checklist of problems are the noise about it (as in “the squeaky wheel will get the grease”) and the magnitude of the issue.

The squeaky-wheel criterion is actually flawed, however usually is predicated on some basic benefit. To a point, you can argue that that is crowd-sourcing the prioritization. Whereas this technique will definitely typically get it mistaken, it gained’t at all times get it mistaken.

Prioritizing downside solving based mostly on magnitude, nevertheless, is inherently flawed as a main criterion. Simply 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 manner, however placing this criterion so excessive in our psychological algorithm has a large and usually unseen unfavourable impression. It makes us devalue the act of solving small problems.


The knowledge of solving small problems

The knowledge of solving small problems is not at all new, however perpetually forgotten. The parable of the nail conveys the impression of seemingly small problems. Whereas 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 basic reality that the majority massive problems started as small problems that left unattended grew or propagated. Whereas we are able to’t resolve each small downside that comes alongside, we must always at the very least worth them. They’re essential, not as a result of of what they’re right now however as a result of of what they may develop into.

The different essential actuality is that it is rather tough, if not unimaginable, to really decide which small problems might doubtlessly develop into large problems. If nothing else, the work to guage the potential danger of every unchecked small downside is undoubtedly much less effort than to really resolve the problem itself. Subsequently, we should at the very least respect all of the small problems, as some of them will at some point develop as much as be one we are going to actually care about.

Examples of this precept

Albeit excessive, an amazing instance of that is the Mariner 1 program. NASA has lots of comparable tales, so that you would possibly marvel if that is only a NASA downside, however the reason being that they make nice efforts to check and publicize their very own failures, and due to this fact develop into a real laboratory for the research of failures.

Mariner 1 was constructed to fly previous and research the planet, Venus. It was launched in 1962, and shortly veered off target. Unable to get better 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 slightly to easy out the info, not reacting (or overreacting) to every knowledge 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 impression.


In one other theme, does each e mail in your inbox obtain the identical quantity of consideration? Is something ever missed? I stay 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 photographs of American historical past. As a result of they have been unnumbered, the American assault needed to stay a shock to realize the benefit. Sadly, 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 word was discovered on the Colonel’s lifeless physique, and Washington’s victory on the Battle of Trenton was a major milestone within the conflict. After all, for the People, this was a contented mistake.

Not all small problems with outsized impression outcome within the loss of tens of millions or turning round a conflict, however the premise is that throughout your group there are seemingly small problems which are all equally mundane, till their impression propagates into one thing greater. It might impression your prospects, your workers, or simply your price range, however these problems are throughout you.

What are you able to do about it?

So, let’s begin off with the excellent news. Though it appears apparent, solving problems whereas they’re nonetheless small is quicker and simpler. One purpose is that you simply don’t must right all of the unfavourable outcomes from the issue rising massive. The different purpose is that tracing an issue again to the unique trigger when time has elapsed is way more tough. In case you are in a automobile accident and break your leg, why it’s damaged. In case you are sick in your 50s as a result of of one thing you have been uncovered to in your 20s, it is rather tough to determine why, or to show it.

Subsequently, for starters, we wish to design our work processes and our administration methods to reveal problems as early as potential. Perhaps you gained’t go after solving all of them, however at the very least you might have 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 when problems are only one/tenth of the hassle to resolve whereas small, if in case you have 100 instances as many, you might be nonetheless behind. The different key resolution is that this: have interaction extra of your group in downside solving. There may be nothing easier for solving extra problems than having extra downside solvers able to do the work. Many organizations assume this implies placing extra individuals on downside solving groups, due to this fact partaking them. This usually really defeats the aim. Whereas the collective intelligence of the crew would possibly make the issue solving in the end simpler, it additionally usually slows down the method, and does nothing to extend the quantity of downside solving. As a substitute, deal with consistency and depth of problem-solving abilities throughout the group and put them to work solving the problems they’re closest to. 

Downside solving is a really human factor to be doing. Folks really feel a way of accomplishment and contribution. Why not lean into that power? Construct mechanisms resembling coaching and training, requirements, and strategies for escalation when obstacles are struck, to assist incite the power of individuals solving problems, each individual, day-after-day, and if potential, each downside. 

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’s additionally cofounder of the Lean Learning Center.