Episteme

Mike's random thoughts and ramblings

The Problem with Problems

Recently, I posted about the "Finding Solutions" domain of skills for the SSSE Personal Security Certification series of posts. I had a lot of trouble creating the name for that domain, because I didn't like the frame that it set up. But I "finding solutions" is surely a good deal more inclusive and important than the usual name for those skills: "problem solving".

I was reading a brilliant book today ("How the Way that We Talk Can Change the Way that We Work), and the authors described the problem with solving problems absolutely perfectly:

"if we regard all our problems as bugs in the system, the best we will ever do in removing them is preserve the system.... when we solve a problemquickly, the one thing we can usually be certain of is that we ourselves are the same people coming out of the problem as we were going in to it"

This is the fundamental problem with solving problems: when we solve a problem, we eliminate the evidence that we can use to chase down further distinctions that can lead to our improvement.

We see this often in IT - how often have we seen a bug in a system fixed or worked around that could have told us about a significantly bigger issue in the system had we left it in place?

The existence of a problem should be seen as an interesting piece of evidence - sometimes, looking at problems for a minute (before solving them) can be more instructive than rushing to get the problem out of the way.

Try it sometime today before you solve a problem: ask yourself what the problem can tell you about yourself, the system, or the business before you try to figure out the solution. You may notice that you notice something different than you would have if you just solved it.

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Michael Murray

Michael Murray