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Are you solving the problem, or merely fixing the symptom?

When a problem occurs in your business what’s the first thing you try to do? Fix it! In fact, that’s such an automatic response that you often don’t sit back and think, or act, systematically.

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When a problem occurs in your business what’s the first thing you try to do? Fix it!

In fact, that’s such an automatic response that you often don’t sit back and think, or act, systematically. You rush in and stick a band aid on the problem – anxious to make the pain go away … quickly. More often than not it’s just a short term solution. It usually means you’re going to have to deal with the problem again a little further down the track. Fixing the symptom won’t fix the real problem.

Here are just 3 questions to ask yourself when faced with a problem in your business. If you can’t answer them, you risk working with incomplete information and making the problem even more complicated.

1. What’s the real problem?

In the hazy world of problems and symptoms, often what you at first think is a problem, is really only the symptom – it’s not the real issue. If you focus on that symptom without uncovering the real problem you are wasting your time. You’re likely to fail. You need to discover what’s causing the “problem”.

To find this out you might need to hear all sides of the story. Keep in mind the focus for treatment should be on the underlying structure. The goal must be to strengthen the system to help it solve its own problems.

2. How long has the problem existed?

Problems usually occur in one of three ways –
> same old stuff
> something brand new
> same old stuff in a new package.

If the problem’s been around for a long time, perhaps there’s a deeper problem embedded in your system. If this is the case you need to deal with the underlying issue. Thinking systematically may mean you’ll need to appreciate the patterns over time.

3. Does the problem serve a function? If so, what?

Problems can play an important role in systems. The classic example is scapegoating, or dumping problems onto a person (or group of people). When this happens, you need to ask whether that person (or group) deserves it. If the answer is “yes”, then the work is with the person. If the answer is “no”, then the work is with the system.

Another question to ask yourself is what happens if the scapegoat were fired? Would the problem still exist? It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of “who can we blame” thinking, rather than “how can we fix this?”

Next time, before you rush in to fix things, ask yourself these 3 questions. Problems play an important role in your business. They don’t just appear because life is out to give you a hard time. They give you opportunities to find solutions, make positive and lasting changes, and find more dynamic and creative ways to deal with obstacles.

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