Be careful not to confuse a problem with a decision. If you attempt to address a problem by making a decision then you are not going to solve the problem because you are dealing with an unknown cause. For example if you are running low on oil in your car and you decide to fill it you are not solving the problem because you have not identified the cause.
A problem occurs when there is a deviation from the norm when you do not know the cause and you care about the deviation. So if your oil level is low that is a deviation from the norm. If you don’t know why it’s low and you care about it then you have a problem. The cause could be that there is a leak, that the engine is burning oil or perhaps it’s being siphoned off. Once you identify the cause then you have a decision to make.
Tips for separating decisions from problems in order to apply the appropriate thinking process:
- Time Frame – problems are about the past, decisions are about the present and plans are about the future.
- Three Conditions – a problem is a deviation from the norm where the cause is unknown and you care. All three conditions must be met in order to be a problem. If the cause is known then you have a decision to make.
- The Focus – problem solving is about cause; decision making is about resources and results.
These insights were learned from our mentor, Dr. Alan Weiss who has helped us understand the importance of defining whether you are solving a problem or making a decision.