Many meetings have been derailed by participants trying to make a decision when there is actually a problem that needs to get solved. Before you move to solution or decision, first determine what you are dealing with. Is there a problem or do you need to make 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 the oil up you are not solving the problem because you have not identified the cause.
A problem occurs when there is a deviation from the norm, 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 – for a problem to exist three conditions must occur: a deviation from the norm, 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.
When you confuse problem solving and decision making, you waste time and brain cycles. Before you start to solve something that really needs decided, take the time to confirm whether the situation requires a solution or a decision.