Slow Down to Make Better Decisions
When addressing a problem, you need to understand what exactly it is you are trying to solve. We too often jump to conclusions before we fully comprehend the issue. We like answers now as opposed to later. This strategy, however, may lead to mistakes and unintended consequences.
We love to cross items off our list, and the best way to do this is by completing them swiftly. In the process of completing the task, the “fastest way” we may overlook crucial information. So how can we slow ourselves down and improve our accuracy?
Take Data with a Grain of Salt
Massive amounts of data are now available thanks to the litany of digital devices we use in our everyday work. This data can range from the number of bags of chips purchased in company vending machines to the number of downloads of a newly launched application. While the numbers recorded can hold some meaning, they should not be all-encompassing.
Take those bags of chips purchased out of your company vending machines. Your HR team is worried that team members are stressing out too much and buying far more bags of chips than usual. They must be stress eating! While this could be a reasonable conclusion, there also other reasons for such an event. What if the designated ‘chip’ selection in the vending machine is filled with high-quality granola bars? What if the healthy section of the vending machine hasn’t been restocked? So, those hungry for a snack only have the option to buy the chips.
Instead of jumping to the conclusion that because the data says we are selling more chips out of our vending machines than expected, our employees must be stressed. Ask, “Is there something else going on?” Numbers don’t mean much when taken out of context. Make time to address the problem in person, with your own eyes, rather than jumping to conclusions based on the numbers only.
Frame Problems Appropriately
If you can’t hone in on the real issue, you will get the incorrect solution. Wrong problems = wrong answers. Consider two statements:
"We need to buy more real estate"
"We need to find more room for our people to work"
One isn’t a problem but rather a call to action. What’s the solution to our second statement? It is unclear. Could it mean buying more real estate? Sure. It could also mean moving equipment and other items from underutilized existing rooms. Maybe you don’t need the golf simulator right outside the lobby or the game room with ten foosball tables.
Framing the problem will help you from jumping to conclusions rather than addressing it head-on.
Instead of jumping to conclusions, start with the problem you are facing and work backward.
Say your company has been facing higher operating costs as of late. Start listing out possible causes of the problem.
- Raw material waste
- Utility costs are rising
- Marketing going over budget
- Buying new equipment rather than used equipment
- Low employee performance
You can take one of the factors like those listed above and extrapolate. Say you want to reduce utility costs. You can start by buying cost-saving equipment such as CFL bulbs instead of traditional bulbs. Turn off lights and computers at the end of workdays. Reduce use of non-essential tech. It can be just as easy to work backward as it is forward when working through a problem.
Asking “why?” is the simplest yet, most important thing you can do when approaching a new problem. If you don’t understand the problem, how can you expect to solve it? If you ask why long enough, eventually, you will get to the root cause. Identifying the root cause ensures you have an actionable solution, not just a temporary fix.
We too often nod our heads in agreement when we may not even be sure what we agree upon out of fear of looking like we don’t understand what is going on. Don’t be afraid. Ask “why?” or get left behind.
While these tips won’t promise you the right solution, they are steps to help you think through a problem. In a world where quick answers are the demand and time is of the essence, make sure you take time to think it through.