the true root cause isn’t even on the list. This is why
guessing won’t solve these problems.
What people say to cover up guessing:
into thinking it’s a good strategy and is going to
work again, and made the habit harder to break in the
future. Whether or not it works, it’s easy, and we find
comfort in that.
• I have a hypothesis!
• I have a theory!
• I’m pretty sure X is true.
• We listed the most likely options.
• The group voted on this one.
• I’m not guessing, I’m taking action.
• I was right, so it couldn’t have been a guess.
• Our experience suggests…Over a period of 4 months
the food processing plant had invested one year of
work and $200K trying out about one-third of these
ideas, and they’d not gotten close to solving the problem. They had actually created new problems for their
production line as they installed new drive-chains for
the sealing equipment and made many other changes.
When you make 50 changes to a production line, and
only one in 10 causes a new problem, you’ve still created five new problems.
Second, you haven’t developed a deeper understanding of whatever you’re trying to x, whether it’s
yourself, a process, or a machine. Instead of spending
time building some knowledge of the fundamentals that
you can use in the future—new problems are popping
up all the time—you’ve spent your time guessing and
checking. So next time there’s a problem, you’re back
to square one.
Taking an approach designed to solve hard problems
took care of this issue in a few weeks, and demonstrated that the root cause wasn’t on the original list. Not a
single guess was made in that entire effort. But “
structured guessing” had cost the business a lot, including
time and money. We’ll have a closer look at this example in Chapter 8, “Make Fact-Based Decisions,” and
Chapter 9, “Stay on Target.”
Third, and perhaps most importantly, you’re not becoming a better problem-solver. While guessing might
eventually get the job done for problems of moderate
difficulty (although at great cost), you rob yourself or
your team of critical skills development. When you get
to truly hard problems, you’re going to need all of the
skill you can get: If you don’t practice using the right
behaviors and method to solve moderate problems then
you will never master them, and you’re going to get
shellacked when you try to tackle the hard ones.
GUESSING IN POPULAR
THE CURSE OF LUCK
Imagine Sherlock Holmes trying to catch a serial killer
with guessing. “Maybe it was the butler!” So we throw
the butler in jail, but the serial killer strikes again!
“Perhaps it was that shady fellow!” Six murders later
we have seven more people behind bars waiting for the
circus to end, but Sherlock has another hunch. “Maybe
it was the chief of police!” At that point everyone rolls
their eyes and tells Sherlock that he’d better not quit his
day job. The practice of guessing so obviously fails in
detective work that it’s almost shocking that we guess
when we have important problems to solve.
Many businesses teach their people structured methods to help them solve problems. Structure can be
very helpful in certain stages of the problem-solving
method, adding rigor to defining the problem and
finding a pattern of failure. These are import- ant steps
beyond simple guessing or brainstorming, and they
are critical to quickly solving problems of fairly easy
or moderate difficulty. Many direct the problem-solver to spend significant effort studying the problem in
situ, which is a significant step in the right direction
away from solution-guessing at a table, in a conference room, or behind a computer. Understanding the
pattern of failure allows a problem-solver to quickly
eliminate some of the root causes by testing them
against the pattern of failure. This can shorten the list
of guesses and accelerate progress on some moderately difficult problems.
But let’s say you guess, and you get lucky: You
found a solution and implemented it effectively. You
may or may not have spent a lot of time and resources
on it. Unfortunately, some bad side effects come with
this rare victory.
First, you’ve reinforced the habit of guessing in
your mind or in your organization, fooled yourself
Where most of these structured methods break down
is that they ultimately resort to guessing to determine
what root causes may be. While they can help you
solve some moderate problems, you still depend on the
hope that your guessed cause is on the list you developed. Hard problems are immune to them.
For example, consider a classic problem-solving