Problem Solving – Is the Last Straw The Sum of the Whole…

We’ve all heard of the age old adage of the “Straw Which Broke The Camel’s Back“, however what does this mean other than forming some grotesque mental image of a poor suffering animal.  As the one thing in practical terms is it seems that from a practical view, is the last straw is really no different than the first.

What am I getting at you might be asking, well the answer is pretty simple in that when things go wrong people tend to look to the “last thing” which went wrong as being the problem.  However this is typically not the case as “problem events” are in fact the culmination of many sub events which add up to the whole.

As we’ve waxed in these pages before, a problem is typically comprised of 7 correlating events which lead to the main event (failure).  So in fact each of the 7 (straws) are of equal importance to the whole rather than just the last (straw or event).  As the importance in this scenario is to understand the pattern of events rather than just the “last” event.

As many of you I spend my professional day solving problems, typically complex, high impacting ones for multinational companies.  In the past week saw one of these where the last event clearly could not have caused the greater event which left people standing around guessing while money was lost.  As the group of people working the issue had a difficult time getting their minds around the fact “one thing didn’t break it” as there wasn’t nor would there be a smoking gun.

This in turn lead to a form of “paralysis” on the part of many and slowed the recovery process as no one could identify that last straw as it was really no different than the first.  It’s here when we are trying to solve a problem it’s critical to step back and look at the big picture to take it all in first.  From here we can then catalog the straws (events) which might have made up the greater problem and look at the “sum of the straws” rather than seek them out individually.

By taking this course of action, we can figure out quickly if the answer is really a “solution” rather than a “resolution“.  As in trouble shooting we look for the last thing which changed which broke it to be the basis for our “resolution“.  Where if wasn’t the last thing, yet the culmination of the last (say) seven things then this “answer” will become a “solution” instead…