Even though problem analysis involves a completely distinct thinking process than decision-making, I often have to clarify this distinction before I can move folks to get on with the decisions that will create their future. See my April 17 blog entry, “Problem-solving is decision-making, problem analysis is not” for more details.
I’m a future-focused, future-creating individual. I’ve come to understand that my decisions create my future, so I spend very little time looking backward (at some past or recent failure) or inward (attempting to do problem/root-cause analysis on my motivations). However, there are some timeless and true rules that occasionally trigger problem analysis in my life or business. I learned these nearly 25 years ago when I took my first Kepner-Tregoe workshop on rational (human thinking) process. I’ve taught rational process workshops to hundreds of individuals, so I’ll paraphrase these rules from memory:
I should do problem analysis (aka root cause analysis) when:
- There is a deviation between actual and expected behavior (what IS happening doesn’t match what SHOULD BE happening)
- I don’t know root cause (why the deviation occurs)
- I need to know root cause in order to take effective action
Unless all three of these principles are met, then don’t attempt problem analysis; it will be ineffective; a waste of your time. It’s the wrong tool for the job at hand. Spend your time instead on envisioning and creating a better future – MAKE A DECISION!
I often see people frozen in fruitless root-cause analysis, asking “Why” over and over again. In most cases, their situation fails the third test; they don’t really need to know “Why” in order to take effective action to protect themselves or improve their future state. This is particularly true if the “Why” is seeking to understand the internal motivations of another human being; perhaps a loved one who has made a series of stupid and hurtful decisions. We can’t change the past and we have almost no control over the decisions of others, so accept the facts on the ground (the consequences of their bonehead decisions) and take proactive control of your own future by making your own choices.
If you have a friend who is stuck in “Why?” or “Why me?” mode, the best thing you can do is to point them toward the future and challenge them to “Go for it!”. By turning down their invitation to join a perpetual pity party, you’ll do them a big favor in the long run. But don’t expect profuse thanks on the spot…
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