Jumping to Solutions: A Hard Habit to Break

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Here is an article I first published on Linked seven years ago this week. This is lightly edited and updated.

We've all seen it happening around us. We've probably all done it.

What's that?

Jumping to solutions.

I hope the illustration that I created, above, gives you a bit of pause… not just to laugh at others, but to reflect on this personally. It's easier, sometimes, to see this problem in others than in ourselves.

In the Toyota Production System (or “Lean management”), we are taught the discipline of PDSA, or Plan-Do-Study-Adjust.

Part of this discipline is not jumping to solutions.

A key aspect of this is making sure we properly understand the problem statement before we even start brainstorming or throwing solutions around.

These concepts aren't difficult — they are just very different than the way many organizations operate. Toyota's “8 step problem solving” process (a.k.a. “A3 problem solving) starts with properly defining the problem and understanding it.

It's hard to not jump to solutions. But, you can get better at recognizing that behavior when it's happening. And, when you recognize it, you can stop yourself before saying or doing the wrong thing.

Part of the solution we jump to often involves blaming people. That another hard habit to break, but, again, it's easier to be aware of it… and to control it.

The habits (jump to conclusions, blame people, be decisive, have all the answers, get things done) are hard to break.

These are harder habits to break for executives who have been in the workforce the longest. Executives have been rewarded for their “problem solving skills” for years or decades… and these skills might including blaming people and jumping to solutions.

We should be empathetic toward our senior leaders… especially if they want to change… if they are really trying to change and not just giving this lip service. We don't need to have patience with those who aren't trying to change, perhaps.

This is all an especially difficult transition in organizations where problems are something to be hidden and covered up, instead of being embraced as things to fix.

“Don't bring me problems, bring me solutions,” is a common mantra. It sounds good, but it's not really that effective in practice.

I've also written about that here:

This more-effective “Lean” problem solving discipline can be built up over time… it starts by looking in the mirror.

Has your organization been able to shift its culture from “jumping to solutions” to more effective problem solving and improvement?


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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

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