I’ve been telling people this for several years. The admonishment, for me, began with my work teaching Quality Improvement at Chevron. In that work we found, to no one’s surprise, that people often focus on the task – solving a problem – much more than on the process – understanding its causes (and planning solutions accordingly.)
Most of us in western culture can easily focus on solving a problem or removing a barrier. After all, we know what’s wrong – just fix it! As all of us know from experience, the bias for action (a task focus) often leads to incomplete solutions, solutions that cause more problems (maybe ones worse than the original), solutions that don’t solve.
By taking time to focus on process – how we solve the problem – and using some sequence of steps that include understanding the causes of the problem often we achieve better results. The rub is that these steps may seem like they take a lot of time. In the moment, that time is often seen as wasted (“Let’s just solve the problem!”).
Several current happenings have coalesced recently to remind me of this saying (yes I hear myself telling others in my own voice!) On the flight from Chicago to Oakland recently, I was reading a book and put it down with nearly two hours remaining in the flight. This is very odd behavior for me, especially when I am truly enjoying the book. I put it down because I decided some reflection would make the book more valuable and more enjoyable.
After I had put it down and was contemplating what I had read, the flight attendant came by to pick up empty drinks. She mistakenly thought my Coke was empty. As she quickly started to pick it up it spilled (mostly on me!) She certainly didn’t intend to spill it and she was very helpful in my cleanup efforts. The point is, she ended up spending much more time with me than she would’ve had to if the Coke hadn’t spilled. Slow down to go fast. A trivial example? Perhaps. But often the greatest truths are seen in the simplest acts.
This phrase is also in my consciousness as I work with a colleague to build a workshop on consulting skills. This workshop will feature much time for reflection, personal learning and process. I’m hoping to impress, through my actions, the importance of process – the importance of slowing down.
There are examples, large and small, of this advice all around us. Since I started this Vantagepoints I’ve seen many! (Including my tendency to hand write notes too quickly, which make it hard for the reader to read, and may cause miscommunication, etc.)
I urge you to think about the application of this thought to your life. I am sure you will come to the same conclusion I have – that we can often improve our results simply by slowing down and focusing on process as well as task.
When you come to this conclusion, I urge you to pick one task or problem you are working on and apply this advice. Slow down. Focusing on the process you are using to solve the problem will bring clarity and help you avoid mistakes. It may be a bit frustrating, but in the long run it will be time well spent.