Our Preoccupation With Solutionitis, Hammers And Nails

Plastic 5: Snow Smash

If all you have is a hammer, everything else looks like a nail.

The hammer nail analogy is a common business idiom. It describes the bias that we bring to solving problems based on our personal experience and background.

Well, hammer meet nail. Nail says to hammer, “Hammer, meet screwdriver, pliers, wrench, saw and the entire toolbox of unique tools to solve different challenges. You see hammer, there’s more to fixing the problem than pounding nails.”

Our Drive To Solve Problems

We love to solve problems. Our brains are built for pattern-finding and fixing things. So it’s no wonder that we quickly see the answer to most challenges as a hammer-nail situation.

Yet the hammer is not the most appropriate tool to solve every problem. Still we often we try to fix all of our challenges as if they were just nails in need of pounding.

Our Preoccupation With Solutionitis

When a challenge arises, it’s natural for us to try to fix it based on our experience, our past, our knowledge and our beliefs. We also love to tell others about our successful solutions that can solve their problems too. We spend more time talking about our hammer and nails before we fully understand their challenge. Groups have the tendency to default to problem solving fast.

The authors of Learning To Improve identify this challenge as solutionitis.

Solutionitis is a form of groupthink in which a set of shared beliefs results in an incomplete analysis of the problem to be addressed and fuller consideration of potential problem solving alternatives. Learning To Improve.

When decision makers see complex challenges through their narrow lens of past experiences, their solutionitis lures them into unproductive and ineffective strategies add these authors. We see a one-size-fit-all solution.

Slaying Solutionitis

So how can you check your solutionitis at the door before you make any recommendations? How can you call out your bias so others can weigh in with their comments?

Here are a few suggestions to slay solutionitis.

1. Be Curious About The Hammers Others Carry

When planning meetings, conferences and events, ask yourself, “What hammers are these people bringing to this experience? Why do they see this problem and its solution this way? What’s shaping their perspective? Hat tips entrepreneur and author Max Suster.

2. View The Issue Through Their Lens

Consider the problem though lens of those confronting it. Ask the person to describe their daily work and context of the barrier they face. Invite them to explain any changes they would make to solve their problems. As you listen, consider tweaking any solutions to accommodate their insights.

3. Slow Down Your Rapid Problem Solving

Stopping solutionitis is counterintuitive to our need to problem solve. To do so, we must slow down, step back and spend more time exploring and identifying the real problem. We are so quick to label the challenge based on familiar symptoms that we may miss its root cause. We need to do less problem solving and in an intentional, focused way, more problem identification.

4. Address The System That Creates The Challenge

We normally have some piece of knowledge about the problem. Turning that knowledge into action is what is really required. So we need to place a premium on why a current system works the way it does and how it might be improved for greater efficacy, not just what needs to be fixed says Learning To Improve authors. This means we have to understand the system and how all the parts work together. Then we can rethink the how and what.

How do we help conference participants place more value on problem identification and less on solutionitis? What steps have you taken to make sure you consider the hammers your conference participants carry to your event?

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