Merge's Blog

What the practice of medicine can teach us about solving problems

solving problemsSolving problems and making decisions are two important elements in leadership.  Which is often why I blog on this subject.  Recently, I’ve been in-and-out of specialist doctor offices (don’t ask), and I’ve come to realize that there are two steps in medical therapy – diagnosis and treatment.

But which should come first?

As individuals, we often treat first.  We guess as to what might be the cause of the ailment – a runny nose could mean a springtime allergy, or a rash might be due to excessive heat – and we then take a remedy, whether pharmaceutical or herbal, to feel better.  If the treatment works, then we know that our diagnosis was correct.  If it doesn’t, then we try something else.  Depending on the situation, this can be a very reasonable approach.

However, medical professionals usually diagnose first.  On the basis of laboratory and other tests, combined with knowledge and experience, doctors try to determine the reason behind the illness.  Sometimes, they look to eliminate possibilities as they try to narrow down and pinpoint the source of the disorder.  Only once they have determined the problem do they move to treatment.

Which approach is better?

It depends.  It depends upon the severity, complexity, and frequency of the symptoms and their outcomes.  It depends on whether you see yourself as an expert and a professional.  Which is also not a bad way to think about solving problems in the workplace.  When things go wrong, do you diagnose first, or do you treat first?

Treatment without diagnosis is likely quicker, but it can get expensive, particularly if you don’t get it right on your first or second try.  The biggest shortcoming of the “treatment first” alternative is that it too many wrong solutions can negatively affect your professional reputation.  But we often do it, because proper diagnosis takes time, which can frequently be in short supply.

On the other hand, the “diagnosis first” approach positions you as a professional.  As a trusted advisor to your clients (internal or external), it is important to invest the time to correctly diagnose the root cause of the problem or issue, before you offer solutions.  Even if it means that you have to slow things down. And if the issue is complex or critical, then proper diagnosis becomes even more important.

As a general rule, when I am solving problems, I am always deliberate about diagnosing first.  Asking questions, observing patterns, listening to perspectives is part of my diagnosis toolkit.  But if it is a routine problem that I have experienced frequently, then I might jump to the treatment faster.

So, diagnosis or treatment, which should come first?  You know what I think, but I’d love to hear more about your point of view, and even your first-hand experiences.  Please share your perspectives by adding a comment below.

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