Problem identification & problem solving

Clear identification of the problem is the key to solving the problem correctly.

Einstein has been quoted as having said “if I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”

A diverse perspective + root (right) problem + problem investigation = good strategy. Although a problem might be complex the process used to solve the problem are usually not complex.

A problem occurs when there is a difference between what “should be” and what “is”; between the ideal and the actual situation. A problem: expresses the difference between the hoped for and the actual situation.

In the world today people get so involved with symptoms of the problem, rather than clearly identifying the root cause of the problem, that proposed strategies are misleading. Often politics interferes with clear problem identification. This leads to bad strategies being applied often resulting in bad fixes especially in the long term. Politics is inherently short term, not looking past the next election.

Identification of the root cause of a problem is simple. When a problem arises, ask why and for each response to the question ask why again until the why question has been asked at least five times.

A diverse perspective on root causes of a problem leads to an investigation that often shows up additional problems such that a good strategy then solves more than one problem. This is usually much more cost effective in the long run.

In environmental matters which are complex and long term, clear identification of the problem is more relevant. Clear problem identification leads to long term stable and sustainable solutions. Two other areas of concern with environmental problems are:

  • Timing of problem solutions
  • Responsibility for the solutions

In environmental matters, especially on public land, problems are government matters. Even on private land these problems are dependent on government control in South Africa. South African Government moves so slowly, that often the problem has changed by the time solutions are put in place, often leading to damaging fixes. Secondly, the responsibility for the solutions does not rest on the proposer of the solutions. Therefore, the damaging fixes are not sorted out because no one locally is responsible.

There are numerous examples of unclear problem identification, incorrect fixes, costly solutions due to bad timing and lack of responsibility in the Ward 8 area of Hermanus. Most of the cases reported of environmental damage in this area have all four aspects applied to them. 

For example:

General view of the Bot Estuary and surrounds where correct problem identification has been badly done
Bot River Estuary with a mix of good Fynbos in the foreground and severely degraded land near the Estuary

Michael Austin February 2022 written for Greenheart projects.

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