Why We Keep Fixing the Same Problem: Lessons from the Icemaker
I don’t turn on the lights when I get a drink in the night. But occasionally, while standing in front of the fridge, I hear the freezer grinding. A frozen clinker is clogging the icemaker again. I can’t leave it till morning.
I struggle to keep the sleep in my eyes while I pry out the stuck ice cube with scissors. Ice is slippery, but I can grip clinkers with scissors. It’s 2 a.m.
During the day, when I hear an avalanche from the icemaker, I wonder if another ice cube clogged the works.
Once or twice a week, I dislodge an ice cube from our icemaker. Occasionally, I open the icemaker to check for lodged ice. Usually it’s fine.
Symptoms not causes:
You’re dealing with symptoms – not problems – when the same frustration returns over and over. The symptom is stuck ice. The problem is the icemaker.
When you refuse to deal with the real problem, you’ll deal with recurring frustration.
Stop being frustrated with frustration.
Frustration isn’t the problem. It’s easier to focus on frustration than to fix real problems.
Recurring frustration isn’t about frustration. It’s about tolerance.
Excuses for recurring frustration:
#1. The devil you know.
Ambiguity aversion – we prefer known risk to unknown. The devil you know feels safer than the devil you don’t know.
#2. The cost.
Symptom-fixing is faster and cheaper than solving real problems, at least in the short-term. It’s cheaper to grab the scissors than call for a repair.
The person who digs into real problems is a ‘troublemaker’. The person who quickly makes the pain go away is a hero. The crowd cheers.
The glamour of fixing symptoms seduces us.
No one else knows how to dislodge frozen clinkers in our house. I’m important.
The need to look important causes people to fix the same pain-point over and over.
Why do leaders make excuses for prolonged frustration?
What is the secret to solving problems instead of fixing symptoms?
NOTE: Tomorrow’s topic focuses on solving real problems, not simply symptoms.
Stop Tolerating These Employee Behaviors (HR Daily)
How to Stop Solving Problems and Start Solving Patters (Leadership Freak)
Something to keep in mind around fixing is what the workload is. You run your car day in, day out, service it once or twice a year and it chugs on. The guys doing Formula One will strip and rebuild the car after every race, because that one race takes more out of a car than six months of workaday commuting. If you’re running at the bleeding edge, fixing problems shows you’re committed to always being on the front of the grid.
Remember also this happens even if you try new designs. The Air Force mechanics who worked on P40’s and P-38’s in 1940 worked just as hard on P-51’s and P-47’s in 1945, one F-86’s in the 1950’s, F-4’s in the 60’s/70’s and so on via F-15’s/16’s through to today. The technology has advanced, but the fact that those guys are working just as hard shows their commitment to getting the absolute best from that technology.
Thanks Mitch. Your comment reminds me that working harder isn’t the answer. Often, people are already doing their best. Pushing others or yourself to work harder is a short-term answer that suggests the solution to problems is working harder and/or expecting more.
This approach is built on the assumption that people aren’t currently working hard enough.
Nobody stays ahead of their competitors by sitting still and relaxing, unfortunately!
Dan, the four excuses you listed for recurring frustrations lay the foundation for a hero culture, where “indipsensable” heroes with expert tribal knowledge consistently rescue the organization from the same calamity over and over again! “Troublemakers” who seek to solve the root problem pose a threat to heroes and raise the specter of the devil we don’t know. At times, the results of a hero culture are “good enough,” particularly when a clear solution or replacement is on the horizon. When, as is often the case, a hero culture impedes pace, progress, or productivity, it takes insightful, determines, bold leadership to resolve.
Thanks Paul. I hadn’t thought about the “hero culture” that tolerating problems and solving symptoms creates. It makes perfect sense. When we tolerate root causes, people seek us out to solve the symptom…the result is a hero culture… fascinating. And, it’s discomforting for anyone who want to innovate or improve.
Exactly … and hero cultures occur more often than we’d care to admit!
Thanks for a good laugh this morning. Been there, done that. But, scissors?!?!? However, it’s time to buy a new ice maker or get the repair person out. Too often, leaders try to use bandaids (or scissors) to keep things temporarily operating smoothly, just get by, and perhaps save a few dollars, when it’s best sometimes to spend the time and money to fix the problem the right way.
Thanks Bill. I’m delighted you appreciate the humor. Sometimes I think I’m the only one who gets it.
You might laugh to know that I bought a replacement icemaker and watched youtube videos explaining how to change it. But the devil I know feels safer than the devil I don’t know!!
You wouldn’t want to buy a new – never used – icemaker??
Thanks Dan! Really appreciate this post and your list: made me really stop and think! One more reason I’ve experienced at a couple of workplaces is “tried to fix the problem before and we got sucked dry.” After taking a break and being in “fix the symptom” land we’re about to take another look and another run at one of our perennials – wish us luck and fortitude and a good sense of humor 🤓
Thanks Ran… I have to say that your experience is really important. We are so much better when we’re rested. Burning the candle at both ends works for a short time, but it doesn’t take long for the “burning at both ends strategy” to burn YOU.
Super relevant comments from Paul Auclair on hero culture….it’s far too pervasive. Every quarter there are company stories about folks who went above and beyond putting out fires. I’ve often nominated folks who implemented great ideas to avoid problems, even earning kudos from customers, but it’s applauded the same way.
Correction…..in the last line I meant to say it’s NOT applauded the same way