How Do You Solve Systemic Problems?

Many of the problems facing society today are the result of old mistakes. Just like you, things you find wrong in your life today are often the result of mistaken decisions from the past. Many of those mistakes have created systemic problems because patches have been applied ot minimize the effects without actually assessing the root of the problem.

There two ways to deal with problems and opportunities.

Process. You can create processes that, while not directly addressing the situation, lead to solutions. For example, if you want to be healthy you cannot achieve that with a single decision. Months of proper diet and exercise will lead you to where you want to be. There is no pill you take.

Event. Somehting you do to address and solve a problem. Like take the healthy pill. Systemic problems do not resolve themselves with event solutions. The risk is when the ehalthy pill does not work or creates a side effect some new and different pill is taken to voercome the side effect and get you back on track. That doesn’t work either. Eventually you have to wean yourself off the medication and go back to sound diet and regualr exercise.

Event solutions don’t solve process problems and by the same token, process don’t solve event problems. If a mountain lion leaps out of a treee at you, careful pruning of vegetation and building paths is not the solution.

Event problems need event solutions and process problems need process solutions.

Problems get worse when you mix up the problem and its solution

  1. Bureaucracies tend to apply processes to events and thus create massive overhead to solve problems that may not recur. When Ross Perot was on the board at GM, he railed against the creation of Snake Committees. “I come from an environment where if you see a snake, you kill it. At GM, if you see a snake, the first thing you do is hire a snake consultant. Then you get a committee on snakes and discuss it for a couple of years”
    Most government departments work like GM.
  2. The opposite occurs too. If you have a process problem, the tendency is to want to do something. At a minimum be seen to be doing something. Just like the diet pill, throwing money at a problem, or creating new services, or building a bureaucracy, tend to perpetuate the problem and often make it worse. At the very elast they will use resources that could have been sued elsewhere.
  3. When you have process problems, systemic if you prefer, you will need systemic solutions. Contrary to political and activist wishes, thse don’t solve the problem instantly. Not even slowly. If a systemic problem has take several generations to form, it will take decades to go away. You must tear down the patches, you must show people new ways to think about it, you must be willing to make mistakes and correct them. There are no quick fixes and trying to implement one will make it worse.

Seth Godin.

You might enjoy this brief article. Systemic problems.

Be sure you know the fabric of your problem before deciding on a solution.

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