Monday, December 8, 2008

Looking for Trouble

One way to evaluate someone is how well they look for trouble. No, I'm not talking about whether they are a miscreant painting graffiti on trains. Rather it is whether they find inefficiencies and fix them or (even better) whether they can anticipate future problems.

As one develops expertise in an area, you hopefully progress through the following stages:
  1. Procedure follower
  2. Procedure interpreter
  3. Problem solver
  4. Problem definer
Early on, you just don't know enough about a subject. You simply go about following procedures and making sure you do them as written. Hopefully you quickly progress to someone who can interpret procedures. You don't have to be shown every little step and can instead be given general instructions. "Go to the store and pick up a gallon of milk" is much different than,
  1. Get you coat and car keys.
  2. Get in the car.
  3. Start the car.
  4. At the end of the driveway, turn right...
You get the drift.

Next you are at the level where you solve problems. You don't just follow procedures, but you are able to notice that the refrigerator doesn't contain any milk and you know what to do (or can develop a plan) about it.

Finally you reach a problem definer. A problem definer looks at the big picture and recognizes changes elsewhere that will lead to problems in your area of concern. i.e. You realize that your 8-year-old is now 15 and can drink a gallon of milk every other day. Your former custom of buying milk once a week isn't going to work and you are going have change your mode of operation to avoid the situation of opening the refrigerator and not finding any milk on a regular basis.

How well do you look for trouble? Does it creep up on you unexpectedly? Are you continually having the same problem? If so, you should examine yourself. You are probably just a problem solver. You need to look at your problems from a broader, more diverse perspective to determine if you are missing something.

Be a problem definer!

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