Fix causes, not the symptoms of problems
While spending some down time recently watching some TED talks I stumbled across one about how to dry your hands in toilets such that you only need one paper towel. What jumped out at me about this amazingly simple technique, of flicking your hands and the water off 12 times before drying, was how an entire industry had been created to help the green agenda, but that it was actually solving a symptom not the cause.
In the UK and I’m sure in many parts of the world, office, shop and restaurant toilets are installing high powered air blowers to dry your hands.The idea behind these devices is that they use less electricity than the traditional hot air blowers and less than paper towels.
Fixing the symptom
By fixing the symptom of too much energy being used to dry people’s hands, you are overlooking the cause that the hands are wet in the first place. This may sound odd, as clearly the hands are wet as you’ve just washed them, but as the TED talk discusses, there is a simple way that with zero technology people can improve the root cause of the problem.
What is the harm then? Certainly not the profit margins of the hand dryer manufacturers I’m sure. Let’s consider the bigger picture though. These new devices had to be designed and manufactured, to be often replacing working old style hot air blowers because the owners wanted to save on running costs or be seen to do the right green thing. While they use less energy, if you take in the total environmental cost of ownership, was it better to make these, or would a simple education campaign of posters and stickers in toilets suggesting people flick their hands 12 times?
Fixing the cause
We should always remember that it can be the symptoms that seem the most obvious and that you need to dig deeper to understand the cause. Once you find the cause, you then might need a creative solution to fix it, like making your hands dryer before you try to dry them properly.
In the past, while working in an organisation that had a high quality culture, we would analyse all software defects that reached system test (pre-agile) or the customer. To dig in to the issue and why it escaped, we used the simple Five Whys questioning technique. We found this invaluable to get past the symptoms of the issue and find the cause. Sometimes this highlighted plain old human error, other times we discovered real insights in to problems.
Think 12 flicks!
Since watching the talk, whenever I use two paper hand towels in the bathroom, I think to myself, “why was this?” and every time it’s because I didn’t flick 12 times. In the same way now when you see a defect or issue that needs to be addresses, think of flicking 12 times, and think beyond the obvious that is staring you in the face. What is the underlying cause; fixing the symptom might be a quick fix but all you are doing is storing up issues for the future.
What are your experiences of symptoms being fixes not the cause? Please post a comment and share.