Identifying the real problem is the most important step because:
- a full understanding of the problem is crucial.
- symptoms must be differentiated from causes.
Why It's Important to Determine the Real Problem
First, in order to have a full understanding of the problem, you need to gather complete and accurate information. After defining the problem, more information is needed to confirm the cause of the problem. Sometimes what seems to be a problem is not really a problem at all.
For example, you tell your friend that you are always late for class because your alarm never goes off. Your friend may think the problem is that the alarm is broken or not working properly, when the truth is that you always forget to turn the alarm on before you go to bed.
It is important to have a full understanding of the problem before you begin solving it.
Separating Symptoms from Causes
The most common problem in real-life problem solving is that we fail to identify the real problem and instead solve the wrong problem or a different problem. What we think is the real problem often isn't, it's just a symptom of the real problem.
Here is another example: guests on the upper floors of a hotel complain that the elevators are slow. It might seem logical to assume that the real problem is that the elevators are slow. But maybe it isn't. Can you guess what the hotel did to solve it?
Hotel management concluded that the real problem was that guests were concentrating on how long they had to wait for the elevators. They decided to install mirrors beside the elevator to take people's minds off the wait. Customer complaints ended after the mirrors were installed.
It is important to examine all possible causes of a problem before moving on to the next major step - solving the problem.