Troubleshooting old problems – new perspective

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”- Albert Einstein

We all remember the story of the blind men and the elephant where due to their sight challenge, they are unable to see the whole elephant and can only describe the part that they were touching and feeling. Each of them has a different opinion based on their perception of the ‘thing’. There is no concept of totality or whole and so the understanding is limited leading it to be wrong. In the working realm too, we find our stuck in a rut slaving over one problem repeatedly and often in the same manner, which does not yield any result.

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Troubleshooting is also the same. By its very nature it is a laborious, mundane and cumbersome task and so even more difficult to ‘try’ new things. Very often the person dealing with the problem at hand is left wondering and frustrated as to why there is no solution in sight. Breaking down a problem in to parts, does not imply that only the one part is problematic. Such problems call for innovation since the problem must be resolved if the customer is to be served. Troubleshooting old problems with a new perspective, a new approach! As the quote by Albert Einstein, elucidates – it would be insane to expect resolutions or different results if we continued working or doing the same things over and over again. Troubleshooting staff can often be clouded by their past experiences and assume that a similar problem from the past can be dealt with in the same way. A change in outlook would help be more efficient at troubleshooting. Redefining the steps in the process, changing the visuals, asking a different set of questions or simply ‘unlearning’ are just some ways for troubleshooting old problems with a new perspective. Even if one of these methods was called to play, the troubleshooting staff would be able to see a new angle to the problem and not only would the problem at hand be resolved, they could find creative and innovative ways to prevent similar recurrences and problems. Being able to look at the ‘big picture’ or the whole gamut is a skill that troubleshooting staff must have to avoid problems that become cyclic in nature.

Is it really necessary for such a technical set of people to ‘learn’ creativity and how will looking ‘differently’ at the techy side of things resolve anything? Ever heard of an a-ha moment? Well that happens only when the mind is able to associate two completely different views and throw up a completely different set of ideas leading to a better understanding. That’s when we go a-ha! So how can troubleshooting staff have more of these moments and arrive at new interpretations of problems and get more effective resolutions? It is both easy and challenging – easy if there is an overall attitude to learn and innovate and challenging if the troubleshooting staff has a mindset of “I know and it cannot be done any other way”.
– Take a print out of the troubleshooting visuals, print the screenshot of the problem and a print out of the possible solutions of the problem. It is much more effective and easier to work with visuals and compare the documents rather than relying solely on memory and attempts to recall ‘everything’ there is to know about troubleshooting and problem resolutions. The staff would find it much simpler to make the right associations as they are able to view all the parts of the issue at one go. This would be even more beneficial to generate new ideas from a group of people working on the problem. As the ideas flow, take notes and at the end of the discussion, compare them. There would most likely be a pattern that emerges and probably in a completely different train of thought than was imagined possible. There would not be a need to ‘visualize’ the solution, but this would help to unfold it even before the troubleshooting staff realizes it. Troubleshooting old problems this way also builds team work and helps the staff to think creatively.

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– Troubleshooting jargon can often land the staff in a tizzy. The same words, language and explanations will eventually lead the staff back to square one – no resolution. Correct and varying use of language is not the dominion of just the creative folk – using a different set of words and may be getting someone totally unconnected with the problem to describe the problem is a great way to gain new perspective and for troubleshooting old problems. Get the ‘creative’ guy to help rephrase the problem and possible solution for you. Strange as the above idea may sound, innovation is about doing things differently. Separating language from anything is impossible as it is inextricably linked to everything.

“It’s easy to come up with new ideas; the hard part is letting go of what worked for you two years ago, but will soon be out of date.” Roger von Oech

– Experiment with the new set of ideas and the different language and expressions you have been able to gather. Re-work the problem, get everyone on the team to define their understanding of the problem and move closer to getting a resolution for that nagging old recurring problem.

– Another reason for not getting ‘the’ answer is probably because the questions aren’t right. Not pertinent and focused enough to even point you in the right direction. Look at the visuals again – remove from them the portions you can safely rule out as not contributing to the problem. View the remaining set of visuals, and it will be much easier to ask new questions and pointed questions. Make a sketch of the problem if possible and match it with one that illustrates the possible solution or solutions. As your brain gets exercised in different directions, it will be stimulated to provide new perspective for troubleshooting old problems.

– As you work your way through different thought processes, varied questioning and data gathering, ensure that it is being documented. Documented in a different way – in simpler language, the methods used to view at the possible problems and the path taken to arrive at probable solutions. This will prove indispensable when tackling future problems and prevent other users from getting stuck in a rut over old problems. Troubleshooting is hard work, but it doesn’t need to be boring and arduous. As Byron Dorgan puts it – working hard and working smart sometimes can be two different things!

– After going through the steps, you seem closer to find the most appropriate solution. Before making the final decision, place the possible solution in the complete framework – the whole picture. All the parts of the troubleshooting process, all problems and all the solutions – put them together and then envision how the planned solution would fit in – would it cause any other problems or is it exactly what is required. This zoomed out view will go a long way in knowing whether you will be making the right decision or not.

Troubleshooting old problems with a new perspective, does not remain good for just one problem or only in the realm of troubleshooting. Applying this stance in other fields too will broaden not only your individual outlook but will help those around as well. Companies that can inculcate this as a culture would most certainly be sought after by customers who want nothing but the best – customer service or offerings. A company-wide mindset of troubleshooting old problems with a ‘new set of eyes’ each time is one that will make it a leader in innovation, the envy of the competitors and a benchmark not just in their particular industry but across all industries.
Companies that have staff with the right attitude and who are willing to try new ways and are keen on learning will be the companies that gain a sustainable competitive edge. The senior management must lead these capabilities and be unafraid to try new techniques.

“When all think alike, then no one is thinking.” Walter Lippman

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