How do you fix what you don’t know?

In 1 on February 10, 2010 at 4:10 am

I was watching CNN tonight when they were showing a piece about the Toyota fiasco.  They had an engineer on who said that the fix Toyota was offering did not seem to be consistent with the actual problem.  On the bottom of the screen was the question “How do you fix what you don’t know?”

Brilliant.  This question has been at the heart of my work for the last twenty years.  Every year I feel like I have learned a little bit more of how to answer that question.  And as always it comes back to one word– wonder.

I’ve been involved in a lot of different situations from sports to business to medicine to education and on and on.  In my work, I have come to a couple of conclusions about human behavior.

1.  People often simply don’t see that something is wrong despite all evidence being to the contrary.  I have been in several jobs where I’ve been brought in to change a culture…and too often the culture thinks things are fine despite mounting financial losses.  So why would they wonder how to fix what is wrong?  The answer is they just see no need to.  Needless to say I failed in any attempt to help in those situations.

2.  People often refuse to admit something is wrong.  Why?  Because that might mean they’ve done something wrong and admitting that shows weakness.  I am more successful with this population because they will eventually see the evidence if they feel safe to wonder instead of worry.  This takes trust and trust takes time.

3.  People do not want to pay the cost to fix something that is wrong so they don’t want to look for it.  Think flashing “check engine” light when you have $100 in the bank.

4.  Most often, I think people do not take the proper look because they feel pressure to perform, to do something, anything, to even look busy because being busy means they are trying hard. Somehow that’s good enough.

5.  Same thing, but the pressure comes from time and money.  Money is lost as time ticks by.

You get the point.  There are a lot of times when we simply do not look for the right thing to fix when we perceive something is broken.  And by doing so we admit, we acknowledge, we accept something being wrong.  Consider the financial crisis.  Consider the educational system.  Most of all, consider yourself.  I try to do this everyday.  And what I have found about myself, in my life, surprises me.  I want to know, above all else, I want to know, but that desire puts me at odds with people who fit into those above categories.  And I can be a lot better myself at knowing what’s wrong…with me, with my style, with my life, and I am trying.  And, of course, knowing what’s wrong doesn’t mean you know how to fix something, and maybe that’s the biggest reason of all for not wanting to look…the possibility of failure, of inadequacy, of not being good enough.

Which brings me back to the root of so much of what I see in people who won’t look (this describes me at an earlier age).  Because somewhere along the line, we are taught to stop wondering, to stop looking for what’s right so we have less to fix, and maybe as a result, less to know.  We take tests, get grades, jobs, promotions, raises, etc.  And for the most part, we spend our lives worrying and then avoiding what’s wrong…because we’ve forgotten or lost our promise, what’s right about us.  We stop seeing what works and then lose sight of it all together.  I see this everyday.

Positive thinking (what we tell ourselves that we might not truly believe) replaces positive energy (energy that does what matters), and we wake up one day and we no longer can see what is real.

And when someone comes along and asks “What’s wrong?” we have no idea how to answer because we don’t know.  So we say just say “Nothing.”

How do you fix what you don’t know?


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