If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.
1908 – 1970
When we’re faced with a problem, the first thing we need to do is get totally clear about the issue we’re trying to solve. But at times, this task isn’t as straightforward as it sounds.
Consider the interesting example of the mathematician Abraham Wald and the British Air Ministry. During World War II, the British Air Ministry engaged Mr. Wald to study the damage suffered by airplanes engaged in combat missions and use those results to recommend appropriate places for armor reinforcement. All returning planes were assessed for damage and the data was collected and analyzed. Patterns of damage soon became apparent, and the officers of the Royal Air Force concluded that the planes should be reinforced based on those patterns.
Mr. Wald took a different approach. He reasoned that the damaged planes which made it back weren’t the real problem. Additional armor was needed most on planes which didn’t make it back. While he didn’t know for certain where the damage was on the lost planes, he could reason that it was different from that of the planes which safely returned. His task was to see the problem which wasn’t easily observed.
How does this apply to everyday life? I think we all fall into the trap of thinking that we should focus on the obvious issue. Take some common examples. We think we need to starve ourselves to lose weight, but sometimes the problem is what we aren’t eating: vegetables, whole grains, and high-fiber foods. In our relationships, we generally look at the faults of our partners, friends and family; instead of focusing on what they need to change, ask yourself what you could change that would make a difference. Don’t just look at the plainly visible options. Identify the things you don’t (or won’t) see.
If you want better results, look beyond the obvious — and make sure you’re solving the real problem.
Sometimes the situation is only a problem because it is looked at in a certain way. Looked at in another way, the right course of action may be so obvious that the problem no longer exists.
Edward de Bono
Copyright © 2017 John Chancellor