Skip to main content

When Smart People Are A Nuisance

We all like smart people, right?

The purpose of this article is to share a word of caution when undertaking new continuous improvement projects; sometimes the situation to be improved can be made artificially complex. Many smart people like complicated things. However, complicated problems and complicated solutions can make life unnecessarily difficult.

When a situation is difficult to manage and needs to be improved you can often find yourself looking for solutions that will take every last detail into account and provide a robust solution. What if you don’t need to undertake all of these details? What if they are symptoms of something else?

If you find yourself in this position then it might be a good time to undertake some root cause analysis, to find out what is real and what is a knock on effect from some other activity. Root cause analysis can be very simple to undertake and one of the most popular options is ‘5 Why’. This approach is widely used to dig past the symptoms of a problem with a carefully chosen ‘why?’ question. Don’t just use the question ‘why?’ on its own, this doesn’t provide the necessary guidance for the people asking the question (and can become quite irritating).

The purpose of digging under the skin of a problem is that there is usually some kind of ongoing issue that needs to be resolved. By probing further you often arrive at a really simple (and obvious) insight that is in your control to resolve. This flash of the blindingly obvious is, however, only obvious once you do the necessary digging. The point of root cause analysis is to prevent you from accepting the first solution and instead help you to find out what is really going on, and more importantly, what you can do to change the situation.

After you have this level of clarity you can then go about crafting an improvement project which will address the right problems, and give you the correct results. Solutions for our problems may need to be complicated. They could also be an excuse not to stop, stand back and look at what you are doing and look at the bigger picture. If you find yourself in this situation then I recommend considering the following:

  • Fully define the problem you are trying to solve. By defining a problem accurately you can often devise a simple solution in its own right. This step alone is often glazed over and never given the true amount of time it deserves. Spend more time on this step if your projects are too complex.
  • Undertake some root cause analysis if the defined problem does not give you a beautiful yet simple solution. Try ‘5 Why’ or similar techniques to help you get to the bottom of the problem.
  • Generate an improvement plan to address your real issues.
  • Review the improvement plan, challenging each step with the question ‘what would give me a better result for less effort and cost?’ Revise the plan to reduce the amount of resources and effort the plan currently requires. You may need to leave this step over a period of hours, or days, to get your mind to give you some really good answers.
  • Take action and review the results.

I hope that if your projects seem too complicated or difficult that you will try the above. I really like smart people, but I am also aware that many of them like to jump into a problem and develop novel, complicated, long winded solutions. Stepping back might seem like taking time that you don’t have available. In most cases where I have recommended this approach businesses have saved themselves a lot more time and effort than if they just pushed ahead with the original solution. Their solutions were better too, so please take a time out if you are feeling that your projects are too complicated and try this approach.

Giles Johnston
Author of 'Business Process Re-Engineering', a practical plan to improve business performance.

Popular posts from this blog

The Kaizen Checklist is here!

Do you want to get better results from your Kaizen programme? Improve your business results quickly with my downloadable kit (including guidebook, workbook and templates) for only $39. Are you looking for a sustainable way to identify and implement improvements across your business? Practical improvement strategies The Kaizen Checklist is a downloadable kit that you can use with your management team to develop a system that suits your business and allow you to quickly implement Kaizen effectively at your place of work. This works great if you use it as the centre piece of your own internal workshop. The kit includes a 40 page guidebook, a workbook, four appendices and three templates. All parts of this kit are designed to get you up and running as fast as possible. If you are unfamiliar with Kaizen, let me stress that this is a simple improvement philosophy that is so much more than just  ‘a Japanese word for continuous improvement’. I’ll cover what it rea

Take the pressure off! Using the Y-curve with your Kaizen improvements

Do you feel under pressure when you have to make changes happen in your business? It can be scary when we try something that we have never done before. I remember thinking to myself 'how on Earth am I going to figure this out?' on many occasions. I think the last time was a few weeks ago! Years on from becoming reasonable at the art of change I am still faced with the same dilemma. It is scary and it is clear to me why so many people shy away from making change happen. It is natural to get stuck in this oscillation. On one hand you need to make change happen; the business needs the improvement benefits. On the other hand you don't want to screw up... Last week I was talking to a young engineer that I am mentoring. He was paralysed. Changes were not happening at all. There was always some early promise with his projects and then, as completion (and judgement day) loomed, progress would evaporate. The engineer asked me for my views on this  during a recent conversati

Kamishibai Boards

Available to purchase here. Some tools are incredibly simple to use, and also deliver some amazing results. Kamishibai boards are a great example and are superb when you want some visual control over routine tasks. By the way Kamishibai is pronounced "come-e-she-bye" in case you were wondering! As simple as you could want it, a Kamishibai board is a T-card system that has red cards glued to green cards (so that each T-card has a red side and a green side). The red cards are for the incomplete tasks, where as the green cards symbolise that the work has been done. See the photo below of a board in use. On the red side of the card you write the name of the task that needs to be completed, and if appropriate you can include details of how the task is to be completed. This is not expected to replace standard operating procedures, but can be a good opportunity for an aide memoire. The boards can be organised for daily, weekly and even monthly cycles. They are g