How are you solving problems?

It seemed like a typical Thursday as I got down from our unit to the basement parking. Ten minutes before going down, we always advise our driver Iyas that we are on the way.

Iyas met me in the basement three waiting area. We walked and got in our Starex almost at the same time. I settled myself in the passenger seat, and Iyas tried to start the car. After pressing the start button, nothing happened. He tried again. Once again, nothing.

I asked Iyas to turn on the headlights. Nothing happened. The car battery is dead. It was a good thing I did not have any meetings that morning. I called the Motolight service to have a replacement car battery delivered and installed.

While we waited, I asked Iyas why the car battery was fully drained; his first reply was he did not know. ‘I don’t know ’ is his default reply for everything. I checked my records, and the battery was less than a year old. It’s not likely that it does not store electricity properly.

I asked him to think harder. After five minutes, he said that he might have left the lights open. The night before was his brother’s birthday. He was in a hurry to catch up on the birthday gathering. He may have left the car lights open.

If we step back, we could have wrongly taken it for granted that the car battery had died. We could have just replaced it without thinking deeper about the actual cause.

The cause was not the car light draining the battery. The real root cause was my driver’s negligence. When we got to the root cause, I informed Iyas that the next time we needed to spend replacing the car battery due to his negligence, he would need to pay for half the cost of the car battery. Since that agreement, we have never had to replace a drained car battery due to negligence.

If we take a helicopter view of what transpired, you will notice the essential elements of a structured problem-solving technique.

1. Information gathering. I dug deeper beyond what ‘seemed’ to be the cause.

2. Define the problem. The problem, in this case, is that my driver was negligent.

3. Options. We could jump-start the car, but that might not be a sustained solution. Getting the battery checked and replaced was more of the proper long-term resolution. The preventive action was the agreement for Iyas to shoulder half the cost of a replacement battery.

4. Solution. Get the battery replaced, and Iyas to agree.

5. Post-event assessment. The incident never happened again.

Solving a problem should not be done in haste. A proper information gathering, problem definition, options identification, solution selection, and implementation helps resolve and prevent the recurrence of a problem.

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