Solving Problems Before They Become Problems | Dan Heath on The Art of Manliness with Brett McKay

Check out the Art of Manliness Episode Page and Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • In theory, preventing problems is better than being reactive, but in practice, usually, being reactive gets rewarded
  • Two reasons for upstream problems is that it isn’t anyone’s responsibility to take ownership of the issue and company silos
    • “Because we’re constantly pushing for efficiency and specialization…we start missing what might be major problems because they transcend the gaps between silos”Dan Heath
  • “When a problem doesn’t have an owner, the chances are it’s not going to get fixed” Dan Heath
  • After you solve a problem, ask yourself, how can we stop this from happening in the future?
  • Small changes in big systems result in big changes

Intro

  • Dan Heath is a bestselling author, speaker, and professor at Duke University.
  • Host: Brett McKay (@brettmckay)

Books Mentioned

Solving Problems Upstream

  • In theory, preventing problems is better than being reactive, but in practice, usually,  being reactive gets rewarded
    • E.g.: The cop who waits behind a stop sign waits for people to ignore it and give them a ticket. The cop who waits in front of the stop sign gets people to slow down and not ignore the sign. However, it’s usually the cop who issued  more tickets who gets rewarded
      • Often people have perverse incentives for  problems to emerge so they can fix it and get rewarded 
  • Problem blindness is when you can’t see the problem around you
    • E.g.: People thought hamstring injuries were just a part of football. But one trainer investigated the cause and found that most injuries occurred because of subpar training and not on the field. By adjusting the training regimens, the number of hamstring injuries fell dramatically. 
  • Another reason for upstream problems is that it isn’t anyone’s responsibility to take ownership of the issue and company silos
    • Expedia found that out of 100 customers, about 60 of them would call them. Why were so many people calling them? They wanted to get a copy of their itinerary. Once Expedia realized this, they started sending people a copy of their itinerary through email and telling customers how they could get it from their website.
      • “Because we’re constantly pushing for efficiency and specialization…we start missing what might be major problems because they transcend the gaps between silos”Dan Heath
    • It’s easy to identify responsibility with downstream problems but it’s not so easy with upstream problems
      • E.g.: Firefighters are responsible for putting out fires, but who’s responsible for not starting fires?
        • “When a problem doesn’t have an owner, the chances are it’s not going to get fixed” Dan Heath

Fixing The System Not Just the Problem

  • You can’t just solve the current problem, you need to tackle the system creating it
    • When people have a scarcity of time or resources, they tend to stop trying to solve problems or even prioritize them–Dan recommends the book Scarcity by Sendhil Mullainathan to learn more
      • With a scarcity mindset, people enter a tunnel and keep going forward without thinking if there’s a better method to solve the problem
  • After you solve a problem, ask yourself, how can we stop this from happening in the future?
  • Human adaptation can be a curse: “How many places in our life have we just learned to adapt to something, we’ve adapted to a problem?” – Dan Heath
    • There was an office door that would squeak every time someone opened it and it annoyed everyone on that floor. After about two days, a new hire had enough with the door and decided to buy some WD-40 to lubricate the door. The squeak went away and she was treated like a hero.
  • When trying to fix the system, you need to have data to orientate and guide you, but also consider the broader implications 
    • Without data it’s hard to tell if things are getting better or not, however, it’s easy to misinterpret data or optimize the results but end up with a negative ripple effect
      • NYC cut its tree pruning budget to save money, but more tree branches were falling on people and thus the city was getting sued more often and had to payout settlements–this ended up being more expensive in the long run
        • You have to look at the system as a whole, not just one part 

How to End Veteran Homelessness In 10 Months

  • In 10 months, the city of Rockford, Illinois was able to eliminate the problem of veteran homelessness: How did they do it? They took a theoretical problem and made it practical
    • They gathered people from all different facets of the problem because it was everyone’s responsibility
    • They changed the system because it wasn’t working–instead of annually counting the number of homeless people and helping them, they created a list with every homeless person’s name and checked on them more often
      • For every person, there were details about their situation and health and at every meeting, they would update the person’s location and progress on helping them
        • “It became practical, it became human, it became tangible, it was also easy to score victories” Dan Heath 
          • Small changes in big systems result in big changes
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Notes By Alex Wiec

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