Collect Information, Not Data

“A problem well stated is a problem half-solved.”

– Charles Kettering

You can’t solve a problem without good quality information.  If you recall the reports of unintended acceleration that Toyota experienced a few years ago, you know that one of their challenges was their inability to duplicate the problem.  Therefore, their best source of information was from a driver who was collecting information as they were hurtling down the road trying unsuccessfully to bring their car to a stop.  Obviously, not the best frame of mind for information gathering.

The challenge that many people encounter is that they engage in “activity-centered fallacies” of gathering too much data in the hopes that the cause of the problem will emerge.  Such was the case in this example where an airline collected mountains of data in an effort to solve a problem.  Instead, the cause of the problem was something quite simple  and they already possessed the information they needed to solve it.  So where does one stop their information gathering efforts when trying to understand a problem?  We’ve found that targeting your efforts to answer a few critical questions will provide a good definition of the problem that will often allow the cause of the problem to emerge from all the data.  Here are the questions:

  • What is the item (or person) with the problem?  What similar item might also be experiencing the problem but is not?
  • Where is the problem occurring?  Where else could the problem be occurring but is not?
  • When the problem was first observed?  When could the problem first been observed but was not?
  • How often is the problem occurring?  How often could the problem be occurring but is not?


Answers to these questions provide an excellent description of your problem.  When you can answer these questions with reliable data, usually the cause of the problem will quickly become evident.  If not, give us a call at 800-386-5611 and we’ll help you get the rest of the way there.




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