Cure for the Queasies

If you have been watching the news recently, you have likely heard that the Centers for Disease Control are busily trying to identify the cause of a Cyclospora outbreak.  So far, it has affected 610 people in 22 states with symptoms that are consistent with eating seven funnel cakes and then hopping on a Tilt-A-Whirl.

It’s not pretty.

Right now, they are leaning toward blaming a particular mix of bagged salad.  Such recalls on food products happen far more often than any of us would like.  Localized outbreaks such as this occur more than once per month.  And, if you’re like me, hearing reports like this is enough to make you a bit queasy.  But my upset stomach is not because I fear I’ve eaten a bad batch of bean sprouts.  It’s because we often face these mysteries in business on a regular basis.  We encounter problems we can’t solve, so we apply Band-Aid fixes, expending valuable time and resources as the problems recur and cascade, and never get to the point of treating the root cause of the problem.

The good news is that the CDC is expert in this area and they publish their methods on the web for all of us to see.  Here are some key concepts to benefit any organization faced with a pressing problem where the root cause has yet to be identified:

  1. Don’t Just Study The Sick:  When systems break down or implementations fail, we often limit our focus to the area of failure.  Note that the CDC spends as much time gathering information on those who did NOT get sick as those who did.  And, it is by comparing and contrasting between the two that the true root cause emerges.
  2. Don’t Sweep It Under The Rug:  When implementations or products are failing, the leaders responsible often err on the side of optimism.  Unfortunately, in today’s “matrixed” organization, this means other departments are blind-sided by problems that could have been prevented or circumvented.  Take a page from the CDC’s broad communication programs that allow consumers to prepare, plan, and take action to minimize impacts.
  3. Share Lessons Learned:  While failed implementations may become legend and corporate lore, we often fail to “systematize” lessons learned to prevent the same problem from occurring again.  This leads to more rework and wasted effort.  Instead, mimic the CDC’s process for documenting dangers and creating processes to prevent them from occurring in the future. 

These steps are like Pepto for your problems, helping you avoid the waste and rework that comes from failing to identify the true root cause.  We have spent over thirty years helping clients get to the heart of their issues and developing effective solutions that last.  If you are looking for other ways to improve problem solving in your organization, just give us a call at (800) 386-5611.  We would love to hear from you.




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