Before medical students get too deeply entrenched in their studies, they are presented with several cautionary nuggets of advice.
My favorite is “if you hear hoofbeats behind you, look for a horse…not a zebra.”
Obviously, the temptation to assign an exotic diagnosis to a patient is seductive for the novice practitioner-it sort of proves that all of the hours spent in all of the lectures provided something of value! However, physicians with decades of experience behind them know that most ailments spring from a more common and more easily identified source than the rare and esoteric!
But…once a diagnosis is rendered, another temptation appears: “classical confirmation bias.” This situation is reflected in a determination to minimize presenting symptoms in order to avoid changing an initial diagnosis. In other words…being reluctant to assess and re-frame …perhaps because of one’s personal ego.
How often do leaders in educational arenas see the identical phenomena?
Whether we might be prone to this failing ourselves, or whether we are forced to deal with it as it flows downward from boards, superintendents, unions, etc is immaterial; what matters is that a mindset couched in preservation of a decision…whether it is valid or not…is a land mine for multiple reasons!
Application of rational process can help avoid both of these challenges in real life…whether educational, medical or “regular” arenas are in play.
Being able to approach a problem with an open mind and a set of steps that can be used to find cause can help individuals broaden their observation lens in order to more accurately assess all pertinent and impinging factors that might affect any given condition. While the clatter of hooves is significant, the opportunity to identify the source, as well as significance of the sound, can avoid falling into the trap of failing to see the tree standing in the forest.
Using a true Problem Analysis strategy, one can:
- Focus on facts, not emotions
- Concentrate on relevant (not extraneous) data
- Identify what data is needed and organize it for effective analysis
- Rule out unlikely causes before taking unnecessary action
- Determine true cause (and/or contributing factors)
- Make lasting fixes aimed at true cause (vs. band-aid “solutions”)
- Apply what is learned about one problem in order to address or prevent other problems
…and help you to remember you are far more likely to be suffering sniffles due to a cold than because you have contracted beri-beri!