Avoiding solutioneering

Solutioneering is a term invented by a New Scientist writer many years ago. It describes the process of applying a pre-determined solution to a problem which doesn’t really exist, or not in the form the solution expects. A Google search on the term shows that it’s now in quite wide use.

One classic example from that original article was the installation of fire doors in London schools, to mitigate the consequences of potential fires. Sounds sensible, except that in the preceding fifty years or so there had not been a single instance of a child being injured in a fire in a school. After the doors went in, there was a spate of injuries due to trapped fingers and so on. The “solutioneers” actually made things worse.

I shared this with my friend Nigel Harrison of Performance Consulting and he’s spotted a great example of how to avoid solutioneering. I hope he won’t mind if I reproduce his email in full.

Last week on Radio 4 I heard a representative from the NHS reporting on the findings that one out of ten prescriptions by hospital doctors were written incorrectly. He said that it was thought that the reason must be inefficient knowledge in prescribing amongst new doctors.

Thank goodness they took a diagnostic approach and looked for the real reasons before implementing a training solution. The investigating team found that there was no difference between new and experienced doctors. They both had the knowledge required. It was only that mistakes occurred in highly stressful situations: not helped by the fact that the prescribing sheets were all different.

The NHS is now implementing a standard prescription form across all hospitals, something they did in Wales five years ago! When I heard this I thought it was a good example of avoiding solutioneering.

Happy consulting

Regards, Nigel

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