For Sale: One Slightly Used Princess
I've always been fascinated by the story of the Princess and the Pea. Not really the story itself, per se, but that our society has allowed it to perpetuate. Can we really label this so-called princess a heroine? Hello! I'm easily stirred in my sleep, too. Of course, I'm competing with a wife who wants all the covers and a dog who wants the whole bed. Hmmm... that must make me a super-hero. OK, maybe not so much.
I suppose I should back up a little and give some basis for this tirade. I was reading this story the other night, and it hit me that this lombardic lady has the same problem as many modern cubicle dwellers: she's great at identifying problems and symptoms but sucks at finding root causes and solutions. All she knows is that she's had a bad night's sleep. Only the wicked queen knows the real truth and can solve the problem: a pea placed under multiple mattresses. (It would be great to have more wicked queens around our cubicles if they weren't the ones starting the problems in the first place.)
So how do you distinguish between a root cause and a symptom?
Root causes are more persistent. Symptoms may come and go. The process flaws plaguing your customer service may show up as lost sales, complaint spikes, etc. The symptoms tend to come and go, but the root causes linger.
Root causes deplete "why" questions. With symptoms, you can still ask "why" and get answers (assuming you're honest with yourself). With root causes, when you can no longer as "why" you probably have a cause.
Root causes are objective. Symptoms tend to be more subjective. As I say in my next book, "because in the battle of drama vs. data, data almost always wins." Root causes can be tracked much more consistently with better data than can symptoms.
Root causes and excuses are mutually exclusive. Because of the above reason, I've rarely seen rational and responsible people make excuses when the obvious and evident is staring them in the face. I have, however, seen people make very lame excuses to cover up symptoms.
So let's get rid of the princesses and start finding those peas under the mattresses ourselves, shall we?