Answering the wrong question


A big thank you to our partner Cameron Turner from Lean Consulting  for sharing his blog post entitled: Answering the wrong question.  And how many times have we done that?  Far too many – especially when our patience has run thin — but also when we are not paying attention or going too fast.  Here is some great advice…

Sometimes, when we are asked a question, we instead answer a different question.

In his fantastic book ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ Dr Daniel Kahneman identifies that we have two systems of thinking.

System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and often without control. System 2 allocates attention and concentration to effortful mental activities and calculations.

System 1 is our default setting. It is constantly drinking in data and information without us even knowing. System 1 can do things like detect hostility in a voice, simple mathematics, drive a car, recognise faces and differentiate between 2 sounds, things like that. Sometimes our attention is required but usually not.

System 2 is for our highly diverse operations and all require our attention. Completing complex calculations, focusing on a single voice in a noisy room, parking in a very narrow car space, filling out a tax form, things like that.

Sometimes, when we are asked a question, we instead answer a different question. Let’s take a real example in business:

No matter where I go, one of the area’s that tends to struggle more with performance is Complaints. And the simple reason for this is that complaints could be about anything. In some places, no 2 complaints are alike. The variation you get between cases is huge.

One of the questions I ask managers of a complaints area is “Can you measure the average time it should take to complete a complaint?The answer I always get is some variation of ‘No’. Too complicated. Too hard. Too variable. Not fair on staff. How long is a piece of string? Sometimes a complaint takes 10 minutes, sometimes it takes 7 hours!

But what is really happening here is that managers are answering a slightly different question. System 1 takes over and substitutes the question for “Is it easy to measure the average time it should take to complete a complaint?”. No.

It’s not easy, but it certainly can be done.

So, sometimes, we answer the wrong question and therefore get the wrong answer.

Lean Sigma Academy

Lean Consulting is a Management Consultancy firm that specializes in maximizing the business potential of any Operational environment. They work with firms in all sectors to achieve significant, sustainable advances in performance whilst simultaneously achieving real savings. Lean Consulting is our partner in providing Online Lean Training.