the insanity of someone else’s problem

Photo: Prepare...Chances are we’ve all heard the quote from Albert Einstein: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Except some days I’m less convinced it’s insanity and more just a part of human nature.

When we separate ourselves from the outcome, when we don’t see the part we play, when we don’t ask questions (What could I do different?) we see no reason to do anything different. So we don’t. After all, it’s someone else’s problem.

Recently, my son participated in his second martial arts tournament. The officials called his sparring division to line up with two divisions before them. He went and sat with his group and patiently waited. And waited. Finally, his group was called up to begin. He sat on the edge of the ring as participants were called out two at a time to spar.

More waiting. Several kids had sparred two or three times but he still hadn’t been called up. As it looked like his group was wrapping up and he still hadn’t been called I went and asked one of the judges. They said he had sparred, I said he hadn’t. They showed me the card used to track participants. I reiterated he had not sparred yet. It turned out another kid with a similar sounding first name had mistakenly gone in my son’s place.

Uh, oh. This caused all kinds of problems with the tournament bracket. At first the officials thought everyone was going to have to spar again. Then they called my son and another out into the ring where they waited (and waited). Then the officials shooed them off and called out two other kids. And then… and then… Much huddled discussion from the officials. This was at least a 40 minute process with a group of 6 and 7 year olds waiting very, very patiently.

Then after all the havoc and confusion caused by a simple mistake, the officials did nothing to change the behavior that contributed to the mistake. In a gymnasium with the background noise of six event rings running simultaneously (some of them using music for their events), with a group of 1st and 2nd graders wearing protective gear over their ears, the officials continued to call participants out using only their first names. Even with obvious hesitation, even with adults asking for the last name, the officials (all very well-meaning people) never stopped to consider how using both first and last names would prevent confusion caused by using only first names. So they persisted in the insanity of SomeoneElse’sProblem.

I suspect the officials mentally dismissed it as a problem caused by kids not paying attention. So they never considered what they could do to minimize the chances of it happening again.

How often does that happen in business? How often do we assume that we aren’t the problem so we keep doing exactly what we’re doing exactly how we’re doing it? How often do we get frustrated by different people creating the same problems over and over?

How often do we consider how a small tweak would reduce the chances of others getting it wrong? How often do we design and test our processes to make it as easy as possible for others (customers, users, etc.) to get it right? How often do we intentionally design communication to minimize the chance of misunderstanding or misinterpretation? How often do we have someone unfamiliar with the work review or even pilot it to see what questions they might have?

How often do we look to get rid of the insanity simply by focusing on the user experience? How often to we consider how we can minimize problems?

Even when they are SomeoneElse’sProblems.

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