One lesson I’ve learned from Toyota people about problem solving is that you have to work to “grasp the situation.”
This is true whether you’re reacting to a “big vague concern” (as expressed in a statement such as “all of our surgeons are threatening to leave”) or whether you are reacting to a specific incident, such as a patient safety incident (a patient being harmed).
In either situation, the real problem might not be what it initially appears to be. You have to be careful to not overreact and to not leap to solutions. Heck, you shouldn’t even leap to assuming that you fully understand the problem or that you know the root cause(s).
So, this news story caught my eye the other day.
Easter egg mix-up: Parent dressed as Easter bunny hands out condoms at Texas elementary school
Wow. Just wow. You might leap to all sorts of conclusions about that parent and what’s wrong with them (or how they’re different than you). But, that doesn’t lead to understanding of the problem and it doesn’t lead to effective countermeasures.
You don’t want to pull out, from the movie “Office Space,” your Jump to Conclusions mat. That’s actually a thing you can buy now.
The original news articles were vague and it made it sound like the parent was some sort of sicko.
“A Texas parent caused a furor this week after handing out Easter eggs to kids at the Gullet Elementary School campus in Austin. Most of the eggs were filled with candy, but a handful were packed with unopened condoms.”
That’s weird, even for Austin.
As one parent said:
People might leap to conclusions such as, “We should arrest that parent” or “We should ban them from the school” for handing out condoms to elementary school students.
Texas Attorney General candidate George P. Bush was an example of such a politically-charged reaction:
He was jumping to conclusion that the parent is a “radicalized lefist” and he was assuming that there was an intentionally “attempt” to exploit children.
Even a school district spokesperson seemed to assume it was intentional:
“It was an incredibly careless and inappropriate action of a parent.”
You know what happens when we assume…
A few days later, this headline points to a story that paints a more complete picture of what happened:
Easter Bunny Inadvertently Hands Out Eggs Stuffed With Condoms At Texas Elementary School
Wait, what’s that? It was “inadvertent”? How does somebody make a mistake like that? Who just happens to have plastic eggs filled with condoms… while wearing a bunny suit. That sounds super intentional.
According to a tweet thread among parents, it appeared to be an innocent error, per the Chronicle.
An innocent error? You mean, a mistake?
One of the parents, who works at a pharmacy, had been dressed as the Easter Bunny for a safe-sex presentation at an area clinic. She kept the costume on when she arrived at the school to pick up her second-grader and was immediately mobbed by the children.
In response, the woman handed out eggs filled with candy. When she ran out, she asked her husband to get more and he apparently brought back some bad eggs.
It might seem far-fetched, but it very likely could be true that an awful mistake was made in a bit of chaos that wasn’t planned for.
Are there lessons learned for our problem solving or for our incident investigations in our workplaces?
As the late Dr. Steven Covey said, “Seek first to understand.” That’s still great advice. Don’t jump to conclusions. And don’t jump to solutions.
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