What Do Cups Of Tea Have To Do With Solving Problems?

My Collection of Tea Cups

What you see in the picture above is the vibrant and colourful collection of teacups in my cupboard. I believe you are wondering what could cups of tea have to do with solving problems, apart from the fact that they are brilliant to drink! I normally open the cupboard and go for the first cup that I can get my hands on, make my tea and get about doing my work. However, one fine day I realised that these present a typical situation we all encounter in our professional lives, especially with regards to problem solving. But first let me tell you the three things that come into play when I go for the easiest accessible cup.

  1. Quick fix for a here and now problem
  2. Convenience and ease of access
  3. Human nature to find the least resistant path

Let us focus on each of these in the context of problem solving.

Quick fix for a here and now problem: Often what we see as a problem is just the visual or numerical manifestation of an underlying issue. Our natural instinct to act often means that we’re looking for a quick fix to eliminate what we see and believing that removing the visual indicator will make the problem go away. For example, one morning we spot a puddle of oil on the floor. Removing the oil and cleaning the floor is our first reaction. Job’s done, no more oil, back to business as usual. Then it happens the next morning, and the next and the next. Put a bucket to collect the oil, save cleaning up? Maybe. Again, just a temporary solution. Now we’re thinking there’s an underlying reason for this. Let’s park this for a moment whilst we look at the other two drivers.

Convenience and ease of access: Humans love convenience. Especially when we’re juggling multiple plates and fighting multiple fires, we look for a convenient solution as a form of salvation. Typical reactions include “oh good, that’s one less thing to worry about”. However, whilst it may provide short term relief, it is likely to cause more grief in the long term.

Human Nature: However, it all boils down to human nature, or nature itself, and its tendency to find the least resistant path. For example, it’s easier for water to flow downhill than uphill. In the same way the human instinct, largely influenced by the need to survive tends to always look for the least resistant path, shortcuts, easy way out, and so forth.

Let’s look at the chain of causality briefly, shall we?

Based on the above figure, a quick fix may do the job, but the manifestation is often the signifier of a deeper lying problem.

I’d like to leave you with one statement today:

Getting to the real cause will require time, commitment, and allocation of resources. But, all this effort will payoff eventually.

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