Understanding how to diagnose an issue is vital to making progress on issues we care about.

We are in a time when the issues we face in our communities are stronger, tougher and more complex than ever before. Along with those tougher issues is the extreme pressure to come up with solutions to those issues. These pressures are all around us and they come from everywhere. Because we are under that pressure we work hard to come to a solution that shows some impact or results but are we really getting to the meat of the issue or challenge? Do we really know all of the facets that make the issue complex?

Many issues are given technical solutions but they are really an adaptive issue. A technical issue is one where the issue itself is very clear and the solution is clear. If I am driving my car down the road and I have a blowout, this would be a technical issue. The issue is the flat tire and the solution is clear as I will take it to the repair shop to get it fixed. Adaptive issues are harder to distinguish because neither the issue nor the solution is clear.

Technical issues are benign and individual while adaptive issues are conflictual and systemic. Adaptive work demands learning, questioning yours and others assumptions about what is really going on. When working on an adaptive issue it demands experimentations and expect to experiment many times. During diagnosis, expect people to avoid the work needed to make progress on the issue. It takes people working on the issue to raise the heat to remain productive. Adaptive work takes time, probably more time than anyone feels they need to spend but to come to solutions that will work and not be the “quick fix”, time must be spent to diagnose correctly.

Understanding how to diagnose an issue and how it fits within the system is vital to making progress on issues we care about.

Resources: Kansas Leadership Center and Cambridge Leadership Associates

For more information on diagnosing issues contact Becky Wolfe, Executive Director, Leadership Butler at info@leadershipbutlerinc.org