This title seems strange. All of us are problem solvers. Problems pop up. We find solutions. Every day of our lives problems appear and then we work through them. But what is a “wrong problem”? This doesn’t make much sense.
The unique characteristic to help identify a wrong problem is to look at the effectiveness of the solution implemented. If a solution does little to change what you thought was the problem, then most likely you have not identified the correct problem to solve.
I just experienced an example of this. Developing a cough and a scratchy throat sent me to the doctor. My history shows that when my throat is “not right” I need antibiotics to help me feel better. The doctor concurred, gave me antibiotics, and told me to take some cough syrup to feel better. A week passed. None of my symptoms improved. [For transparency, I did take a COVID test which proved negative.]
In talking with friends they asked if I had allergies. I used to have a spring one but never a fall one. In a Google search of fall allergies, I found that ragweed/mold is high in the fall. That persistent cough and scratchy throat are some of a fall’s allergic reaction symptoms. Talking with my doctor again, he suggested I try some over-the-counter medicine for allergies. Within a few hours, I started to feel much better.
The initial problem the doctor was trying to solve was symptoms caused by a bacterial infection. He thought my throat was infected. His solution was antibiotics. Clearly from my story, this was the wrong problem to solve because none of the remedies cleared up my symptoms. Only when changing the problem to be one of controlling an allergy, did the new solution work.
I share this story, not to diminish the skill of my doctor who I continue to trust implicitly, but rather to show what happens when we try to solve a wrong problem. My history of getting sick when my throat acts up sent us in the wrong direction.
It is this exact point of misdirection that we face often. Sending us to solve a wrong problem, instead of being patient enough to dig deeper to make sure that any bias or previous beliefs don’t send us in the wrong direction.
While problem-solving is considered a great skill, identifying the correct problem is an art. An art that we can get better at only after we become aware of the possibility of pursuing the wrong problem when in search of an effective solution.