Problem solving can be difficult. Let’s listen to the story of the burnt squirrel to learn more.
Yesterday, we had an electrical outage at work late in the day. It was frustrating because a few lights were working yet all of the production equipment and office computers were dead. The emergency lights by the exit signs were on indicating there was no power.
There were no tripped breakers in the circuit panel. With the amount of things with no power, I thought there would have been many. Over the past couple of weeks we have had electricians in to wire up a second packaging line. Knowing that we only have a fixed amount of power in the building, my mind rapidly went to the possibility that we will not have enough electricity for this new packaging line as we lost power running only part of our equipment (so I believed at this moment in time).
We did smell something burning and opened our back door only to find a lawn care service truck with grass clippings that was smoldering producing smoke. All of us felt that it had nothing to do with our electrical outage.
Our electrician arrived about a half hour later and in about 20 minutes he had figured out that we had lost two phases of electricity into the building. We didn’t have an electrical problem internally but needed to call our electric company to see what was wrong. He traced the electrical lines from our building to a specific electrical pole and showed me that two of the three switches on the pole had tripped and were not connecting. This was the reason we didn’t have two phases flowing into our facility.
I then called the electrical company and waited for them to arrive. Proudly showing him all that I had learned about the problem, he was quiet and looking down while I was looking at the top of the pole. All of a sudden he says “I thought this was the problem and it got him good”. He proceeded to show me a burnt squirrel in the grass near the electrical pole. The squirrel caused our power outage. He or she was walking along the electrical lines near the pole and got electrocuted.
The squirrel was right in the same area where our electrician and I walked and where we saw the open switches. As I was driving home, it occurred to me that this is a great example of why problem solving can be so difficult. Let’s look at the sequence of events:
I thought the power outage might have occurred because we had too much equipment running in the building. Not only that, but I became scared the we will not have enough electricity to run our second packaging line (making my mind wander as to what will I do if that is true).
The grass clippings emitting smoke as if something was burning was near the electrical pole with the problems but we dismissed it as something that was not important to our electrical outage. In fact, either a spark or a piece of the squirrel landed in the grass clippings starting the small fire.
Our electrician, with the logic of a technician, quickly isolated the problem by identifying exactly what had failed. Neither he nor I could answer the question as to why the switches on the pole were open. We were just happy that we knew what was wrong. He thought it might be a bad transformer.
When the electrical company repair man arrived, he had the most knowledge of why things on an electrical pole fail. So he was concerned with why this happened because if it wasn’t a squirrel it meant that maybe a transformer or something else happened that would need even more work. He was trying to quickly assess what needed to be done.
His specific knowledge/experience made him look for the squirrel that I and our electrician walked right by it because our heads were looking up instead of down.
Three different people — myself, our electrician, and the electric company repair man — saw different parts of the problem that led us to different conclusions. Some imagined/false and some real/true. But only the person that had seen this before (the electric company repair man) quickly saw the reason why the problem happened. He wanted to know the why so he could understand what failed and what needed to be fixed.
Always think of a burnt squirrel the next time you rush off to quickly solve a problem and remember what you think might be true, may likely not be true the first time you come up with an explanation. Also, remember that just because you know what happenned, it’s just as important to know why it happened so that you can fix the problem properly.
Problem solving is valuable but difficult work. Never rush to conclusions, seek the opinion of others, and what is most valuable is if you can find someone to help you that has seen things like what you are facing before. Solving problems or not solving them may not be a good measure of your skill but rather your eyesight and the ability to know where to look for answers.