Diagnosis in Business

Diagnosis in Business

The world is full of solutions. It seems like everyone and his dog is working on pre-determined answers to a multitude of problems. So much so that just to mention an issue yields many prescriptions to solve it. And that is where I have an issue of my own. Solutions are only as good as the diagnoses that give rise to them. Poor diagnosis leads to mis-prescription. Are we diagnosing problems and opportunities well enough?

Of all professions, medicine should be the one where diagnosis is most careful. A doctor who mis-prescribes risks harming a patient and being sued for it. A manager who mis-prescribes risks harming a business with relatively little consequence for himself or herself. So diagnosis in business is important too. But then, so is diagnosis in every aspect of life.

You need three conditions to ensure a good diagnosis. First, there must be something to diagnose. Since everyone is offering – a euphemism for selling – solutions, diagnosis will always be subject to a conflict of interests on the part of the diagnostician. I find this in our business. If a company calls us in we feel somewhat under an obligation to justify the call. Sending a one-line report saying “there is absolutely nothing wrong with your business and you are making the best of the available opportunities” is unlikely to win applause.

It is why we make companies pay for diagnoses; at least then we have less incentive to recommend remedies. We keep a careful watch so that we do not sell when sales are not justified. We also remember that solutions sometimes take longer than we or clients expect.

The second requirement for good diagnosis is information, accurate, comprehensive and absorbed. This last criterion, absorbing, is often missed, resulting in bad diagnosis. It is only when you understand what is happening that you can do something about it. I find there is a persistent tendency for people to jump to conclusions. Time is valuable. We all operate under the illusion that faster is better. In many cases it is. In a few, vital, cases it certainly is not. Absorbing means collating, shuffling, sorting and moulding. Ignore it at your peril. Some issues require a good ponder. Go away from the source of information and ponder them.

Third, you must get to what matters. So neglected is this that we created a programme called The Heart of the Matter. The Pondering Process is often confusing. So much to take in, so many connections to be perceived. If the Ponderer is good s/he will realise that there is something at the heart of the issue being studied, some, possibly simple, cause that can be identified. Once the heart of the matter is identified the solution becomes obvious.

We all need to diagnose better before we jump to solutions. Perhaps following these suggestions will improve both by getting us to devote more time to diagnosing.

Time has a remarkable characteristic. It gives back what we thought we had lost.