Are you into diagnostic thinking?

diagnostic thinking, harvard

Rushing into action can be fatal. It only takes 46 seconds for Harvard Business School professor Ranjay Gulati to tell you why:

The professor has seen firsthand what happens when professionals jump to conclusions and rush to action.

Successful leaders frequently are into diagnostic thinking i.e. when they look at a problem they don’t go straight from problem to solution.

Three steps

Astute leaders, and all human beings for that matter, ideally diagnose before deciding on a cure. That makes it three steps; problem, diagnose and then solution. Professor Gulati is right when he says that it sounds obvious. But unfortunately it’s so common to focus on swift action nowadays many people jump the gun and rapidly implement a solution, for better or for worse.

Ranjay Gulati, Harvard, Catarina Alexon, Catarina's World
Honestly, do you always diagnose before taking a decision?

Don’t think there is anyone reading this that has never skipped the diagnostic step. It happens to all of us because we are in a hurry or pressure is put on us to come up with something asap. The current focus on short term profits makes it inevitable that we sometimes rush. Consequently solutions that that are not well thought through are implemented.

Find looking at diagnostic thinking a good complement to Do you find time for strategic thinking? It’s another way of looking at strategic thinking or a complement, if you wish. There are people out there who consider themselves strategic thinkers that always move swiftly from problem to solution, without bothering to make a diagnosis. Hopefully this will give them  food for thought?

Do you diagnose before implementing a solution? Has it happened that you swiftly implemented solution without diagnosing the problem? Would it be better if focus was on long term profits and there was time for diagnostic thinking? Or are you of the opinion that the diagnostic step only make the process take longer and should hence be avoided?

Video. HarvardBusiness – Picture: Universitetssykehuset Nord-Norge (UNN)

63 thoughts on “Are you into diagnostic thinking?

  1. Well, on this not I would like to agree, yes I am a Diagnostic thinker…whether it's about taking decisions taken in hurry or have time for it, I like to diagnose the good and bad results of the decision to be taken and then do I move ahead…

  2. I think I tend to jump right into implementing a solution without really diagnosing it or thinking it through clearly. I panic and want tot ry and fix things as soon as possible even though the first solution I come up with might not always be the best one.

  3. I'm going through this with my therapist in a way. She ways my mind always leaps so far ahead that I often want to skip the diagnostic phase. That's why she's there though, to help slow me down and give me perspective.

  4. I am a business analyst. I must say when I first got into this field, I often wondered why? We do nothing but write requirement documents for developers to then use to create software.
    However, I soon found out why we are essential. Developers seem to go right to solving a problem with software, or creating software. As a business analyst, I have to look at it with a diagnostic point of view. Sometimes, what the developers, programmers do is against the law, or is not what the customer wants. It is a simple case of seeing a tree, and missing the forest.
    It is vital to look at the overall problem, before coming up with a solution.

  5. There are times one needs to make a quick decision and other times more thought is required. Generally, I reflect before making important decisions especially when the outcome could be detrimental to me or another. There are times I could be sharper with decision making but I want the best outcome so give myself time.

    1. The bottom line is that you have to make sure you truly understand why something didn't work out as planned. Once you do you can come up with a plan that works.

  6. I think that diagnostic thinking his good as long as we don't second guess ourselves too much. It's good to think and analyze before we act, but not to become obsessed with over-rationalizing.

  7. Catarina, I like the tittle, diagnostic thinking. I remember back when I was in school I quite often could see the answer without going through the steps but I was always called on it. I had to show, step by step, how I arrived at the answer. That was often the more difficult part of the problem for me. Much easier to go from A-C but later I understood the reason for B.

  8. I used to do theater improvisation and we were trained to act on impulse. The reason? You do very entertaining things when you don't give yourself a chance to really think. And while that works well for theater, I can't imagine it would be good for a business. I will admit, I've rushed into decisions in the past. But I definitely agree that thinking through the problem will give you a more rational approach.

  9. Catarina, I think we all have jumped from problem to solution only to end up with a bigger problem because we didn’t diagnose the root of the problem. This is a good reminder, not only in the corporate world, but also in the personal world. I’m sure you’ve heard the expression – flying off the handle – when it comes to personal conflict – you just let fly whatever thought pops into your head. This usually (actually always) aggravates the situation.

  10. Life these days seems to be all about getting things “solved” and then quickly moving on to the next shiny object. While getting a project done quickly sounds good, often it isn’t because people tend to not really take the time to determine exactly what the problem is before deciding how to solve it. Slow down a little and think about it before jumping to an instant conclusion.

  11. An important part of this is to go through the diagnosis with an open mind. Too often leaders who know they should take this step instead come to an immediate conclusion and then do a diagnosis that is intended to support what they think they should do anyway. This post should be a reminder to all of us.

  12. I liked this post. I am no longer in the business world, but when I was, it seemed that too often the rush to do something or go to an immediate fix meant short-changing the diagnostic process. The quick action sometimes acted as a short-term fix but never got to the root of the problem. In the worst case, the quick action made things worse.

  13. This has been a pet peeve of mine for a long time. It happens all the time… a call to action should be more like a call to think first, and then act. It is most apparent in politics as well. Any and all events seem to be politicized instantly. This isn't my nature and I was often ridiculed for saying, "Give me a minute to think about it." Personally, I think the only things that require lightning fast reactions are health related…heart attack, stroke, or something that requires CPR!!!

    1. Love your answer, Jacqueline. Yes instant action is required sometimes when it comes to health. No point in waiting to call an ambulance is someone's unconcious:-)

  14. Catarina,

    Great post… I took a class on critical thinking and it taught me to think through everything before coming to a conclusion. That is not only important in the business world but also in everyday living.
    My recent post Time Management Keep your plate from overflowing.

  15. Too frequently, I have found that people are wanting to place blame or take credit for an outcome, rather than address the root cause of success or failure. As a result, knee-jerk reactions are far too common an approach, which usually results in innefficient use of time and/or resources.

    Thank you for sharing this very interesting post!
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  16. This is not only an issue in business and leadership, but an issue in the way we behave in our every day social lives. When we come into conflict with somebody or something, we tend to jump the gun as well. I have realized the older I get, the more likely I have become to sit back, analyze the problem and look for the root of it before making a decision on how to react.

  17. Hi Catarina – while I agree, I also think that all too often one sees the converse: analysis paralysis. People over-analysing situations and, as a result, not reaching a decision on a way forward. Diagnosis is important, but it should be a fairly quick process so that one can decide the appropriate course of action. That's what leadership is all about: leading the way.

  18. I couldn't do my job without diagnosis and don't try to. Even (and perhaps especially) in crisis communications situations the first thing you have to do is stop and think or you'll make a crisis into a disaster. If you have to do it then, what situation is more time sensitive?
    My recent post Handling Hecklers

  19. I definitely agree, especially when it comes to pain. Some doctors are quick to offer you pain medication (even though this is now being strictly regulated) than figure out the problem. Its also a big issue in mental health field, where doctors are quick to prescribe you ativan or some other meds after only one visit!
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  20. I sometimes think I carry this whole equation too far. I am an introvert and an analytical personality. I used to analyze to the point of paralysis. So, I never rush to the cure or solution. It's just not in my genetics. 🙂
    My recent post Motivational Monday Quote: 5/20

    1. Honestly Cheryl, isn't it better to carry the diagnostic thinking too far than rushing ahead? Provided of couse diagnosing doesn't become a stop block and nothing happens.

  21. Boy is that ever true and something we could all use (think about) before we make a decision (jump to a conclusion). It would save all of us countless hours of correcting our errors. There is a saying; Act in haste, repent in leisure, that really fits here. 🙂
    My recent post Steelhead Vineyards: Wines

  22. Well this explains some things for sure. But it's not me. The introvert in me and my natural brain pathways being longer than extroverts, causing me to do just these steps: identify the problem, diagnosis – oh and then I explore options, and finally, come up with a solution. Whew. Good to know it's recommended! Thanks Catarina.
    My recent post 4 Ways to Revitalize Your LinkedIn Connections to Grow Your Influence

    1. Would be good if more people in this world were introverts. Might make companies start focusing on long term instead of short term profits. Provided they, like you, explore options after diagnosing, Pat.

      1. Well if you don't have the good fortune of being an introvert, at least learn those behaviors that work with decision making.
        My recent post 4 Ways to Revitalize Your LinkedIn Connections to Grow Your Influence

        1. Pat, the reason an abundance of people don't diagnose but go straight from problem to solution is mainly because of the focus on short term profits. Some probably know how the decision making process should work, but so much pressure is put on them they implement solutions quickly, for better or for worse. If all introverts are like you describe them, I quote: "The introvert in me and my natural brain pathways being longer than extroverts, causing me to do just these steps: identify the problem, diagnosis – oh and then I explore options, and finally, come up with a solution" the world would be a better place right now.

  23. The other issue is the perception of what problem is being addressed. Many managers see issues as black marks that their superiors will hold against them. They react not based on a well thought out diagnostic solution that is best for the company, but based on the fastest way to show strong action that will be well understood by company leadership and most in line with what actions have been taken in the past (according to company culture). While the problem may be solved to some extent, it is most often not the optimal solution.

  24. The easiest way for me to relate to this post is regarding health issues. If the doctor did not diagnose before providing a solution, then we would be in all sorts of trouble.
    I have definitely been guilty of jumping straight to the solution, but it is usually fraught with issues. Taking that one extra step to diagnose will save time and future problems by getting it right first time.

    My recent post Finding your passion

      1. Oh yes, I have had many "quacks" who made my journey a much longer and debilitating journey than it needed to be. Always falling back on anxiety, depression and psychosomatic as the cause was just laziness and caused me no end of problems.
        I would have loved the diagnosis step to have been included. It would have changed my life in so many ways.
        My recent post Finding your passion

        1. Good comparison, Rebecca. Truly wish doctors were more advanced and could diagnose better. As it is they are often guessing. And the patients suffer as a result.

  25. Agree totally about the diagnosis stage Catarina. Unless you have diagnosis you can't get to the cause of the problem which will guide you to the best solution. Many businesses look at the symptoms and then leap to a possible solution but the symptoms can often mask the true cause of the problem.
    My recent post Attract Customers By Making A Simple Change

  26. Catarina — taking action without diagnosis happens all the time. I've taught problem solving and facilitated creative problem workshops for clients. One interesting example: I was working with a company that felt it had the best product, its sales force was making plenty of calls, yet they the competition was out-selling them. After some discussion, we concluded that the problem wasn't that they didn't have enough sales people — the problem was they didn't have enough well-trained sales people. That key insight changed the whole focus of the discussion.
    My recent post In Designing a Website for Mobile Viewing Where is “Above the Fold?”

  27. In my type of work, in which we have to figure out web problems, I can't imagine fixing it without diagnosing first. But I can see where in some areas (certainly this happens a lot in public policy), one applies a fix without being sure of a diagnosis.

    If you are "fixing" the wrong problem, you are going to have to repeat a new fix later. As he says in the video, it may seem obvious. But it's a good reminder to think about it.
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