Are you into diagnostic thinking?

Rushing to 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.

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 – You Tube

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38 Responses to “Are you into diagnostic thinking?”

  1. Leora Says:

    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.
    My recent post Twitter for Beginners: Taking the Steps to Your First Tweet

  2. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad we agree Leora. And in your business it is a must. Unfortunately however, an abundance of people rush through solutions that may or may not work:-)

  3. Jeannette Paladino Says:

    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?”

  4. Trinidad Says:

    I'm with Leora, but I'm also a web person. I would seem impossible to fix anything with out diagnosis.
    My recent post 4 Ways to Get People to Stay on Your Site Longer

  5. Susan Oakes Says:

    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

  6. becc03 Says:

    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

  7. catarinaalexon Says:

    Good example of the danger of skipping diagnostic thinking, Jeannette.

  8. catarinaalexon Says:

    Yes in your business there is no avoiding diagnostic thinking, is there Trinidad. Pity so many other people go straight from problem to solution.

  9. catarinaalexon Says:

    Could not have put it better myself, Susan.

  10. catarinaalexon Says:

    Yep Rebecca, the analogy of the doctor is spot on. Pity so many doctors guess about the cause of the problem. Taking the extra step to diagnose is esential.

  11. Scott Weston Says:

    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.

  12. catarinaalexon Says:

    Exactly Scott. They need to start diagnosing what's wrong or this phenomena will be repeated over and over:-)

  13. patweber Says:

    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

  14. catarinaalexon Says:

    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.

  15. patweber Says:

    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

  16. catarinaalexon Says:

    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.

  17. findingourwaynow Says:

    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

  18. catarinaalexon Says:

    Could not have said it better myself, Susan.

  19. Geek Girl Says:

    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

  20. catarinaalexon Says:

    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. Arleen Says:

    I would have to say I am guilty of getting to the solutions and sometimes forgetting about the what the problem really is. You are so right on with your post. As a child my parents would haste makes waste and they were so right. At the end of the day you will have to address the problem so it makes sense to figure out the problem.
    My recent post Branding Your Image | When is it necessary to update your brand?

  22. TheGirl Says:

    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!
    My recent post So Jon took out a dating ad

  23. yearwoodcom Says:

    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

  24. becc03 Says:

    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

  25. catarinaalexon Says:

    Yes. And the same applies to decision making, unfortunately.

  26. catarinaalexon Says:

    Could not have said it better myself, Debra.

  27. catarinaalexon Says:

    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.

  28. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad you agree, Arleen.

  29. GuyW Says:

    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.

  30. catarinaalexon Says:

    Agree with you Guy. Analysis paralysis is as bad.

  31. JeriWB Says:

    This happens all the time in education. The real root of problems are rarely addressed and a million quick fixes get put in place that will only crash and burn later. Such diagnostic thinking practices benefit everyone.
    My recent post Book Review: The Round House by Louise Erdrich

  32. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad, and not surprised, you agree, Jeri.

  33. Mary Slagel@Financial Lessons Says:

    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.

  34. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad you agree Mary.

  35. Mark Brody Says:

    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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  36. Elizabeth Scott Says:


    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.

  37. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad you agree, Elizabeth. Good idea to take a class in critical thinking.

  38. catarinaalexon Says:

    Yep, that's true Mark. With focus on swift results and short term profits it's inevitable, unfortunatley.

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