Going Upstream

What’s the real problem here?

Recently I was pondering shifting the burden while blogging about City Bees and it lead into something that sometimes gets missed in the process of finding a solution to our challenges.  Often when looking at a problem you need to go further upstream or deeper into the process in order to find the origin and create a more systems aware solution.

One of my favorite solutions came time and time again when I was working as an Associate Dean.  Part of my job at the time was to met out punishment for absences.  I took it a different way though, if there were no absences then I was also doing a good job.  So when the teens came into my office there was no heat or anger, we simply discussed why the absence had occurred and worked on going upstream to find out what the real problem was.  

In many cases the problem was as simple as putting the alarm clock on the other side of the room so they wouldn’t turn it off.  Sometimes it got more complicated though.  Inter personal dynamics that went back weeks or months that had created the situation that they were in.  Those took more time to unravel, but the first piece of the solution was to identify where the challenge was coming from.

You can also see solutions by imagining a stream.  If the plants and animals in the stream are dying then literally go upstream until you find the point at which this is not happening.  This also applies to going to the point within a system where you have the ability to make a change.

Following a shooting back might lead to an understanding of urban decay.  Perhaps the local community is in need of funds to keep itself running.  Follow that further…

The fire in the Bangladesh clothing factory which injured dozens and killed 7 illuminated the poor conditions that much of the world lives in. Changing those conditions are important and a good first step.  Looking at what dynamics created the rise of those conditions though would not only help to fix that situation but many others that have likely come from the same broken piece of society.

So the next time you see a problem or are faced with a challenge, follow it back a little further.  Can you find its source?  Can you then find the source of the source? How far can you go and still take action to make a change?

The actions that you decide to take from this new perspective are likely to be different and more effective than just responding to what is right in front of you.

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