I am frequently surprised at how people and institutions deal with recurring problems. They focus on curing the effect of issues without analyzing or fixing the root cause. My friend Neil Witmer tells a great story. “A man once took his son fishing. They had just baited their hooks when they heard a man drowning. They immediately swam to his rescue and saved him. That fishing trip was over but the dad promised to return to the river next week.
The following week when they returned they were surprised to find another man drowning in the same spot. They tried to save him as well but another trip was ruined. After this happened four or five times the town decided to set up a clinic to save as many of the victims as possible. In time this became a famed teaching hospital specializing in drowning.
One day a young intern asked “Shouldn’t we find out where all these drowning victims are coming from?” The chief resident replied “Don’t be foolish this is a hospital and you’re a doctor. We have more important things to do than wander up and down the river.
Fixing the cause seems so obvious but we do love to fixate on the outcomes rather than the source of our issues. In the last few weeks I have talked with:
* A couple who were stressing about how they would pay their bills without really considering the nature of their expenditures. The couple didn’t have a bill paying problem they had a spending problem. They couldn’t figure out the difference in wants and needs and finally admitted they really didn’t want to. They were stuck on having a lifestyle and couldn’t imagine giving it up.
* A project manager who was trying to figure out how to restore morale without acknowledging what he was doing to destroy it. It turns out his staff’s morale problem was really his control issue. He admitted he was a “control freak” and that’s just the way he was. So rather than doing the hard work on himself he was hoping I could alter how it affected his staff.
* One of the most painful was played out recently on TV. I listened to politicians talking about the national healthcare crisis. They were arguing about how to get service to those in need and who should pay for it. This brings us sadly back to the clinic by the river. They were so busy saving drowning victims that no one investigated why they were drowning in the first place. In Alan Deutschman’s book “Change or Die” he asks how the problem was created not how to pay for it. He quotes Dr. Ray Levey founder of the Global Medical Forum. Dr. Levey said studies show that 80% of the diseases plaguing our health care system are caused by five common behaviors. Alan Deutschman lists them as too much smoking, drinking, eating and stress and too little exercise. If we change our behavior we eliminate 80% of our illness. The problem isn’t how to pay for health care, it’s how to get people to be responsible and live a healthy life. We don’t have a health care crisis we have a crisis of will.
Written by: Steve Sherwood