Dr. House and Problem Solving

My dissertation topic is about problem solving and how we can help to improve it in non-native speakers. But how do we do that? How does one become a better problem solver? The article that sparked my curiosity about this issue was one titled “Surprising but true: Half the decisions in organizations fail” (Nutt, 1999). Really? More than half? I reached out to Mr. Nutt about this, read parts of his book about this and his investigation into what companies do to solve problems. Basically, it turns out that they go with the first thing that comes to their head and then go with it, never to investigate again.

Well, there’s a problem in and of itself. Where’s the brainstorming? The analysis? The follow up? When I watch “House”, as I do religiously, I notice that there’s a reason he’s the best diagnostician (ie problem solver) in the medical field (and yes I know he’s not real…but he is based on Sherlock Holmes). He sits with his team, looks at symptoms, looks at possible causes, brainstorms with his people about what could and could not be the root cause of the sickness, and then reanalyzes once they come to a conclusion.

There is no “put a bandaid on it and send them packing.” For anyone who has ever seen “House” knows, there would be a lot of dead bodies right outside the hospital door in Princeton, NJ. They always think they got it right and then everything goes horribly wrong soon after. Without fail. Now, instead of throwing in the towel, they now have more information to analyze. They usually find that they are curing symptoms and not problems.

Further analysis after a problem is assumed to be solved will always turn out more and better information for an organization. This is an opportunity to learn about what is and is not strong in your structure. What can and needs to be done to improve a process. Take the time to brainstorm, use your team to parse out what is wrong. Making knee-jerk decisions will only serve to send the patient away to be found dead later. That is not effective to anyone or the business. A problem is not solved quickly, nor is the project over until you follow up to make sure the disease is cured and the symptoms are not just masked.



Nutt, P. C. (1999). Surprising but true: Half the decisions in organizations fail. Academy of Management Academy, 13(4), 75-90. (AN 2570556).