“Keep redefining the problem until you arrive at the root cause.”


Imagine you are walking along a river bank, and you see someone drowning.

Without hesitation, you jump into the water and save the person. 

You are a hero. 

Within a few minutes you spot someone else drowning, and once again you jump in the water and save them.

Again, you are a hero. 

Suddenly you begin to spot multiple people drowning.

What then? 

You might be familiar with the classic “River Story” parable, which is often used to describe how we are so preoccupied with fixing things in our immediate attention that we fail to notice where the problem originated, especially when the problem demands our full attention.

The story continues.. at first there is a frantic attempt to keep saving those who are drowning- until one clever person decides to go upstream and find the source- why are they falling to begin with? What is the cause of the drowning? 

As the saying goes “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.

There are countless applications of this story. If we are treating the wrong problem, it will persist, often despite many attempts to resolve it. If we treat only the symptoms, the underlying problem will likely get worse.

There will always be things beyond our control that we can’t change, but our choice to go upstream and try to find the source can provide more information about the source of the problem we face, thus increasing the odds of finding the right solution.

Food for thought: 

What problem keeps showing up for you? What method/s have you been using to solve it? Is there an “upstream” opportunity that you can identify, or a different problem that if solved, can make all the difference? 

Please share this with anyone who might need to hear this.