Best Boss Take 5 | The Cure Can Be Worse Than The Disease

We continue our investigation and understanding of the 11 Laws of Systems Thinking by Peter Senge

Law #6: The Cure Can Be Worse Than The Disease

As a reminder, systems problems and systems issues are those recurring problems that you’ve tried a number of times to address and have not been very successful. There are multiple components all coming together, affecting one another. And without pulling ourselves to the balcony and taking a look at the entire system, we can make a lot of mistakes in addressing those problems. And one of those is that the cure can be worse than the disease.

This refers to situations where attempted solutions to problems create more significant issues than the problem itself. You will need to adopt a systemic and thoughtful approach in order to be able to mitigate that effect. So there are three things I want to suggest as you’re thinking about whether this is true for you when you’re dealing with a system problem, and that will help to tamp down the effect of the cure being worse than the disease.

Do Comprehensive Analysis

Before implementing any solution, conduct a thorough analysis of the problem and its root causes. Consider the long-term implications and potential unintended consequences of different approaches. So again, take a breath, pull out, take a look, and see if you can start to uncover what is going on below the surface of the problem. And then, below the surface of that, see if you can really get to the root cause. There’s a great approach called “The 5 Whys” analysis. You can Google it or you can ask me about it. But if you’re not familiar, it’s basically asking “why is this happening” for five times. And really disciplining yourself to get to a root cause where you affect that root cause to make the biggest difference throughout the system. 

Do Pilot Programs and Testing

Make some experiments, and do some pilot testing and programs. Really dip your toe into the solution. Dip your toe in, gather some data from how well that works, and then adjust and do it again. Do it a few times. Implementing a small-scale pilot program before fully committing to a solution really allows you to observe how the proposed solution works in practice and identify any unexpected issues or negative outcomes.

Engage Diverse Perspectives

It sounds so simple, but it’s such an elegant approach. Involve stakeholders from diverse backgrounds and expertise in the decision-making process. By incorporating various viewpoints, blind spots and potential negative consequences can be identified and addressed. This is super important. It’s a mistake to think that we can handle system problems on our own. Sometimes we’re forced into that corner. But if there’s any way to bring in other people to help you think this through, to engage in this discipline of identifying root causes and pilot programs and testing, get other folks to work with you on that. And especially because all of you can help each other uncover blind spots that are so hard to see when you’re doing this all alone.

About Danny

With over 20 years experience in training and leadership development  — and holding an MBA and an MA in Organizational Development — Danny Ceballos has worked with organizations across the country to strengthen their effectiveness in leading and managing others through supervision+motivation best practices and strategies.