Thursday, June 01, 2017

Is it an accident or a failure? The right label matters


This was the view from the training room window on Friday. A very large tree had come down in the park on Thursday night. All day, people stopped to examine the trunk and think about what had happened.

Was it an accident? 

It hadn't been chopped down, so it was clearly not something that had happened on purpose. But to call it an accident suggests that it couldn't have been helped. It also suggests that the rest of the trees are likely to remain standing.

If on the other, hand, it was an infestation, then there is something that needs to happen now. Someone needs to check the rest of the trees. While it's possible that the first tree could fall by accident, if any more fall we will call it something else - something like incompetence or failure or fault.

Sometimes, the label we choose tells us how to act next. If we choose the wrong label, it is likely to lead to the wrong action. Take a moment now to think about a problem or issue you have been facing. Give it a one-word label.  Then ask yourself: "Am I sure this is the right label? What else could it be?" And then ask, "If this is the right label, what is my next step?"

You'll find that labels are never neutral: when you label a problem, you also take a step towards fixing it. It's worth giving the problem a name that will help you solve it.

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