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Why problems go undetected

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Every organization, no matter how successful, has problems. They often lie beneath the surface. An effective leader realizes the need to find problems before they become disasters.

An effective leader also realizes that problems rarely exist in isolation.

When retired Brig. Gen. Duane Deal investigates aircraft and space launch accidents, he usually finds that complex failures do not have a single cause. “Even if the apparent cause of a flight accident is a broken part or an obvious pilot error,” says Deal, “there are usually several other contributing factors.”

He says leaders must dig deeper when they spot a visible problem and ask, “What’s behind that obvious problem? What fundamental organizational problem has created the conditions that make that small problem more likely to occur?”

Lesson: Seek out problems and dig for their roots.

— Adapted from The Mindset of a Problem-Finder,” Knowledge@Wharton.

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