Troubleshooting is the art and science of identifying root causes and fixing them. It is most commonly applied to the computer repair world (such as “My computer won’t turn on”), but we’ve found it to be an invaluable tool for life in general.
In essence, troubleshooting is a particular mindset in which you ask a series of questions in an attempt to gain a new perspective on a problem.
Sometimes you find out that what you thought was a problem actually wasn’t at all. Sometimes you find out that you forgot something simple, (“Have you plugged in the computer?”) and sometimes you find out the answer was something weird and obscure that you never would have thought of.
The troubleshooting mindset can be applied to all sorts of problems. Everything from “My kid won’t shower” to “I’m anxious” to “I’m feeling bloated and weird but I don’t know what is causing it” to the classic “My computer won’t start”.
Here’s how to troubleshoot:
#1 – Is there an actual problem?
As Stephen Covey says, “Before you start climbing the ladder of success, make sure your ladder is propped up against the right wall.”
In other words: Before you start solving a problem, make sure that the thing you are solving is actually a problem. You can do this by looking at what you define as a problem.
Is it simply uncomfortable? Not necessarily a problem!
On the other hand, is there a clear and imminent danger (like a guy coming at you with a knife, yelling?)… Definitely a problem!
Make the distinction between big emotional feelings and something that is inefficient, ineffective or dangerous. Just because it feels big doesn’t mean it is an actual issue. It could just feel big.
#2 – Isolate
Once we have determined that yes, there is an actual problem to be solved, it is time to begin the troubleshooting process. This begins with isolating all of the distinct parts. If we were fixing a computer, that would be the software, and all of the different hardware components (hard drive, CPU, graphics card, power supply, etc.).
In the non-computer world, it depends on what you are attempting to solve. Let’s take the example of “My son refuses to take a shower”.
The parts would be: The temperature of the water, the pressure of the water, the texture, color and size of the towel, the various smells in the room, the temperature of the room itself, etc.
We find that it generally helps to physically write out all of the parts, step back for a day and then review the list again. You’ll usually find that you missed a few parts.
#3 – Test
Now that you’ve isolated all of the different parts of the issue, it is time to test! Testing is very simple: Just replace one component at a time. If this were a computer, we’d replace the hard drive, then the power supply, etc. We could gain more info based on the problem at hand. If this were an issue with a computer not starting up, I would start by testing the computer by verifying that all of the cables are properly connected to the motherboard and devices, next I would swap out power supplies to see if something in the power supply has failed, etc.
Similarly, if this is an issue with shower refusal, I would start by talking to the person who is refusing to take a shower and asking them what specifically they are having issues with.
From there, we could narrow down the list, and start the testing process. Eventually, we may figure out that they simply don’t like the water pressure, and by changing it or getting a new shower head, the problem is resolved!
#4 – Course Correct
Finally, we just continue to course correct on a regular basis to ensure any hiccups along the way are properly addressed at the root level. If you’d like to learn more about course correction in general, read this article.
That’s the troubleshooting process. As you run through it multiple times, it’ll get easier to do.
If you’d like even more help and guidance, our Troubleshooting course is currently in development will be available sometime soon, so join our email list and keep an eye out for it!