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Understanding problems. It's just hard.
#25: The problem-solving lesson we can learn from one of the greatest outbreaks in history.
In the 1800s, a massive and deadly outbreak originated in India and spread worldwide, causing millions of deaths. People with this disease could get sick very quickly, and if they didn't get treatment, they could die within a few hours or days.
Back then, people didn't know for sure what caused this disease. Many thought it happened because of poor air and bad smells called "miasma." So, they tried to make things cleaner to stop the disease from spreading. But even though they did their best to improve cleanliness, cholera outbreaks, the name of the disease, kept happening—and it was hard to figure out the cause.
Until one man saw this problem differently
In 1854, about 30 years after the first cholera outbreak, a man named John Snow from a small town—not Winterfell, but rather York in northern England—made a significant discovery about this disease that completely changed how people dealt with it.
For a long time, people had the wrong idea about this disease. They believed it was spread through the air and came up with solutions that didn't address the problem.
We can’t say all the fundamental changes in the structure of sanitation systems were futile. History shows that these changes helped decrease disease outbreaks. Nonetheless, cholera outbreaks continued to resurface. Several notable cases took place in the United Kingdom during the 1800s, with the most significant ones occurring in 1831-1832, 1848-1849, and 1853-1854 when John Snow made a discovery that played a crucial role in the control and prevention of cholera.
Sometimes, you may think you've found a solution that fixes your problem, but your answer doesn't address the root cause. For instance, adding a prominent button makes people notice and increases the click-through rate, but you might not be addressing the underlying information architecture problems.
Understanding the problem is a continuous and arduous journey, even after you've shipped a beautiful yet functional update that drives your metrics positively.
Don't stop questioning the problem: Are we solving the right problem? Why is this even an issue?
While you can go lightning fast finding a solution in a single brainstorming session, finding the RIGHT SOLUTION for the RIGHT PROBLEM is just… hard.
John Snow and the other experts before him are examples of a journey of understanding problems. John Snow's work wasn't solely the result of his effort. The knowledge from previous experts also took part in John Snow's breakthrough, bringing the problem discovery journey to a reasonable conclusion.
We might start like the experts before John Snow.
Uncertain about the problem and creating solutions that don't address the right issue.
But don't stop there.
Move forward, explore with different approaches like John Snow did, be skeptical of current workarounds, and foster curiosity.
I'm writing two handbooks to guide designers with valuable insights, helping them thrive in their craft.
Frameworks for Thinking offers various frameworks and tools to help designers and creatives think critically, generate new ideas, and solve complex problems.
Deliberate Practice for Designers provides guides and insights to help you master your craft and become a lifelong learner through deliberate practice.