Gain insights and solve problems by seeing entire systems, not immediate assumptions.

People tend to make the assumptions that are easy.  But we gain fresher insights and solve problems better when we see the entire SYSTEMS, not only the immediately observable facts.

Here is an example that I learned decades ago and still think of often.  It illustrates how to improve functioning by seeing the whole SYSTEM, not simply making the easiest assumption.

Decades ago some offices employed Data Entry Operators to type data (names, addresses, other words, dollar amounts, code numbers, etc.) from paper forms into computer systems.  These were high-speed operations that needed fast, accurate typing.

It was crucial that the data typed into the systems were accurate, so everything needed to be proofread through a method called “key verification.”  This meant that after one Data Entry Operator had typed everything from a paper document into the system, a co-worker would type everything into it again.  The computer system would immediately flag any discrepancy (e.g., if someone typed “Tom” instead of “Tim” or $980 instead of $970).  The second Data Entry Operator would look again at the original paper document, verify which one was correct, and finalize that detail for the computer.

Commonly people think of a “proofreader” as someone more skilled than the original writer, so an easy assumption would be to have a more skilled (i.e., faster, more accurate) Data Entry Operator perform this “key verification” function.  Actually, the reverse worked better!  A slower, less accurate DEO should perform this kind of proofreading!  This is because speed and accuracy are crucial in the fast-paced world of Data Entry Operator offices, so the office would be more productive if a very fast, accurate DEO did the original typing because that person could get a great rhythm going and not have to slow down to check any possible errors.

Then the “proofreading” function of “key verification” would be done by another DEO who was already slower (without the fast-paced rhythm) and less accurate (and hence more likely to make mistakes that the computer system would flag).  When the computer system flagged a discrepancy between the first and second DEOs, it is likely that the error had been caused by the second, slower, less accurate DEO anyway, so — having the discrepancy brought to this person’s attention — s/he would correct the error.

Because a Data Entry Operator office would likely include many employees, each DEO would have appropriate work assigned, so the faster DEOs would not be slowed down by the slower, less accurate DEOs.  Taken as a whole, the office’s productivity would increase by understanding this process as a SYSTEM.  Rather than assume that the better employees should proofread the worse employees’ work output, the oppose roles actually produced more productivity!