99 problems & I fixed the wrong one.

How I got to the lightbulb moment.

“The most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers. The truly dangerous thing is asking the wrong questions.” - Peter Drucker

Story - The Flickering Light

Recently, I moved into a new place. Like any new home it comes with it’s own quirks. For instance, it has this gorgeous light fixture but it often flickers. It’s on a dimmer switch, so naturally, I, like most people, just walk over to the dimmer and adjust it for a moment until it stops flickering. A few hours later, it starts to flicker again. Once again, I adjust the switch. Quickly I learn the best place to avoid the flickering (though not perfect) is at full or close to full brightness.

Dimmer Switch

The flickering continues for a couple of days, until finally I get frustrated enough. I think to myself, ‘I bet it’s flickering because these lightbulbs aren’t meant to be on a dimmer switch’. I look in the house for other lightbulbs. I don’t find any, but I do find a standard switch that doesn’t dim. I’ve always been good with handy work, so, I figure it’ll probably just be faster to change the switch than to find out what lightbulbs I need, go to the store and hunt them down. So fast forward a few minutes and I’ve just changed the light switch. This is successful, the light stops flickering. I am pleased, my roommates are pleased, I go on with my life... or so I thought.

A couple of nights later, I come home late and start to work at the kitchen table. ‘Man that light is bright’. I get up, walk over to the light switch and realize what I’ve done. By changing the switch, I can’t dim the light anymore, it’s either on or it’s off… Duh!

Reflection - Conditioning

Princess Leia had the same issue with lightsabers

This might sound obvious to you, as I just mentioned that I changed the dimmer switch to a on/off switch. However, it hadn’t even occurred to me that I might want to run it on something other than full light because I never had before. I realize now that I had been conditioned to only use the switch on full light in order to avoid flickering. I had learnt this in somewhat of a subliminal manner. The choice was flickering light or full light, so there was never a doubt, full light it had to be.

When before there was only light and dark, now I see the need for grey.
It wasn’t an evil lightbulb

This machine that is supposed to do whatever I tell it to, had trained me! Not some nefarious individual or artificial intelligence but a simple light switch. When before there was only light and dark, now I can see the need for grey.

“First we build the tools, then they build us.” - Marshall McLuhan

I had a problem. First I did the super temporary, but instantly gratifying solution of manually playing around with the dimmer. Then another fast fix, and now I want the real answer… what will it take for the right light bulb to go off.

I took something that was broken and fixed one component of it while simultaneously breaking another.

In the end the flickering was a side effect of the real problem. The underlying problem being that I didn’t have the correct light bulb in the fixture. I took something that was broken and fixed one component of it while simultaneously breaking another.

Lesson - Understand The Root Problem

I hope this reflection, shows how it is important to always understand what the fundamental problem is. Even if we decide not to fix this underlying issue e.g. due to our constraints (i.e. time, money or difficulty) it is always important to know what the fundamental problem is. This way we at least know some of the costs implicit in this decision.