Practicing What I Preach, and it worked!

In the past I would think that I could solve any problem that I confronted, and would stubbornly keep moving forward, refusing to see the signs, blaming myself perhaps; this week I did something very different, something that I'm very proud of.

I practiced what I preach.

I was working my computer and the computer started with a spinning ball which means that it's hanging, or lost in virtual space. At first it was a moment but the time began to increase.

I share with people in my work there is a way of looking at the world from the point of view natural law. Natural law dictates there is the same old same old predictable nuisances, a range of what usually happens. It's good sometimes or bad but mostly in between: and it is dependable, you can see it coming, like death and taxes.

But from time to time something out of the ordinary happens: a peculiar and unexpected nuisance. When something out of the ordinary happens, unlike when it's the same old same old, you don't just keep letting it happen. You STOP THE PRESSES!

 In fact in high-speed manufacturing when things are approaching out of the ordinary, (they call it statistically out of control), they shut the machines down until they find the root cause.

So I shut my computer down and I started looking for what was causing the problem, not what I thought was causing the problem. I did the usual steps:

    • Looking online, like people do, and reading the long rants from the frustrated and unhappy, and the equally difficult responses from people who haven't spoked to anyone but their computer for a long time!
    • Starting up in safe mode, looking for conflicts.
    • Testing a new user
    • etc.

It still happened.

  • So restarted and rest the pram, nada (that has never worked for me btw. IMHO they have us do it just so we feel like we are doing something while they try to figure out what is really going on.
  • Then I checked the logs... and BINGO!


In one I noticed a little I/O error (input out put error for this not into the jargon, meaning: the hard disk was having trouble doing what it is supposed to do, read data. I had never seen this error before, so I waded into google and found out that it could be a signal that my hard disk was dying. Never seeing it before is a good signal that it is not ordinary variation.

Considering the fact that my Mac is over seven years old, it makes sense. Hard disks don't last. So I got a copy of super duper and began to try and duplicate my hard drive to a usb drive. Never as easy as you think, or as I think, being a half full kind of guy, one file simply would not copy over... so I deleted the bugger, and was able to finish the entire copy.

Big signal for a bad sector.

I Amazon'd a new hard disk for about 63 bucks, and then install the new one when it came... took some time to get Brazil, 3 days. I installed it, copied over all of the files from the USB drive, and now I'm up and operating.

In fact, I am using what seems like a brand-new computer with a much faster hard disk and much more storage. The lesson to be learned is that in the past I would've kept on going, figuring somehow maybe was my fault maybe the software problem:

Maybe maybe maybe all kinds of different things;

But in this case I stuck with the facts of what was happening, and I kept finding what appeared to be an out of the ordinary special cause, I went digging for the root cause, found it, and then I dealt with it. Yeah I lost about five days of being able to work, but in the past when this happened, I lost a lot more time and a lot of important files as my backups had some files that were either corrupted or I could never find again.

​The Moral

Moral of the story is, listen to Dan, especially me. For you, if confronted by the usual same ole, don't react, just keep plugging along until you can build a better mousetrap. But, if something out of the ordinary happens, something peculiarly noticeable, like a signal: stop what you're doing and find the root cause NOW!

Depending on what that is decide how to deal with it, and deal, before getting back in the saddle to ride the horse. In the end it's been a lot less energy and a lot less time to deal with and a lot easier. I'm not even talking about the tension and the foul words trying to summon the wrath of the gods on whatever evil force was upon me! I was kind of mellow through the whole thing, because, for once, I knew what was going on: stay calm and relaxed and in control, Stop, and bring it back to the middle.

Economical Statistical Thinking​

Ya see, its not about statistics, abstractions, or fancy jargon, its about economy, Thoreau style economy. Doing too much at the wrong time is a waste, in the same way that not stopping  when the weird happens is madness.

    • All work is done in linked steps called processes
    • Which Vary
    • Most of that variation is natural, part of the design of the system.
    • From time to time something bears a stronger influence, something out of the ordinary: special variation.
    • If the variation is natural to the system, only fundamentally changing the system will change the result, so until you can do that, chill out! Let it run.
    • If the variation is out the ordinary, twilight zone special, STOP, find the cause and deal with it!
      • If you treat a special cause like an ordinary one, and do nothing, or try and fundamentally change the system, it will whack you again when you least expect it and Hard.
      • If you STOP and try to find a root cause for things that are built into the system, you will screw the pooch, cause the cause IS the system. Some people spend their whole day doing this, = putting out fires just to have them flare up again.
    • The secret is simple, since the vast majority of variation in results is predictable, and comes from the system, (which, by the way, if you're the boss you probably designed it that way), stop putting out fires, and build a better system.

About the Author

Dan Strongin works with medium to small companies, helping them master the art and science of managing.