Recently I’ve been going through some “interesting” times with my lower back; it all started several months back (October, 2011) and it was only about a month back when someone started to do tests, actual tests that would prove or disprove the situation. To be honest it’s a little frustrating being in a position where trouble shooting is my job. I’m very use to working with and understanding many different technologies, personal experience and gut feel for what is the root cause of an issue might be, but it struck me as a little odd how physiotherapists took roughly the same approach, but before proving what the problem was they would try a cure.

That is kind of like saying, “I can see you can’t connect to the internet so I’m going to call your provider and make sure you bill is up to date” very strange, this approach to trouble shooting is something I’m going to term “Following the light”

Following the light

What do I mean by following the light? If you’ve ever had a cat and a torch you probably have a picture of what I’m thinking, else have a look at this.

You’ve seen a small hint of something that could possibly be the cause of the problem, and in your finite wisdom you have decided to follow the first credible route until it is proven to not be true, at which point the next credible route will be followed. Great, eventually you will solve the problem, by which point the service will be turned off or if you had my Physiotherapists’ I’d be dead.

This is not to say that the first thing you stumble upon can not be the cause of the issue, it can, but you’re now trying to solve a problem to something that may not actually be a problem.

This isn’t a bad way to problem solve, it just takes for ever, so there’s a another way which when everything goes well is by far the quickest problem solving technique, “Scatter gun”

Scatter gun

Okay, another weird phrase, Imagine someone trying to hit a bank note with a gun from 20 paces away, a good shot would hit it right away, every time, a average shot (where most people are with problem solving) misses 9 out of 10 times, so they would be better off with a shot gun, it’s the only way they’ll hit the target every time. Unfortunately the rest of the shot misses.

With this approach you dive into a problem, get the first 2 mins into the problem description and you already have the problem sorted, except you stopped listening 2 mins into a 5 min problem description; take the following example.

The last time I went to my favourite website it asked me to change my password, so I did, I definitely changed it to meet the security requirements, and I continued to browse around, it worked fine for a a week or two and then when it prompted me for the password again it wouldn’t accept the new one. Any idea what the problem is now ? seems pretty clear, Error 18 (the error is 18″ away from the computer), PEBKAC, PICNIK what ever you want to call your generic user error, continue reading…
Just by chance I tried my old password and it worked fine. What I don’t understand is why would they ask me to change my password and then forget to save it? seems odd, but either way I can log in again now. Cool, so by doing the scatter gun approach you just missed a security breech, Nice one ;)

To be honest that could happen to anyone, but the scatter approach of try this, try that, try something else may work every now and then but it’s not an efficient way to get to the solution, if anything in theory it would take longer than “Following the light”

Which leads onto what is the right way? How about a “Sniper” it’s a lame name but it’s late (At time of writing anyway) and it’s the best I can come up with…


So Snipers will go and sit quietly for days at a time waiting for a target and then attack at the most opportune moment, relying on instinct and experience to chose that time. By listening to the whole problem and asking some simple questions you can get a fuller picture of what is going on, by this point if you have experienced issues similar to this then your experience will play a part and your gut instinct will fill int he gaps. This doesn’t mean you now go and grab the shotgun to shoot the target. Is this the right problem? does it match the use case? based on your understanding could it possibly cause the described problem? if so, pick up the rifle and fire off a shot. There’s a better than average chance you’ve solved the problem, if you haven’t then you have ruled out the most likely cause based on the current evidence.

What next? you go after the next most likely cause based on the new set of information and rinse / repeat. The most important step is to re-base our decision based on failed likely outcomes. Now what do you do when you have no idea what the problem is, well you need to start somewhere so rule something out. If you have the opportunity to do something that is simple that would rule out multiple possibilities, do it. Then rinse and repeat, always re-basing based on new evidence gathered, it sounds like the scatter gun approach, and it is but with one difference, you have listened to the whole problem, and based on your experiences and gut instinct you have logically chosen the most likely cause, you are not shooting in the dark or following a white rabbit.


If my physiotherapist had re-based their assumptions based on new data I’d have been treated sooner, instead I had to go see a surgical consultant that basically worked out what was wrong by listening to the problem, asking some simple questions and hitting me with a little hammer on each foot, one leg reflexes the other does not. He suspected a prolapsed disc based on what I had said and my symptoms and then set about doing a number of tests to prove the hypothesis, when one test didn’t show the problem a new test was tried.



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