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How many times have people advised you to “treat the cause, not the symptom”? Treating the symptom is the hallmark of the Shifting the Burden archetype.
The advice is obvious. If your stomach hurts from eating too much of the wrong stuff, then stop eating too much of the wrong stuff. Still, people spend millions of dollars on antacids. Perhaps finding the true root cause of a problem is much more difficult than simply to “stop doing” something.
The Garden and the Groundhog
Many wild animals look at domestic decorative and vegetable gardens as a great place to eat. As the plants grow, these neighbors come to visit, explore, and feed along the way. They are doing as they are programmed to do — eat, sleep, breed, and hide. Deer, rabbits, moles, mice, and groundhogs all like to eat the vegetation that we like to use for decoration or tasty food. To these animals, a vegetable garden requires no instruction.
The problem is the animals. The symptom is that they eat the plants. Gardeners deploy a number of symptomatic solutions, mainly repellents, to persuade the animals to stay away. Fences are one line of defense. When pest animals appear, it is not long before the fence goes up around the garden. Fences work well to keep out dogs and other animals that are not interested in eating the contents of the garden, but if a smaller or more agile animal wants to eat what is in the garden, the fence is just a minor challenge. Deer jump fences. Rabbits squeeze through the openings or under the wire. Moles dig under the fence. Groundhogs dig under or climb over.
The application of the fence introduces some side effects. First, they cost money. Second, if the fence is not carefully constructed, it can be an eyesore. Fences limit the gardener’s free access to the garden. Gates provide access… and introduce weakness in protection.
Some gardeners introduce other repellents to augment the fence, once they discover the fence does not protect the garden. These repellents fall into two different groups, those that scare the animals and those that irritate the animals. Different kinds of noisemakers and decoys appear, like scarecrows, aluminum pie plates, and plastic owls. Other gardeners deploy scent-based repellents, like fox urine, rotten eggs, or hot pepper spray. The efficacy of these repellents falls as the animals either learn that the scarecrow or owl is not real or build a tolerance to the scent-based repellents.
The additional repellents require considerable effort to manufacture and apply, and they also produce a series of side effects, including additional cost or the noise they may make. Once repellent measures fail, many gardeners abandon the effort, allowing the animals to lay waste to the garden.
The fundamental solution can take any of three avenues: removal of the close habitat, removal of the pest, or introduction of a real autonomous threat to the pest. The family dog or the local fox are examples of autonomous threats. Each is accompanied by a different type of side effect, some pleasant (dogs make good pets), and some not so pleasant (don’t leave your cats out at night, or the fox will get them). Removal of the pest is more involved, requiring the use of traps that capture the animal (if it is small enough) or the application of deadly force. Either of these solutions may be in violation of local laws. Destroying the dens and burrows of some of the smaller animals are examples of removing the local habitat, as is removing brush.
Some systems require both symptomatic and fundamental solutions to resolve the problem. Some gardeners use fences and repellents while maintaining a watchful eye to see what animals come to visit before deploying the correct fundamental removal solution.
When the symptom appears, managers apply a short-term solution that provides immediate results. The solution may be appropriate for treating the symptom, but it may not address the underlying cause of the problem. Because the solution only addressed the symptom, the problem creates the symptom again, or manifests as a different symptom, or side effect. At times, the symptomatic solution creates an undesired or unanticipated side effect, such as additional costs, noise, or effort.
Until application of the fundamental solution, the problem remains. The continued application of the same short-term solution proves to be unsuccessful as its efficacy atrophies. The application of other short-term solutions to the symptom will hold off the problem until their efficacy also atrophies. Actual relief arrives only after the identification and removal of the root cause.
What the People Say
“We didn’t have the time or budget to research what caused the problem.” “The fix was simple and worked quickly, but it does not do the job nearly as well now.” “What do you mean that there is trouble down that road?” “It is like a ‘whack-a-mole’ game; as soon as we fix one problem, another appears.”
What to Do?
Solving a Shifted Burden systemic problem may involve using a balance of symptomatic response while identifying and addressing the fundamental problem.
If the problem is new:
If ineffective symptomatic solutions are already deployed: