Diagnosing the Symptoms

Recently, one of my colleagues and I were sharing sob stories about problems that we are each having with our vehicles.

Recently, one of my colleagues and I were sharing sob stories about problems that we are each having with our vehicles. In my case—and in spite of two trips to my dealer's service department—I have a strange SQUEEEEEAAAAAAAK sound coming from the rear wheels of the car whenever I take it out on the highway.

My colleague mentioned that he too had once experienced a problem similar to mine. Though in his case, I think the problem was more of a THUDTHUDTHUD than a SQUEEEEEAAAAAK.

As we cried on one another's shoulders, my colleague mentioned that his problem had never really been resolved. Apparently, his mechanic—probably sick of hearing from him—ended up installing some makeshift insulation in the rear of the car to dampen the noise.

The mechanic didn't fix the problem, mind you. He simply addressed a symptom of it. The THUDTHUDTHUD is still there. It's just that one cannot hear it now. The noise, and whatever is causing it to occur, is still taking place.

Fortunately for my colleague, the problem with his vehicle has not gotten any worse and no other symptoms have presented themselves. But what his mechanic did—addressing only the symptom instead of seeking out the root of the problem—is both irresponsible and potentially dangerous.

To be fair, this practice is not exclusive to auto mechanics. Almost all of us, regardless of profession, fall into the "symptom trap" at some point. It doesn't matter if we are a doctor trying to diagnose a patient's unexplained headaches or an engineer attempting to deal with excessive sludge buildup in a zinc phosphating tank.

Part of the problem is that we, as human beings, desire quick resolution to our problems. We want to be able to say "case closed" and move on with our lives. If that can be achieved by way of adding some extra chemicals to a bath or increasing the dosage of a patient's medication, so much the better. But in most cases, the "quick fix" proves to be just a temporary bandage and the problem inevitably gets worse.

True resolution usually only comes about when we take the time to investigate a problem from top to bottom, to consider all of the circumstances and weigh the body of evidence.

That's not to say that symptoms aren't valuable. Without them, we'd be hard-pressed to tell when a person—or a chemical bath—is sick. But the key to handling symptoms is to not get so hung up on them that you forget about the problem. After all, our "patients," be they people, cars or plating baths, deserve our very best efforts.