• Rumi Tsuchihashi

The problem might not be you.

"Disaster is virtue's opportunity." -Seneca

Once upon a time, there was a disaster of a refrigerator. This fridge, a proprietary design made to fit a certain model of a commercial airplane, broke down so easily that the replacement parts supplier couldn't keep up with the demand.

These breakdowns would cause the planes to stay unexpectedly grounded. Not being able to fly when they wanted to was deeply frustrating to airlines officials and it was costly to them, too. They demanded to know, "What's wrong with this fridge?"

The manufacturer looked into this question. After carefully studying the mechanics, they realized that no fix could keep these fridges consistently working. Doing R&D on a brand new fridge would make the breakdown problem go away, but it'd be wildly expensive, take a minimum of three years, and wouldn't make a bit of difference to the trouble on hand.

The news was grim for everyone concerned. 

Then, a group of data scientists joined the investigation team. And they asked a new question.

"Is what's wrong with the fridge really the problem?"

As it turns out, the distress had little to do with how "wrong" the fridge was.  The unexpectedness of the interference to the flight schedule—that's what was really hurting everyone.

With this insight, the team set about getting to know this unreliable fridge with precision and depth like never before. In a matter of months, they built algorithms to accurately predict when a critical part breakdown was on its way. Engineers designed alerts so they'd give advance notice and allow for the dying part to be replaced cheaply as part of the plane's routine maintenance.

Asking "what's wrong with this fridge?" led everyone to a dead end. But inquiring about the suffering it caused while allowing the refrigerator's essential nature to remain as is, that created a breakthrough. 

Ever since I reported on this story for one of my clients, I've wondered about the recurring "disasters" in my own life.

The way I wait until the last minute to do things. The mess in my home, especially the pile of papers. The way I seem to slow way, way down the more I feel pressure to speed up and produce in high volumes.  

What is wrong with me?

Like the fridge, my first line of disaster response has long been to ask that question, and then try one futile thing after another to try to remake myself. 

When we feel bad, we're all quick to fix the thing that looks broken. But maybe what we're dealing with is a disaster fridge that doesn't need to be overhauled, just related to differently, especially if the goal is to feel better.

When I zoom out from the immediate frustration of late, slow, and messy, I can now see that what I've really been yearning for is to be someone you can count on. 

If the airplanes could fly reliably with the exact same fridges on board, then it seems entirely possible that I, too, can be someone you can count on just the way I am.

So next time we run into a problem that tempts us to believe something's wrong with us, let's ask ourselves if what we're dealing with is a disaster refrigerator situation.

Xo, Rumi

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