Irubbed my temples, attempting to ward off the ensuing migraine as I added up the damage. $1,012.97. Ouch. What made it really hard to swallow was it could have been avoided. 

On our recent road trip to Northern California, we were heading back from the Redwoods with the family, when I noticed our running lights were not working. Deciding to check the fuses, I failed to find a blown circuit so we continued on. The problem had become worse though, as we now had no air conditioning or power windows.

Pulling over to investigate, my son piped up from the back seat with all the love and compassion a teenager can muster.

“Why do you have to fix it now?” he said. “Can we just go?”

Annoyed and frustrated, I angrily explained we’d have to put up with the hot and stuffy car until we reached Grants Pass two hours away. If only we’d made it that far. 

Sixty miles north of Crescent City, we lost total power and called for a tow. Three hours and a $260.00 tow-fee later, we pulled into the Toyota dealership at Grants Pass to find the service shop was closed on Saturdays.

Making the best of the situation, we got a hotel room and spent the weekend in Grants Pass. The soft beds and pool were a welcome change from seven days of tent camping, however by Monday we were getting restless, home still over four hours away.

Calling the dealership every couple of hours, we finally received a call back late in the day that the problem was a bad ignition switch and it would be Wednesday before they could get the part in. Dollar signs spun in my head as I resigned to return later in the week to get the mini-van. We headed home in the car rental, ending the vacation with a whimper.

“You mean all this was because I put the fuse in the wrong slot?” I asked the service manager when he called to tell me it wasn’t the ignition switch after all.

“Afraid so,” he said.

I had plenty of time to contemplate the outcome as my wife and I headed down to Grants Pass to pick up the mini-van. “You’d think I would have learned by now,” I said somewhere south of Eugene.
“How so?” she asked.

“It’s Occam’s Razor all over again.”

“Who?” she asked quizzically.

“What, not whom. Occam’s Razor is a principle attributed to the 14th century logician William of Ockham. It states that the most likely solution to a problem is the simplest. If I had just taken the time to think, I would have realized that the problem with the A/C, and the windows were because I messed with the fuses. It would have saved us a thousand bucks,” I said with chagrin.

I’d learned about Occam’s Razor from a business mentor some years ago. I was beating my head on a problem, making it worse trying to fix it. Frustrated that I never seemed to allow the time to make a good decision, yet always spent more time trying to rework the results of a bad one, I called him to vent.

“Force yourself to follow these steps,” he said as he talked me through the points. The following is what he said:
1. Put yourself in a “time out” and breath –Under stress, the adrenal gland dumps hormones into the body to trigger the fight or flight response. As a result, we take shorter breaths and starve our brain of oxygen, hampering our ability to think clearly.
2. Look for the simple answer first, not last. 
3. Get another set of eyes looking at the situation–It’s surprising what we miss right in front of us.
4. Get humble–It’s probably something we did and it takes humility to look at our decisions and actions objectively.

If I’d only remembered these steps before spending a thousand dollars to prove a one-dollar fuse still worked. I should be writing it on the chalkboard 100 times before I attempt to solve another problem. Learn from my mistakes, however. Use the checklist and go simple. I guarantee your bank account will thank you.

Rick P. Thomas is President of Activate Leadership, a leadership development consultancy in Washington State. He consults and speaks to organizations across the country, focusing on individual and organizational achievement.