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The XY Problem

The XY problem is a communication or thinking problem encountered in situations where the real issue, X, of the human asking for help is obscured, because instead of asking directly about issue X, they ask how to solve a secondary issue, Y, which they believe will allow them to resolve issue X. However, resolving issue Y often does not resolve issue X, or is a poor way to resolve it, and the obscuring of the real issue and the introduction of the potentially strange secondary issue can lead to the person trying to help having unnecessary difficulties in communication and offering poor solutions.

How to avoid it

  • Always include information about a broader picture along with any attempted solution.
  • If someone asks for more information, do provide details.
  • If there are other solutions you've already ruled out, share why you've ruled them out. This gives more information about your requirements.