Graham Birkenhead, February 9 2021

Symptomatic Misdirection

A few years ago, while training for a triathlon, I went to see my doctor about a pain in my knee. He prodded and poked, and did various scans and investigations, all of which identified nothing in particular. Eventually, he referred me to a physiotherapist who was adept at understanding, and very importantly resolving, strange aches and pains.

My first visit to the physio was on a warm summer’s day, so I wore shorts so she could get at my knee quite easily. So, I was rather alarmed when the first thing she asked me to do was remove most of my clothes and stand on a marked spot in front of a large mirror. The mirror had vertical and horizontal lines marked on it. She paid very little attention to my knee, but spent quite a bit of time asking about all my other aches and pains, looking at how my body was aligned, and observing how I walked and moved. Long story short, the pain in my knee was the end point of a long chain of compensations for an old shoulder injury. With that understanding, I could start addressing my actual problem and get back on track with my triathlon training.

Businesses owners often call us in when they want to grow their businesses. Some of them explain that in order to grow they need to resolve this issue or that issue. However, we often find that what a client initially asks us for, is often not what they really need. The outcome or ‘ends’ are the same: business owners want to grow - I wanted to compete in triathlons – but the ‘means’ to achieve that may be different from what was anticipated.

By asking appropriate, probing and sometimes uncomfortable questions, watching and listening, observing and absorbing, we can learn what the real issues are and what the course of action should be. Being able to take an holistic and systemic view of the company in the context of its strategic market environment is crucial.

When you are trying to achieve a business goal but don’t seem to be on track for success, focusing on the symptom (such as my knee pain) is probably not what you need to do. Until you identify the root cause you will continue to flounder. It is often hugely beneficial, and time saving, to have someone work with you objectively to help you see the real issues.

What are you trying to achieve and what pains are you experiencing?



Written by

Graham Birkenhead


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