A few weeks ago I opened the door to the apartment where I’ve been staying to find it raining in the hallway outside.
The building’s roof has had a series of leaks over the past few years. Each time, the roof has apparently been “fixed.” Except it clearly hasn’t been fixed. It’s been patched.
The ceiling outside this apartment has shown signs damage since the last leak, in August. The lack of attention and responsiveness to issues over time built up, resulting in the ceiling crumbling to the floor.
Once again, building management said they fixed the leak. Last week, handymen came to work on the inside of the building. The patched the ceiling and painted over it.
When I saw them working, I asked if they had actually repaired the damage. What about the signs of mold, the visible moisture on the ceiling?
The handyman assured me that he would cover it with a stain remover and a coat of paint.
The appeal of a quick patch and paint job is obvious: Control the chaos. Contain the costs. Apply the quick cure to clean up the mess of the crumbling ceiling.
It hadn’t been a full week since the repairs when I noticed that the new coat of paint is already peeling and the moisture stains are showing through.
I wasn’t surprised. This is the result you can expect when you try to cover over a problem, or apply a quick fix — when you prioritize the cure over the cause.
This pattern shows up in every segment of our culture. Healthcare. Politics. Wall Street. Business. We value treatment over prevention, airbrushing over real change.
The quick fix is appealing because it’s easy, cheap, and doesn’t require us to get dirty. But the quick fix rarely lasts.
The most effective way to fix problems is to eliminate them. We must identify the cause, which is often different from the source. This work can be messy and expensive. But in the long run, it’s more effective and less costly than continually treating the symptoms.
The best cure is prevention.