The X-Y Problem, as it is sometimes called, is a mental block which leads to enormous amounts of wasted time and energy, both on the part of people asking for help, and on the part of those providing help. It often goes something like this
- User wants to do X.
- User doesn't know how to do X, but thinks they can fumble their way to a solution if they can just manage to do Y.
- User doesn't know how to do Y either.
- User asks for help with Y.
- Others try to help user with Y, but are confused because Y seems like a strange problem to want to solve.
- After much interaction and wasted time, it finally becomes clear that the user really wants help with X, and that Y wasn't even a suitable solution for X.
The problem occurs when people get their train of thought stuck on one approach and become unable to take a step back. Remaining open to having a new look at the bigger picture, these people might find their way back to X and continue searching for alternative solutions.