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Is there a substantive or an adjective to designate a person who has a tendency to look for problems or faults and then raises attention about them?

Note that I am not looking to imply anything negative about the behavior, I am not looking for words like "buck-passer", "do-nothing moralizer", a "downer" or anything of that nature.

I have found the word "captious", but it seems to have a negative connotation.

An example would be:

An important part of the job specifications is for the candidate to have an _____ mind. Indeed, it is critical that problems are found as quickly as possible, and then that a solution is found as a team.

Thanks!

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    Please don't give answers in comments. Write an answer if you have one.
    – Andrew Leach
    Nov 21 at 13:44

13 Answers 13

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Such a person is circumspect (in the broader sense of the word: not just careful about one's speech and behaviour, discreet):

circumspect [adjective]

Heedful of circumstances and potential consequences; prudent.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language

circumspect [adjective]

cautious, wary, literally looking about on all sides [vigilant]

[The Online Etymology Dictionary]

..................

Vigilant is a close synonym, and wakeful/watchful may be used:

vigilant [adjective]

– Watchful, as one who watches during the hours for sleep; ever awake and on the alert; attentive to discover and avoid danger, or to provide for safety; circumspect; cautious; wary.

– Indicating vigilance.

– Synonyms 1. Wakeful, etc. See watchful [adjective]

– Attentive to discover and avoid danger, or to provide for safety; wakeful; watchful; circumspect; wary.

[Magoosh]

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    Circumspect means someone who won't raise an alarm. Like a butler who sees all the messy family affairs and can be counted on to be "heedful of consequences" to their job and to the family by keeping quiet. Nov 22 at 5:32
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    Though circumspection very often involves taking care in revealing facts, it by no means precludes the sharing of information needed to minimise harm. Hence the opening sentence in the answer above. Nov 22 at 15:35
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    "Circumspect" carries a strong connotation of someone who thinks everything through before they act, possibly even with a preference towards inaction, whereas the request was for someone who actively seeks places they need to act. I think proactive would fit this context much better. Nov 22 at 16:31
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    I doubt that there will be a really good answer here. 'Proactive' itself is a loose hypernym; warning others may or may not be one of the steps taken. And the question becomes a duplicate of a word for acting in advance of some expected or anticipated outcome. Nov 22 at 16:55
  • "proactive circumspection"?
    – Stef
    Nov 24 at 10:02
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Your example looks like a job description, and the word frequently used in that situation is proactive:

Proactive managers are planners; they anticipate crises rather than reel from them.

Merriam-Webster

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  • I feel like "proactive" only captures part of the behavior here. Someone who is proactive is not necessarily observant, which is what OP is also trying to encapsulate.
    – Flater
    Nov 24 at 1:00
  • I think that's just someone who is bad at being proactive. Nov 24 at 14:00
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Critical - exercising or involving careful judgment or judicious evaluation

Critical also means faultfinding.

Thus, 'critical' can convey the meaning of looking for problems but (possbily) in a positive/constructive way.

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    While other answers might be technically correct, I think this one is the best because it is the word you would expect to be used in the example sentence. "Critical Thinking" and having a "Critical Mind" are common expressions in business jargon.
    – Nosajimiki
    Nov 22 at 18:20
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    I would prefer "critical eye"
    – shmosel
    Nov 23 at 22:12
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  • The first thing that came to mind when I read the title was whistleblower, although that only really addresses the alarm-raising aspect, and implies the problems or faults are intentional.

  • A better option is the noun debugger, i.e. someone who debugs:

    to detect and remove defects or errors from.

    (It might generate unfortunate associations, though, and not come across as neutral as it ought to be.)

  • As an adjective you might want to consider analytical:

    skilled in or habitually using analysis

    where analysis is

    this process as a method of studying the nature of something or of determining its essential features and their relations

    which would logically include faulty processes, mistakes, and other problems.

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    As a software tester, I would like to point out that in my field, a "tester" is a person but a "debugger" is a tool.
    – Andrew Ray
    Nov 22 at 13:57
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An important part of the job specifications is for the candidate to have a problem solving mindset.

I don't have a dictionary source, as it's a little bit jargony, but it's a common enough term and matches the situation of what you're describing. You can also see lots of articles online using the term.

Edit: I just noticed the single word tag, sorry. ... add hyphens?

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  • I'd be wary of the confusion between "problem" in the sense of "puzzle" and "problem" in the sense of "issue". Someone who likes attacking and solving puzzles is not necessarily someone who's cautious and attentive to details and detects issues and faults; and vice-versa.
    – Stef
    Nov 24 at 10:03
  • No I don't think this fits. The Quality guy (the one "identifying problems") and the Development guy (the one "solving problems") are often not the same person, and often enough have quite different attitudes and skillsets.
    – kutschkem
    Nov 24 at 16:06
  • @kutschkem sure, but I would think (hope) both the developer and the QA employees have a problem solving mindset, no?
    – BruceWayne
    Nov 24 at 18:44
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an incisive mind

showing clear thought and good understanding of what is important, and the ability to express this

incisive comments/criticism/analysis/ an incisive mind

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    "incisive" doesn't imply doing anything; you can be incisive by picking apart systems then doing nothing about it.
    – Stuart F
    Nov 21 at 14:55
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I might suggest the following, depending on circumstances:

Lookout, scout, warden, watch, sleuth, sentry

These imply someone who is actively looking for problems or suspicious circumstances with the intention of reporting findings.

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Troubleshooter

Most of the words suggested so far are adjectives; the best of them are vigilant and watchful. 'Proactive' is alright, but not as specific; someone who is proactive is thinking ahead and taking steps now to accomplish their future goals, but that agenda might not include identifying and resolving systemic problems.

For a substantive, I think the word that most matches the OP's request is:

Troubleshooter, Merriam-Webster

1: a skilled worker employed to locate trouble and make repairs in machinery and technical equipment
2: an expert in resolving diplomatic or political disputes : a mediator of disputes that are at an impasse
3: a person skilled at solving or anticipating problems or difficulties

Other suggestions for substantives include "Scout and Lookout". These occupations look for danger and react, but the dangers they are focused on are external to their organizations, and OP appears to want something more internal.

Similarly, a word that has not been suggested is Watchdog:

An individual or group that monitors the activities of another entity (such as an individual, corporation, non-profit group, or governmental organization) on behalf of the public to ensure that entity does not behave illegally or unethically

but here again it has the connotation that the individual is outside the organization that they are monitoring.

A more internal connotation is carried by Auditor and Inspector. Here, however, the people generally look for breeches of established procedure or protocol. They don't necessarily concern themselves with future problems, issues that have not yet arisen or been codified.

A whistleblower, as already noted, does not intentionally look for problems, but reveals them once found. The problems themselves are deliberately concealed, which does not match the OP's meaning. The same answer suggests 'debugger', but this only carries currency within the tech field, and see also this comment.

The best match for what the OP is describing in the substantive is Troubleshooter.

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  • Trouble-shouter would be better
    – banuyayi
    Dec 2 at 10:15
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An important part of the job specifications is for the candidate to have a high-alert mind.

or

An important part of the job specifications is for the candidate to be on high-alert.

Citation from Cambridge Dictionary

alert

adjective

quick to see, understand, and act in a particular situation

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    "high alert" is not hyphenated, and not used as an adjectival phrase. Nov 24 at 16:24
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Lookout from Cambridge dictionary

noun [ C ]

UK

a person who watches for danger:

US

a person whose job is to watch for someone or something to appear:

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Alarmist jumped easily to mind, and as far as I can tell no one posted it yet:

From Google:

Someone who is considered to be exaggerating a danger and so causing needless worry or panic. "the problem is a fabrication by alarmists"

Of course, alarmist definitely has a negative connotation.

Watcher would be a word with a positive connotation, at least usually.

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Apparently "eyes and ears" as an idiom do not exist in English dictionaries; "all eyes and ears" do.

Tocsin (Wiktionary) only means the 'alarm sound' or the 'alarm bell'.

'Hazard' and/or 'Risk' 'Assessors' are found in many job descriptions. (Linkedin link)

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I think 'gaslighting' is a noun that is a way of pointing out problems in order to raise alarms whether they are needed or not for a desired outcome.

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