Thursday, February 16, 2017

Minding Gaps for Building Superior Problem-Solving Capability

"To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks the real advance in science."   — Albert Einstein


Problem-solving is both art and science. Fundamentally, every job is to deal with problems big or small both from long term perspective or on the daily basis. We all develop reputations for being problem creators, problem definers or problem solvers. Though sometimes, even you have a good intention to solve problems but perhaps just fix the symptom, and causes more serious problems later on. So how to close gaps for building superior problem-solving capability?


It’s important to first frame the problems, fixing the wrong cause of a problem is creating gaps, wasting time and energy: Often times, people have a tendency to try to fix a symptom which results from the actual cause of the problem. When they do this, they throw good money after bad. They allow problems to grow under the surface, out of sight, out of mind, until it’s too late. Until the underlying problem is addressed, the symptom or result will continue to return. So, trying to fix the wrong cause of a problem will waste time and resources, increase anxiety. Further, "business problems" are usually difficult, part of the difficulty is that businesses often try to use decision-making processes to define the problem, and in doing so often fail to really define the problem. The problem then just becomes the output of decision-making processes. You then try to solve that problem, using more decision-making logic and wonder why the actions you have taken have made the situation worse. For solving complex problems, leveraging Systems Thinking for problem framing and Critical Thinking for digging into root causes helps to see a larger system with interactive pieces and “conflict” goals. Rather than considering a single goal, you need to consider a larger system with multiple and conflicting goals. It is also important to observe the problem-solving scenarios and ask yourself the sets of questions in order to close problem-solving gaps: Such as, how do you discover the part you played in the problem/challenge? Which thought processes shall you leverage to diagnose problems and solve them? What is the best way to handle a problem that seems to have no solution? How to build a good reputation on problem-solving? Etc.


Understand the problem with context, and follow the logical scenario to diagnose it: Context aids us in understanding what’s relevant and what’s not. You cannot understand a cell, a living thing, a brain structure, an organization, or a culture if you isolate it from its context. From a practical perspective, 'seeing' the context you are 'part' of, allows one to identify the leverage points of the system and then 'choose' the 'decisive' factors, in the attempt to achieve the set purpose. Some problems seem irrational as they are caused by people’s emotional reaction to a set of circumstances or events. This can appear to be illogical. Many people find it difficult understanding that the irrational is very common and is often a fear response to change or preserved threat. If, there are such an “illogical problems,” the resolution of an illogical problem requires a logical process, but the source of the information that permits this logical conclusion might function in an abstract manner. More specifically, the logical scenario to diagnose the problems include:
(1) Identify the problem: What is exactly wrong, out of balance, unjust, etc., the exact description of the problem.
(2) Find the factors involved in the final "incorrect" outcome: See if you can measure or weigh each factor's contribution to the result, or the description of the unit of measure.
(3) Build a hypothetical equation that describes your "incorrect" outcome. See how changing any of these getting better or worsens that outcome.


Channeling creativity for solving tough problems or old thorny issues: A problem is a difference between an expectation ( intention, vision) and the actual situation (current reality) coupled with a negative feeling. When you encounter a tough problem, you need to use a creative way. Thinking creatively about a problem requires being close to the problem, it requires context and intangible variables. For problems that matter, it cannot be done asynchronously and uniformly. The better solution to many problems that crosses all industries is to keep peeling back the layers to find the root cause. Both creative and critical thinkers live out of the box, ask open questions to collect relevant information, and think alternatives. You seek for inventions, new designs, creative problem-solving. It drives innovation. In the business world, at least, you can't always wait for the "best" decision to emerge. Creative problem-solving starts with creative communication, sets alternative choices, and then you have to make best decisions you can, based on connecting unusual dots, identify and prioritize alternative solutions, also take a structural way to make inquiries, a sound process to make a better choice, and have the gut to admit when a mid-course correction is in order. To bridge the gap for solving complex problems, collective wisdom is often the secret source for creative problem-solving. Co-create alternative visions and dream into existence of new solutions, these are the capacities of humans who are not trapped in 'the same level of thinking' as others and keep sharpening problem-solving skills and capabilities.


Problem-solving is about seeing a problem and actually finding a solution to that problem, no just the band-aid approach to fixing the symptom. No one person or entity is always the source of problems,  likewise, no one person will be the panacea to problems, but with teamwork, amicable solutions can be achieved. To close the problem-solving capability gap, keep sharpening your problem-solving skills, always dig under the surface, and build a good reputation as a real problem-framer or problem-solver.

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