Monday, July 17, 2017

Five Problem-Solving Credos


We all develop reputations for being problem creators, problem definers or problem solvers.

Fundamentally, every work is to deal with problems big or small both from long term perspectives or on the daily basis. And the business or societal progress is made via a healthy cycle of problem framing and problem-solving continuum. We all develop reputations for being problem creators, problem definers or problem solvers. To close the problem-solving capability gap, it is important to keep sharpening your problem-solving skills, always dig under the surface, and build a good reputation as a real problem-framer or problem-solver. Here is a set of problem-solving credos.


There is an importance of introspection to assess the part you played in the problem: No one person or entity is always the source of problems, likewise, no one person will be the panacea to all problems. Thus, it is important to develop the willingness to take ownership, otherwise, it could lead to a defensive mindset and result in failing to identify the role in problem-solving. Complex problem-solving requires both multidimensional intelligence and emotional excellence. It is easy to observe how other people become emotionally charged and reactive to problems/challenges; it's even easier for ourselves to become ignited/emotionally charged and reactive towards problems/challenges. Understand when you’re upset or angry, you’re not effectively listening, which requires some emotional intelligence to be able to recognize when you’re in such a situation. Change starts from yourself. When you can put yourselves in a self-aware position of experiencing/ seeing/ hearing all sides of a problem/challenge, it actually helps you observe deeper and lead to more humility in seeing the reality in its true form. Listen to what others are saying and get others talking about what’s going on. Ask for others feedback on what they believe the problem to be but also be prepared to hear something you might not like or agree with. It is also critical to leverage lessons learned. Learn from the past problems and challenges along with encouraging others to learn from the problems that have happened, and believe that problems are the opportunity to show others you're a good problem-solver.


Problem-solving is about seeing a problem and actually discovering a real solution to that problem, not just the band-aid approach to fixing the symptom: It's worthwhile considering why things are the way they are for, in doing so, you are challenging automatic assumptions that something needs 'fixing.' To 'just go ahead and fix it carries assumptions, particularly, assumptions about something wrong, limiting, or not working in some way that requires 'fixing. It depends on the problem, how and to what extent it is manifesting in a way that cries for fixing, from where it emanates the greater context. The better solution to many problems that across all industries is to keep peeling back the layers to find the root cause. Silo thinking is often one of the thought processes focusing on symptoms, not the root causes. Until the underlying problem is addressed, the symptom will continue to return. Further, trying to fix the wrong cause of a problem will waste time and resources, increase anxiety, and leave industries full of opportunists that see rewards by offering solutions that address symptoms. The other technique to diagnose the root cause of problems is through asking five WHYs or taking other systematic approaches. If you understand the origin of the situation, where you want it to go, and how to get there, you would understand the specific WHYs to dig through the root causes.


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, an organization, or a culture if you isolate it from its context. From a problem-solving perspective, 'seeing' the context you are 'part' of, allows you to identify the leverage points of the system and then 'choose' the key factors, in the attempt to diagnose the problem and solve it effectively. More specifically, the logical scenario to diagnose and solve 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 gets better or worsens that outcome.


Channeling creativity for solving tough problems: 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. Both creative and critical thinkers live out of the box, ask open questions to collect relevant information, and think alternative solutions to tough problems. In the business world, at least, you can't always wait for the "best" decision to emerge. You seek for inventions, new designs, creative problem-solving. It drives innovation. Creative problem-solving starts with creative communication, then, sets alternative choices, and then you have to make best decisions you can, based on connecting unusual dots, identify and prioritize alternative solutions, set sound processes to make a better choice, and have the gut to admit when a mid-course correction is in order. Creative problem-solving can only become new normal if you change people’s attitude - working together to figure out the better way for problem-solving. How to change thought models and attitudes? That is only a start to awareness of something new, broader perspective and a possibility of something new. How to make this necessary change in thinking into new ways of working together - and giving up the safe old silo, to pursue innovative solutions to problems.

Problem-prevention is critical for adapting to the “VUCA” characteristics of the digital new normal:  Either preventing problems or solving problems requires people who have excellent analytical skills. Risks are simply potential problems. Preventing problems requires people/processes/systems to analyze and predict the possibility of a problem, this is particularly important for today’s dynamic digital business. Preventing problems and enabling continuous improvement requires cultural changes, leadership support, and iterative processes for identifying, assessing, preventing, and resolving problems as well as reporting the successes. So why is it so difficult to prevent/resolve problems? Because in many organizations, there is a "shoot the messenger" reaction, the person who identifies problems/risks is viewed as disruptive, get discouraged or even penalized. These individuals eventually learn to keep their observations to themselves. In order to prevent/solve a problem, you have to get an agreement that a problem/risk exists. The life cycle of the proper problem-prediction, problem-framing, and problem-solving is there so that you can follow the logical problem-solving scenario, by setting good principles, guidelines, and procedures. Thus, open culture plays a significant role in building a proactive problem prevention capability as well as developing the logical problem-solving scenario.


It takes a systematic approach to solve complex problems. The transparent processes help to dig through the root cause of problems, and develop a logical scenario for problem-prevention, problem-diagnosing, and problem-solving, keep the learning attitude to improve, and empower your true problem-solvers and encourage creative problem-solving.

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