Saturday, July 29, 2017

Three Pitfalls in Problem-Solving

Problem-solving has a very wide scope and takes the interdisciplinary approach.

Human progress is fundamentally achieved via an iterative problem-solving scenario. Either individuals or businesses will be more successful when they realize that one of their greatest strengths will be their problem-solving capability. The art of problem-solving is that there are all sorts of problems and there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. The science of problem-solving is that there is the logic behind any problem, the more complex the problem is, the more important to leverage both analysis and synthesis for both breaking down the problems into smaller problems, as well as integrating different pieces of the puzzle to come up with a holistic solution without causing other problems or side effect. Here are three pitfalls in effective problem-solving.

Try to fix the wrong cause of a problem: Problem-solving includes both framing the right problem and solve it in the right way. A solution is nothing if the problem is not perceived comprehensively. Therefore, creating the awareness of the problem is the first step to making a solution be understood and accepted, realizing “We can't stay the same.” And people lacking the real critical thinking usually never question what is exactly the problem because "it's the way things should be." Problem-solving in the majority of organizations today is woefully inadequate. Often, events and patterns are observed on the surface, and then the action is taken to fix the symptom, but that is too early. After observing events and patterns, there are the underlying structures, the mechanisms, that cause the problem. There is a shortage of effective management which could be translated to the capacity shortage for both defining and solving the right problems. Often times, people have a tendency to try to fix a symptom which results from the actual cause of the problem. Until the underlying problem is addressed, the symptom will continue to return. 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. There needs to be a better appreciation for problem-solving intelligence and capabilities, to examine a situation from multiple angles and develop new approaches. So, trying to fix the wrong cause of a problem will waste time and resources, increase anxiety, and reward mediocrity (even problem-creators). Problems that arise in organizations are almost always the product of interactions of parts, never the action of a single part. Complex problems often do not have simple solutions, some may look simple, but there is a lot of effort need to put in. So, the goal is to pursue an optimal solution to fix the real problem.

Lack of creativity for problem-solving, use the logic of yesterday to try fixing the emergent problems: Businesses fail most of the times because of too much dependence on analysis and one's temptation to keep on following the approach from the past which may have become irrelevant. We all have walked in the shoes and seen the problem or situation from the others’ point of view. At times, when you only want to see things from your own point of view- see what you want to see, or, hear-what-you-want-to-hear, often you miss the point to understand the real problem as well as how to solve it creatively. When problems arise, it’s usually best to pause and reflect before reacting, and it is so important to practice multi-dimensional thinking processes. Most decisions on problem-solving are based on ‘logic.’ However, the logic should be updated as well, to consider the emergent events and ever-changing circumstances. It is important to apply the deep critical thinking which includes many other thinking processes such as analysis, synthesis, creative thinking, strategic thinking, holistic thinking, etc., to scrutinize such a problem-solving logic. This requires one to slow down with the way they think; as some people are prone to immediately jump to conclusions based on what they see and not necessarily based on what they know or how they perceive, as well as how to leverage the different viewpoints. A complex problem rarely has a simple solution. 'There is always a well-known solution to every human problem--neat, plausible, and wrong. We all build a reputation as a problem-creator, problem-framer, or creative problem-solver. In many situations, this will clarify the part you have played in the problem, and that’s a great place to start fixing it!

Focus on finger-pointing, not problem-solving: From the business management perspective, it is important to build the culture of problem-solving and leverage the limited resource, time and the best talent for solving problems collaboratively. First, the blaming culture should be erased from the individual’s mindset. To blame an individual department, who is merely a cog in the wheel, is ignorant. Blame is a destructive method and can further depress a company that is failing. The good leaders focus on solutions, not on blame. So as far as who is to blame, per se, anyone who contributes to the decline of an organization can own some fault it in its demise. Instead of finger-pointing, you have to sit together to build a solid strategic planning, break down silo thinking.  Effective leaders routinely zoom out to see the larger system and their part in the mess. It takes extraordinary discipline to carve out the time for this type of reflection and it is always important to develop the healthy habit of problem-solving.  You think critically when you begin to focus and delineate the factors associated with the problem. You will need to take a few steps back trying to get the real picture of what happened based on facts and figure out the best next move toward the right decisions.

Either for problem-solving and making collective progress. For humans to move to higher ground, we must have a different view, but share the common ground as well. To quote Russell Ackoff: 'The only problems that have simple solutions are simple problems." The only managers that have simple problems have simple minds. You can give most people skills easily when compared to trying to give/develop the ability, attitude, flexibility, intelligence, practicality, pragmatism for problem-solving. Problem-solving has a very wide scope and takes the interdisciplinary approach. It is important to focus on coordination and facilitation, build the culture of problem-solving and innovation.


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