Thursday, March 7, 2019

Systematic Problem-Solving: Looking out of Problems before Looking into the Problems

There are many thought processes behind problem identification and there are various step-wise approaches to solve problems seamlessly. 

Problem-solving is about seeing a problem and actually finding a solution to that problem, not just the band-aid approach to fixing the symptom. How you find a solution to any problem depends on your perspective to that problem, but every problem has numerous angles to take into consideration. To deal with many of today’s complex problems, perhaps you need to conduct a systematic problem-solving approach - what Russ Ackoff, an American organizational theorist, used to call "looking out of the problem" as opposed to "looking into the problem," in order to solve problems thoroughly.

Systems Thinking provides a holistic way to define the problems: Behind every problem is a relationship dynamic out of the alignment. Systems Thinking provides the tools and methodologies to define problems under uncertainty. It offers a better and more accurate understanding of the overall situation and problems. Being able to zoom out for looking out of the problem, is an increasingly important skill in the dynamic business environment in which it is impossible to predict the behavior of the whole from the behavior of the parts; and where the relationships between component parts are more important than the parts themselves. The zoom-out view by taking an interdisciplinary lens helps to get the “scope” of the problem, see a larger system with interactive pieces and “conflict” goals; understand the interdependent pieces, provide the insight into the emergent properties, appreciate the interaction and interrelationship dynamic, diagnose the root cause of problems, and gain an accurate understanding of the overall situation sociologically, technologically, psychologically, economically, and anthropologically. To put simply, Systems Thinking offers a better and more accurate understanding of the overall situation and problems, and hence, better defining the problems and subsequently, how you should go about solving them and in what sequence.

Synthesis before analysis:
Analysis and synthesis are both scientific methods which always go hand in hand. In general, the analysis is defined as the procedure by which you break down an intellectual or substantial whole into parts or components (loosen, untie, set apart). Synthesis is defined as the opposite procedure to combine separate elements or components in order to form a coherent whole (put together, combine, integrate). They complement one another. From a cognitive perspective, system thinking integrates analysis and synthesis for improving problem-solving effectiveness. For systematic problem-solving, synthesis before analysis makes sense. In most cases, you don't understand your business environment because you have never looked outside the boundary of the problem. If, and when, you ever develop the capacity for synthesis, you will discover that the business as a containing system has social, ecological, technological, economic and political elements and you must advance the development of all of these crucial factors in order to solve the problems in a holistic way.

Tailor solutions to the real problem: Too often people may take the easy path, think and work at a superficial level rather than spend the time to understand what is going on underneath. It’s no surprise to know that often the solution only fixes the symptom and even causes more problems later on. With a greater understanding of the problems by leveraging systems thinking, the trick is to increase the influence and be part of the solutions. There is no need to look at it in a reactive mode as a ‘problem,’ but it would be desirable to look at it proactively and have a ‘policy’ and framework approach to solve it with flexibility. Solutions are made from a much broader and encompassing view that is not possible in linear thinking. It means that never think there is a short list of solutions you can pick from, and always be open to solving the problem in an alternative or better way. Technically, it’s important to build a comprehensive framework, develop systematical methods and practices, leverage multidisciplinary knowledge and take systematic approaches to pursue an optimal solution.

In reality, tunnel vision happens that every side of the fence, commercial and technical, misbelieve the relevance and difficulties of each other’s jobs. Either for solving problems or running businesses, knowledge is no doubt important but more than that is complete awareness of what is happening in the context from a system perspective. There are many thought processes behind problem identification and there are various step-wise approaches to solve problems seamlessly. Look out of problems before look into the problems in order to define the right problem and solve it in a structural way.


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