Effective Problem Solving – Doing vs. Chewing

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Problem solving means doing something different. We like to chew things over when faced with a difficulty, rather than doing something to fix it.

Traditionally, our attempts at problem solving revolve around analysis. It’s as if, in searching diligently for the cause, we will find an answer to the problem. This generates a number of complications:

  • Analysis is about thinking. Many problems require action, doing something to fix or work round them. Thinking is fine, but not all thinking is equal in problem solving.
  • Analysis looks for cause. To fix a problem you have to deal with it’s effects. We all know that we can’t change the past (where the cause occurred), yet we persist in focusing on it.
  • Discussion tend to encourage poring over the problem, which further reinforces it.
  • Focusing on the problem becomes a substitute for doing something about it, so nothing changes.

Active problem-solving

You can avoid ‘paralysis by analysis’ by breaking the cycle and doing something different. Once you have acknowledged that the problem exists, start thinking about how things will be post-problem, and then do whatever you need to do to start moving in that direction. Small steps are OK, as long as they head in the right direction:

  1. Give the problem a name (short snappy ones work best).
  2. Accept that it exists (no need to ask why it exists, it just does).
  3. Clearly describe how you want things to be when the problem has gone away (your outcome). Create a detailed image that you can hold in your mind. The more rich and detailed this is, the easier it will be to move towards it.
  4. To start things off, take the simplest first steps you can to move towards your outcome.
  5. If you find your mind wants to analyse and as “why?”, return to 2, above.

Analysis has its place (and so does reflection, but that’s different). For example, once a problem has been solved, in investigations to establish cause, or when building better systems. Analysis is about observation and enquiry, problem-solving requires action.

 

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