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People Wednesdays >>> Problem Solving Mindsets for the Workplace



Years of research with leaders across business, non-profit and policy sectors demonstrate that effective problem solvers are not born, but made. With time, these leaders learn to adopt and grasp a different approach to solving problems, and it is one that is grounded in having an open and curious mindset.


There is a clear-cut, systematic process to solving any given problem or task at hand, and anyone can follow this approach in just six fundamental steps:

  1. Adopt an ever-curious mindset towards any problem - We tend to see this inquisitive and persistent nature amongst toddlers or infants and more often than not, we need to channel our inner 4 year-old selves. The constant need to ask "Why is it like this?" or "How is it like that?" persistently will eventually take you to the very root of the problem. By simply adding that question mark at the end of every statement, it will encourage more creative thinking which in turn becomes the pathway to a solution.

  2. Accept and embrace the uncertainty - Most problem solving involves an often frustrating and exhausting process of trial and error. We as humans, must learn to tolerate ambuiguity and gamble with probability. Although there are masses of evidence that suggest human beings aren't the best intuitive statisticians, and our gut instincts may lead us way off chart, this realisation may be the key to becoming effective problem solvers. By bringing out implicit assumptions based on the probability of something taking place or not taking place, we are then making it easier to assess alternatives. Embracing imperfection is vital in this aspect.

  3. Assume a dragonfly-eye view - Dragonflies are creatures that have large, compound eyes but with thousands of lenses and photoreceptors which are sensitive to different wavelengths of light. Like the dragonfly, it is important to take on an all-rounded sense of perception. By looking through multiple lenses, we can move beyond our periphery vision towards tackling threats and identifying opportunities beyond what meets the eye. The secret to achieving this is to "anchor outside" and look inwards from a broader ecosystem. This will help engage with customers, clients, employees, employers and other players in the field on a much deeper level.

  4. Chase after occurrent behaviour - This follows what actually happens at a given time and place, and not just potential or predicted behaviour. We must try to immerse ourselves in uncertain environments and constantly experiment. The value of gaining new information and potential solutions by doing so will automatically help organisations and individuals in problem solving. Our own experiements will lead us to generate our own data which will bring to the surface insights that others may not always have.

  5. Tune into collective intelligence - Crowdsourcing can be a good way to interact and gather the thoughts of people outside the conventional work team. Whilst you may think that your team consists of the smartest people in the room, there is always someone smarter, better and more attuned to the problem. By reaching out to wisdom amongst the crowd, you might find yourself solving a problem based on the advice and solutions of those who have "been there and done that". However, bear in mind that it can take time to set up, can be expensive and can give your competitors a signal on what you're up to. Nevertheless, it is still an effective problem solver and by bringing in other talent or expertise, you are expanding the range of information you can access.

  6. Let the cat out of the bag - "Show and tell." This is all about connecting your audience to the problem and using logic and persuasion as a means to elicit action. The late economist Herb Simon once said, "Solving a problem simply means representing it so as to make the solution transparent". Seasoned problem solvers would spell out the issue or present the argument directly which will then garner a solution.

The methods problem solvers employ are just as vital as the problem solvers themselves. They can be tweaked and used as the framework for any given problem but in times of crisis and massive uncertainty, they prove to be essential.


Published 28th July 2021 | 8:16 pm


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