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Thoughts On Problem Solving

I had a group of focused leaders working on improving their problem solving skills. The following are some of the lessons we learned: 

  • WYSIATI - What you see is all there is.  Our intuitive brain only sees what is in front of it, jumps to conclusions and relies on bias.  Our analytical brain forces us to look beyond what is there and to ask hard questions. Reduce bias in problem solving by making decisions based on data and engaging your analytical brain instead of your intuitive brain.  Remember that you need to have an appropriate sample size.   Variation in data is  more likely in smaller sample sizes and people may judge this data as having the same properties as larger data sets.    
  • Team Bias - Reduce team bias by putting a plan into place to avoid group think. Group think happens when a dominate person sways the thinking of the team.  A good way to avoid group think is to have team members write their ideas down before discussions starts.
  • Problems vs Opportunities - A lot of us have been encouraged not use the word 'problem' as it appears negative and too harsh.  Humans are risk adverse and will work harder to avoid loss then for a gain.  Problems are a reality in any organization and it is okay to trigger a response to have teams work hard to avoid loss.   "Houston we have an opportunity" does not trigger the same response!
  • Creating Disfluency - Information blindness is caused when we have too much information or the information is not broken down into a form that we can understand.   Our minds make a decision what to do with the data so the natural tendency is when there is too much is to do nothing with the data.  In order to process the data, we need to transform it into smaller understandable pieces.  We use problem solving tools such as graphs and pareto charts to transform the data into something that is easier to absorb and understand. Remember, if you provide the data in a broken down form, teams may still not use the data as the work of transforming the data is what causes understanding.
  • It is how you practice - It takes 10,000 hours of purposeful practice to become a great chess player. It takes 10 years of purposeful practice to become an world class violinist.  How long does is take to become a great problem solver?   It is not only that you practice, it is how you practice.   Have a plan on how the problem solving activity should happen such as following all the steps in your problem solving model, have an idea of what should be happening at each step, looks for some of the problems than can occur such as bias and 'jumping to conclusion' and learn from your mistakes.  You can not learn to be better unless you push yourself. Doing the same thing multiple times does not make you better and sometimes in can actually degrade our skill.  Finally, it helps to have an expert problem solving coach to provide you with feedback. 
  • Final thought  - Mark Twain says "It ain't what you don't know that gets you in trouble ... it is what you know for sure that just ain't so"
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Scott Smith
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April 7, 2017
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