Problem-Solving & Critical Thinking: A Bit on The How

Problem-Solving in Business Decisions

Everyone wants a problem-solver… until that person’s solutions go against what is easy and cheapest (at that point in time) for a business.

The argument against building a foundation based on research that then allows for effective and efficient strategy and processes is that, at the moment, it is inefficient (costly) to do so. Businesses that desperately call for problem-solvers are often the most resistant to solving their problems because certain stakeholders are unwilling to look at the structural issues of the company that prohibit growth. (Especially if it is related to their leadership style or business decisions.)

How to Critically Approach Problem-Solving

There is a balance to high-quality problem-solving that takes on an iterative approach much like iterative research projects. In fact, the iterative research stage of a business overlaps with the solution-based problem-solving initiative phase.

Effective problem-solving brings about meaningful, actionable solutions by identifying the correct underlying problem first. Upon identification, actionable solutions are implemented through an action plan and the company sees how the solutions radiate through the company, naturally solving other identified problems and more clearly highlighting other issues. The process of recognizing the impact of solutions and remaining problems is the iterative research portion… and then identifying the next underlying problem and applying an action plan to it is part of iterative problem-solving.

The underlying problem is not likely to be the largest one — addressing the largest issue in an organization takes time and chipping away at other actionable (and important) items. Identifying an underlying problem takes great skill — from someone that an organization’s main stakeholders might not like listening to.

Because, confession: your best problem solvers are often your least-liked employees or most blunt consultants. Problem solvers are, necessarily, critical. They won’t be greasing wheels or selling a pitch. Problem-solving is a critical thinking skill and thereby requires a critique of systems and processes.

The Problem-Solving Timeline

Research and the gathering of data do take time. It just does. It is normal for a company to understand that building a relationship with your client is necessary in order to offer tailored solutions… so why is it so difficult to understand that building a relationship with our teams, employees, and company processes is required to build tailored strategies? Anything else is just the pre-prescribed prescription or pre-packaged advice that consultants and project managers are leaning way too hard on… and one of the reasons for failing initiatives. (FYI Flyvbjerg discusses reports that 80% of projects fail to meet objectives. An expert from Flyvbjerg & Gardner discusses a global database of 16,000 projects where 8.5% of projects were delivered on time and on budget and 0.5% were completed on time, on budget, and with the expected benefits.)

So remember, rash advice or a quick action is not a solution. Problem-solving takes time to do correctly. If you conduct research and problem-solving with an agile mindset — chipping away and seeking constant improvement– you will see results.

When The Problem-Solving is Excessively Postponed

I’ve consulted for and been an employee at companies that promise their employees that change is coming. These companies will bring in outside consultants and often ignore the results because they do not fit the narrative the company wants to hear. Essentially, they hire sales people to justify their current actions or, in many cases, inaction.

To all those experiencing inaction at the hands of an employer: inaction is very much an action. When an employer knows a team or individual deserves more support, a raise, or a new position to leverage the rich skills already present in the company… and chooses to do nothing… that inaction is an action. In fact, it is an abusive, toxic action.

Too many times have I heard “data gathering” as a long-term excuse to abuse talented employees and beat them into submission by asking for “just a little patience.” A quarter, six months, a year, three years pass with the same upper leadership requesting “just a little patience” while they throw out the collected data that does not fit their pre-prescribed agenda. Instead of implementing actionable solutions, these individuals and systems work thrice as hard to curate a corrupted or incomplete dataset that benefits their personal positions.

So remember: if a company’s rash reaction is to ask for inaction, then they are advice-driven… not solutions-driven. Quick inaction is still an action, especially when employees are more than willing to help complement the dataset.

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