Six Critical Issues To Consider When Solving Problems
When difficulties are encountered, individuals tend to adopt a mental framework that allows them to simplify, classify and structure the information they are collecting about the problem. This allows individuals to deal with the complexity of an issue in a way that they can understand and manage. The major pitfall lies in people simplifying problems in ways that compel them to choose the wrong alternatives.
All people apply their own set of perspectives, experiences and insights in solving a problem, yet it is a major mistake to create a set of assumptions based upon personal biases. These assumptions subjectively and inadequately define the problem, and thus yield faulty solutions.
When individuals allow preconceived assumptions to blind them to the facts, they set out to solve the wrong problem. The best possible options are thus overlooked, or the individual loses sight of important objectives necessary to identify the best solution.
Individuals will consciously or unconsciously frame a problem. Framing is similar to looking out a window, in that the window defines what the individual is capable of seeing. Just as a window restricts an individual’s visual perspective, frames can keep the problem solver from seeing the entire landscape of solutions.
It is important to appreciate the degree to which frames have the power to influence a solution. Therefore, problems must be framed by facts rather than preconceived perceptions, assumptions or biases. The most useful problem solving frames will highlight what is important and categorize all other aspects as secondary. Additionally, solid frames allow individuals to remain open to unanticipated facts and data that may affect the outcome or solution. When facing an issue, individuals should create a frame specifically designed to solve the problem at hand, taking into consideration the following critical factors:
Boundaries define the breadth and scope of the problem. As people’s boundaries are most often defined by their daily activities and tasks, they will tend to draw narrow boundaries and develop a solution from within, which creates a myopic view of the problem and potential solutions. Since boundaries influence decisions, a broad approach is advisable when defining the scope of a problem.
Reference points are the focal point of decisions. They are used to compare one solution with another. A simple shift in reference points can change the entire outlook of a problem. For instance, from a customer’s perspective, a problem with a product or service can be catastrophic in terms of loss of income, time and productivity; this is their reference point. On the other hand, the company representative may view the same problem as minor when in fact it may take a service person several days to attend to. The reference points are different and so are the individual perspectives. This is often where conflict and hostility arise.
The measurement standards used to view a problem and develop solutions can be problematic. If a company sells a customer a small supply of product, they might consider the problem to be minor. However, if that small supply of product is a critical element in the customer’s production and its failure has closed down their entire operation, then from their perspective the problem is major. These are critical factors that must be considered by all parties if further problems are to be prevented.
Many people frame problems using common metaphors related to sports, warfare or family. Thinking in these terms can influence their decisions and solutions. Good decision makers will choose metaphors carefully to highlight important aspects of the problem. However, individuals should be aware that the use of metaphors might restrict their perspective and influence solutions.
Thinking frames are the borders people create to make sense of a wide array of issues. These frames are typically a result of an individual’s personality, occupation and education. Individuals should be aware of their own thinking frames, since these bring a natural bias or set of assumptions to all problems they encounter. When individuals are aware of their biases they are able to compensate during the problem solving process.
Cultural frames are similar to thinking frames except they are created by the national, geographic, industrial and corporate cultural boundaries that someone is part of. Each aspect of a cultural frame can influence and bias an individual’s view of a problem and its potential solution.
Excerpt: Problem Solving: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $18.95 USD
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Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
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