A Systematic Approach to Problem Solving and Decision Making

By Fritz, Roger | Supervisory Management, March 1993 | Go to article overview

A Systematic Approach to Problem Solving and Decision Making


Fritz, Roger, Supervisory Management


Solutions to problems and new ideas are created by combining old ideas in new ways, putting them in a new context of time or place, adding other ideas, taking something away, or changing the ideas' or solutions' purpose. We may do this accidentally or unconsciously, or we may do it deliberately and consciously.

The question is, How can we go about this in a more systematic and fruitful manner? What is the process of working with experience to produce new ideas or to solve new problems?

Suggested Guidelines

Here are eight suggested steps toward developing answers to the problems brought by change:

1. Name the target. What's the problem? What kind of idea do you need?

2. Get the facts. Pile up all the information you can about the problem. This should include unsuccessful attempts to solve it. Often ideas that failed one time will, with a slight change, succeed at another time.

3. Try obvious solutions first. Often merely naming a problem and collecting data about it will suggest solutions.

4. Try wild ideas. In particular, look for the apparently trivial, irrelevant aspects of the problem to identify less obvious answers.

5. Think intensely about the problem. This is not a separate step; rather, it is a part of the steps mentioned before. Make yourself think about the problem until you have a solution or until you've reached what might be called a state of frustration.

6. Walk away from the problem. Put it out of your conscious mind. At this point, if you have covered steps one through five, your subconscious will usually take over.

7. Seize the flash of insight. Generally, at some indefinite time after you walk away from the problem, you will find an answer welling up in your mind. Seize the idea at that moment and get it on paper.

8. Do something about the idea. Don't give up. Don't let yourself be discouraged too easily. In the pursuit of an idea, the odds are all in favor of running into periods of discouragement--when it appears that the answers will never come. But history is full of people who, through sheer determination, hung on through such periods.

Factors Affecting Problem Solving

Some problems, you will find, seem to defy solution, no matter how hard you try. The reason may be one of these:

Your people are hesitant to criticize what they believe is a poor idea, and consequently you are not getting any honest feedback.

Urgency in finding a solution has led to unreliable judgments.

Personal conflicts are working against a constructive, cooperative solution.

Those who feel responsible for having created or contributed to the problem have become self-protective. …

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