Also part of plunging-in is not thinking about the process with
which we should solve the problem. What
analyses should we do? What data should
we gather? Who should be involved in the
work? And so on. The plunging-in trap can lead to poor choices
and outcomes because the problem is ill-defined or wrong.
Therefore, central to the problem solving approach is identifying
the right problem to solve and determining the right process for solving it. Identifying it requires first immersing
yourself in the situation to understand it well and then framing the problem
in specific terms.
II. Identify the beneficiaries and problem solvers
For every decision situation, identify whose problem is being
solved. The beneficiaries could be groups, population segments, or organizations. How will they be reflected in the process of
thinking, data collecting, and analyzing?
Similarly, identify who are or should be the problem solvers. Clearly you are one but in most complex situations
it may be ineffective being the only one.
Who else should be involved and how?
Because problem solvers and beneficiaries are generally seen
as self-evident, this step gets neglected.
But there are benefits to identifying both groups explicitly. As the decision process unfolds over time, the
actual beneficiary may change. The
choices ultimately made may do little to benefit the proclaimed
III. Think of every decision, innovation, or initiative as a solution
Once a decision has been made, an initiative agreed upon, or
an innovation accomplished, it is useful to check its merits by viewing it as a
solution and asking what problem does it really solve and whose? Because this comes at the end of the process,
it could very well be that the problem being actually solved is not the one
that was intended to be solved. Drift in
purpose, problem, beneficiary are not uncommon.
It may mean rethinking the solution.
On occasion, particularly when dealing with a new technology,
invention, or serendipitous discoveries, it may mean reframing the problem. The widely used artificial sweetener
aspartame, sold as Equal and NutraSweet, was discovered accidentally in 1965 by
chemist James M. Schlatter while researching new drugs for ulcers at G.D.
Searle & Co. One day, while working
in his lab, he licked his finger to turn a notebook page and found it tasted
sweet. He realized his finger had traces
of a compound he had synthesized. More
importantly, he had the insight that it was possibly a solution to a different
problem. The compound aspartame was subsequently
sold as a low calorie substitute for sugar.
Today it is used in countless drinks and foods. Alternately, if an invention or discovery
does not solve a worthwhile problem there is little point in commercializing it
Labeling decisions as solutions has the added advantage of
keeping them separate from the problem.
In practice, problems are sometimes framed such that they are really solutions
in disguise. For example, when a problem
is stated as ‘how do we do X’ then it presumes that X is right and now it is
just a matter of figuring out how to do it.
It reflects an implicit decision which may not be right.