When faced with a problem, our instinct is to attempt to solve the problem straight away. A Smart Thinking strategist is likely to adopt a different approach. They ask: Should I really solve the problem, diverting my energy, resources and time towards it? If the problem is insignificant or if it is a problem that is not worth the effort, why waste the resources in the first place? The most important benefit of this type of thinking is you are able to maximise the use of your resources. According to Nadler and Hibino in their book titled Breakthrough Thinking: The Seven Principles of Creative Problem Solving, they argue that competent people approach a problem by ‘questioning the purpose of solving it’. This strategy enhances the effectiveness of managing the problems.

The authors citing research that document the breakthrough solutions to problems list the following seven basic principles for effective problem-solving.

  • Each problem should be seen as unique – Despite the presence of similarities between problems for each encounter, we must learn to recognise that when solving each aspect of the problem we must consider the uniqueness of the situational needs (context). Only then we will be able to develop solutions that will meet the unique situational needs.
  • Focus on the reasons for solving the problem – This is essential if you would like to minimise the waste of resources – money, materials, manpower, machinery and methods. Only when we are able to focus on the purpose(s) we are in a position to view the larger picture of the situation. Instead of asking what is going on here and what is wrong, learn to ask what are we attempting to achieve out of this situation. This will trigger our mind to seek a large number of desired solutions. To keep going for more and more solutions, we should learn to ask: “What else…?”. This will help us to develop as many solutions as possible.
  • Seek solutions with a longterm perspective – Whenever possible identify the ideal and desired solutions and then work backwards so that you can work on practical short-term solutions that will become part of the long-term solutions. The authors describe this practice as ‘The Solution-After-Next Principle’.
  • View the problem(s) from a systems approach – Once we learn to view each problem as part of something else, we are beginning to adopt a systems approach to managing problem. The realisation that each problem we face is part of larger problem enables us to anticipate the problem(s) we may face when implementing the solutions. This will enable us to develop appropriate strategies we are likely to encounter in implementing solutions.
  • Learn to work with minimal information – Many of us are trained to seek out a full set of information that is complete and comprehensive when managing problems and work-related challenges. Having too much of information in hand may prevent us from considering new and innovative solutions. The intuitive element goes missing with too much of information.
  • Keep the people factor in mind when developing solutions – As far as possible, involve the people in developing solutions. Their participation and involvement are critical to the overall success of the proposed solution. Keep the solutions broad and flexible so that those who will be managing the solution will have some degree of flexibility. A Standard Operating Procedure type of solutions should be avoided.
  • Incorporate timeline principle – Each purpose developed to manage the problems should be in the right sequence. Only then we can maximise the outcome of the breakthrough solutions.

Enabling employees to think smart should begin with focusing on the purpose of solving the problems. While most of these do adopt some of these principles, sometime in managing some of our problems, for the benefits to be realised we need to learn to use these principles in all our decision making. It is only through a consistent and coordinated approach that we will be able to make the breakthrough thinking as part of our decision-making process.

Enabling Our Employees To Think Smart is about encouraging them to adopt the above seven principles in a consistent and coordinated manner. We need to let our employees understand the importance of defining the purposes of working on a problem. The emphasis is to find out what are we trying to accomplish with the problem situation. The problem(s) should be seen as situations that require some changes. The best way to bring out the change is by asking: What are we trying to accomplish here. That is about bringing effective and meaningful change to our life.