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In dealing with problems, we need to make decisions. When faced with a situation that warrants a response, we put on our thinking cap. We depend on our thinking skills. Few of us are fully aware of the need to stop and reflect on the situation. We tend to follow the easiest and least resistant thinking path. This is not necessarily always the best response. With smart thinking techniques, you will be in a position to respond more effectively to each situation.

Define the problem

When you visit your General Practitioner (Medical Doctor), because you are having fever, cough and sore throat. To you, these are problems you would like to get rid. However, to the Doctor, these are symptoms and he is interested in pinpointing the real problem. Through her questioning skills, the doctor attempts to diagnose your illness. Smart thinking requires similar strategy. Let us get started so that we are able to define the problem (Get our diagnosis right)

  • Define the problem by asking the following questions:
  • Who are the people most affected by this problem?
  • Who else is having a similar problem?
  • Why is this seen as a ‘non-issue’ by some?
  • What are the negative consequences, if the problem is not solved?
  • Who are the beneficiaries if the problem is solved
  • What are the root causes of this problem?
  • What are the major obstacles in managing the problem?
  • Where can we look for a possible solution?
  • When did the problem emerge in the first place?
  • How quickly we need to solve the problem?
  • How can we solve the problem?

Answers to these questions should provide adequate information in defining the problem. Defining the problem in writing enable us to understand the scope and the consequences of the unresolved problem. This also involves about defining the real problem. Write down the problem in concise terms with no more than 25 words. The emphasis at this stage is defining the problems. No references are made about possible causes or solutions 

Examine the root cause(s) of the problem

The purpose is to identify all possible causes. The energy and effort should be directed at identifying the root causes that are responsible for the problem. Experts recommend that yo ask the following questions to narrow down the possible root cause(s):

  • What are the possible causes of this problem?
  • Did any changes were introduced (new equipment, new work process etc), just before the problem emerged?
  • Were there any changes relating to people deployment – new employees, transfers etc.?
  • Is it possible to recreate the problem we are experiencing to enable us to pinpoint the root cause(s)?

Agree on the desired outcome 

A problem is defined as the discrepancy/gap between the existing situation and the desired state of affairs. In other words, we have a problem when there is a difference between the two states. In managing the problem we are basically attempting to eliminate the gap between the existing situation and the desired state of affairs. The critical success factors must be identified and incorporated as part of the desired outcome. An agreement on the desired outcome makes it easier to seek solutions.

At this stage, it would be also a good strategy to identify the possible barriers that are likely to prevent you from reaching your desired state of affairs.

List Ideas and Possible Solutions

Developing ideas is an essential part of the thinking process. You should learn to think creatively. Linear thinking is useful, but if you are interested in new and innovative ideas to close the gap between the existing situations and desired state of affairs, then you need to learn how to think out of the box.

Asking the following questions will make your approach more meaningful at this stage:

  • What are you interested – a solution that leads to incremental change or radical transformation?
  • Do we know anyone else who had a similar problem, but managed to overcome it?
  • Will decision making models such as TRIZ work in this situation?

Select the best solution, Implement and Review 

Using the decision criteria and the desired outcome as your reference, examine the benefits and limitations of each possible solutions. You should also pay attention to people factors as well. How will the people in the organisation respond to the solution? Will the solution proposed will upset and infringe the rights of the key stakeholders.

Whenever possible, go slow with our implementation. If solutions can be tested on a small scale or implemented as a pilot project, you should adopt that option. This will enable you to manage the teething problems you may encounter when implementing the solution.

The review stage, though normally seen as part of the control process, we should see it as part of the thinking process. By keeping our mind open, we will be able to think through as we manage the solution(s). The smart thinking strategies are useful during the early stage of problem identification and idea generation.