In group problem solving, we generate new ideas, we assess or judge them, and we experiment to see how well they work. Since experimenting is usually costly and time-consuming, we use our judgment to select the most promising ideas for experimentation. But the judging process makes mistakes. Here are two insights that can help prevent rejecting good ideas or accepting bad ones.
- The right to judge is inalienable
- After idea generation, and the newborn ideas are subjected to judging and evaluation, two traps await. First, we sometimes confuse judging ideas with judging the people who generated them. Honest attempts to critique ideas can seem like personal criticism, and criticism intended to be personal can be disguised as honest attempts to critique the ideas.
- Second, during judging, judges and their comments might in turn be judged. This secondary judging degrades the judging process. In some cases, generators might demand that judges themselves address the issues they identify: "Show us how to fix it," or "If you're so smart, show me a better way." Such demands that judges "earn" the right to judge are violations of the (usually implicit) contract between the judges and the larger group. They freeze the judging process and they might even inhibit contributions by other judges.
- When we act as judges of new ideas, we must take care to judge the ideas — not their generators — in good faith. When we provide comments on newborn ideas, we must also suggest underlying principles that can guide the generators during the next cycle. When we ask people to judge new ideas, we can accept or reject their comments, but we must trust that those comments are provided in good faith, unless there is clear proof to the contrary.
- Judging can uncover misunderstandings
- Generators have their Judging newborn ideas is one
of the earliest points at which
differences in understanding
the problem become clearown understandings of the problem to be solved; judges have theirs. Judging newborn ideas is one of the earliest points at which differences in these understandings become clear.
- In processing judges' comments, difficulties can arise if the group mistakenly assumes that there is only one understanding of the problem. The ensuing debate about the relevance of a critique can in fact be irrelevant itself, if what's needed is consensus about the problem definition, rather than consensus about the judges' comments.
- Shared group understanding of the problem definition is one of the first things to check when processing judges' critiques. For any reasonably complex problem, all of the members' understandings will likely require multiple revisions. Success depends on the group converging on a single understanding of the problem, and judges' critiques provide an important means of exposing divergences.
As you begin judging these ideas, keep in mind that your understanding of how groups solve problems is yours; others have theirs.
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More articles on Problem Solving and Creativity:
- Emergency Problem Solving
- In emergencies, group problem solving is unusually challenging, especially if lives, careers, or companies
depend on finding a solution immediately. Here are some tips for members of teams that are solving problems
- Hill Climbing and Its Limitations
- Finding a better solution by making small adjustments to your current solution is usually a good idea.
The key word is "usually."
- Managing Wishful Thinking Risk
- When things go wrong, and we look back at how we got there, we must sometimes admit to wishful thinking.
Here's a framework for managing the risk of wishful thinking.
- Problem Displacement by Intention
- When solving problems creates new problems, or creates problems elsewhere, we say that problem displacement
has occurred. Sometimes it's intentional.
- Brain Clutter
- The capacity of the human mind is astonishing. Our ability to accomplish great things while simultaneously
fretting about mountains of trivia is perhaps among the best evidence of that capacity. Just imagine
what we could accomplish if we could control the fretting…
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming January 22: Disjoint Awareness: Bias
- Some cognitive biases can cause people in collaborations to have inaccurate understandings of what each other is doing. Confirmation bias and self-serving bias are two examples of cognitive biases that can contribute to disjoint awareness in some situations. Available here and by RSS on January 22.
- And on January 29: Higher-Velocity Problem Definition
- Typical approaches to shortening time-to-market for new products usually involve accelerating problem solving. Accelerating problem definition can also help. Available here and by RSS on January 29.
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