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.
Next time we'll examine experimentation. First in this series Next in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Problem Solving and Creativity:
- Make Space for Serendipity
- Serendipity in project management is rare, in part, because we're under too much pressure to see it.
If we can reduce the pressure, wonderful things happen.
- Poverty of Choice by Choice
- Sometimes our own desire not to have choices prevents us from finding creative solutions. Life
can be simpler (if less rich) when we have no choices to make. Why do we accept the same tired solutions,
and how can we tell when we're doing it?
- Forward Backtracking
- The nastiest part about solving complex problems isn't their complexity. It's the feeling of being overwhelmed
when we realize we haven't a clue about how to get from where we are to where we need to be. Here's
one way to get a clue.
- Playing at Work
- Eight hours a day — usually more — of meetings, phone calls, reading and writing email and
text messages, briefing others or being briefed, is enough to drive anyone around the bend. To re-energize,
to clarify one's perspective, and to restore creative capacity, play is essential. Play at work, I mean.
- What Are the Chances?
- When estimating the probabilities of success of different strategies, we must often estimate the probability
of multiple events occurring. People make a common mistake when forming such estimates. They assume
that events are independent when they are not.
See also Problem Solving and Creativity and Conflict Management for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 7: Toxic Disrupters: Tactics
- Some people tend to disrupt meetings. Their motives vary, but they use techniques drawn from a limited collection. Examples: they violate norms, demand attention, mess with the agenda, and sow distrust. Response begins with recognizing their tactics. Available here and by RSS on June 7.
- And on June 14: Pseudo-Collaborations
- Most workplace collaborations produce results of value. But some collaborations — pseudo-collaborations — are inherently incapable of producing value, due to performance management systems, or lack of authority, or lack of access to information. Available here and by RSS on June 14.
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