Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 16, Issue 45;   November 9, 2016: Solving the Problem of Solving Problems

Solving the Problem of Solving Problems

by

Problem solving is sometimes difficult when our biases interfere with generating candidate solutions, or with evaluating candidates we already have. Here are some suggestions for dealing with these biases.
Platypus swimming

Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) swimming in Broken River, Queensland, Australia, 2004. A mammal that lays eggs, the platypus might seem to some to be an inelegant design. Yet, it has existed in its current form for a period of time comparable to the line of modern humans. While elegance might be an important attribute of any problem solution, workability is more important for most problems. Photo (cc) Peter Scheunis

Usually, when solving problems, generating candidate solutions isn't difficult. What is difficult is finding hidden ideas, or sorting through ideas to isolate the most promising ones. Here's a little catalog of ideas for sorting ideas.

Examine boring ideas
Look for ideas that seem workable but boring. Their dreary nature can lead to a bias against them. Few people want to work on them, and securing resources for them might be difficult because they're so unexciting. But workability is what counts. Set your own bias aside, and seek ways to persuade others to do the same.
Examine unoriginal ideas
Lack of originality is another source of bias against ideas. Look for an idea that someone has already tried. If it proved unworkable, ask why. If those reasons are still in place, can you remove them or skirt them somehow?
Examine inelegant ideas
Because inelegance can be more repulsive than workability can be attractive, we often reject inelegant but workable ideas. To recruit supporters, or to secure resources, emphasize that success is a form of beauty.
Examine politically encumbered ideas
Some Some perfectly workable ideas
are rejected, or regarded as
unworkable, when they
carry political baggage
perfectly workable ideas are rejected, or regarded as unworkable, when they carry political baggage. Perhaps they offend someone powerful, or they don't conform to the preferences of another powerful person. In these cases, the problem to be solved is political in nature. Focus not on the original problem, but instead on the politics.
Examine expensive ideas
Yet another source of bias against ideas is their apparent cost, or their apparent need for skills and knowledge that are in short supply. In these cases, work on resolving the resource issues. What can you do to reduce costs? How can you be clever about finding people who can do the job?
Examine crazy ideas
Ideas with reputations for being obviously crazy sometimes inherit their reputations from the people who originated them, rather than by earning their reputations by being truly crazy. Look carefully at the idea itself, setting aside what you know about its originator. Is the idea itself truly crazy?
Examine past successes
When you finally solved a problem, what was the critical element that led to a solution? By examining your history, you might find a pattern among those critical elements. Patterns can arise from weakness in problem-solving skills, or unfamiliarity with the problem domain, or the culture in which you work. If you can identify the pattern, you can use it to guide a search for solutions to the current problem.

Finally, deal with your own biases by intentionally searching for ideas you regard as crazy. This stance helps to relax the constraints that conceal solutions. When you find an intriguingly crazy solution, ask, "What makes it crazy?" Can you adjust it so that its craziness is no longer obvious? Is there anything about it that could be useful? Go to top Top  Next issue: The Paradox of Carefully Chosen Words  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenIyeJIiAfnGdKlUXrner@ChacsxirZwZlENmHUNHioCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

This article in its entirety was written by a 
          human being. No machine intelligence was involved in any way.Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

This article in its entirety was written by a human being. No machine intelligence was involved in any way.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Problem Solving and Creativity:

Emergency extrication trainingEmergency 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 in emergencies.
Benjamin FranklinProblem-Solving Ambassadors
In dispersed teams, we often hold meetings to which we send delegations to work out issues of mutual interest. These working sessions are a mix of problem solving and negotiation. People who are masters of both are problem-solving ambassadors, and they're especially valuable to dispersed or global teams.
Tenacious under full sailThe Solving Lamp Is Lit
We waste a lot of time finding solutions before we understand the problem. And sometimes, we start solving before everyone is even aware of the problem. Here's how to prevent premature solution.
In-flight portrait of the Apollo 13 Environmental Control SystemProject Improvisation Fundamentals
Project plans are useful — to a point. Every plan I've ever seen eventually has problems when it contacts reality. At that point, we replan or improvise. But improvisation is an art form. Here's Part I of a set of tips for mastering project improvisation.
A portrait of Matthew Lyon, printer, farmer, soldier, politicianHow to Foresee the Foreseeable: Recognize Haste
When trouble arises after we commit to a course of action, we sometimes feel that the trouble was foreseeable. One technique for foreseeing the foreseeable depends on recognizing haste in the decision-making process.

See also Problem Solving and Creativity and Emotions at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

What most of us think of when we think of checklistsComing February 28: Checklists: Conventional or Auditable
Checklists help us remember the steps of complex procedures, and the order in which we must execute them. The simplest form is the conventional checklist. But when we need a record of what we've done, we need an auditable checklist. Available here and by RSS on February 28.
Adolf Hitler greets Neville Chamberlain at the beginning of the Bad Godesberg meeting on 24 September 1938And on March 6: Six More Insights About Workplace Bullying
Some of the lore about dealing with bullies at work isn't just wrong — it's harmful. It's harmful in the sense that applying it intensifies the bullying. Here are six insights that might help when devising strategies for dealing with bullies at work. Example: Letting yourself be bullied is not a thing. Available here and by RSS on March 6.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenIyeJIiAfnGdKlUXrner@ChacsxirZwZlENmHUNHioCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at X, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.