Effective Problem Solving Isn’t About The Tools You Use – It’s How You Think!

Posted by on Mar 8, 2020 in Problem Solving | 0 comments

How we think and react to situations is unique to humans beings.  No other species on earth has this ability.  But as employees how many of us try to solve problems on a daily basis?  Do we try to make things better or are we content with the status quo?

A good problem solver has three important traits.  They must be:

  • quick and decisive
  • resourceful and creative
  • systematic and organized

This is where critical thinking meets problem solving. As problem solvers we need to be able to define the problem, come up with a list of solutions, select the best answer, implement it, assess its effectiveness and fine-tune as needed.

Their are seven components of critical thinking:

1. Identify the problem or situation and define what influenced it to occur in the first place.  This is the essence of having a good problem definition.

2. Investigate the situation and question the individuals involved in the process. Go to the worksite and observe what is going on, question those involved in the problem to get their perspective and understanding.

3. Evaluate information factually.  Collect additional data if needed, making sure everyone is using a common definition of the problem so that the data you collect is correct. It is your responsibility to weigh the information from all sources and come to your own conclusions.

4. Establish significance. Figure out what information is most important to consider in the current situation. As a starting point consider the 6Ms:  Man, Machine, Material, Method, Measurement, and Mother-Nature.

5. Be open-minded and consider all points of view. This is a good time to pull the team into finding the best solution. This point will allow you to develop the critical-thinking skills of those you lead.

6. Take time to reflect once you have gathered all the information. In order to be decisive and make decisions quickly, you need to take time to unwrap all the information and set a plan of attack. If you are taking time to think about the best solution, keep your workforce and leaders apprised of your process and timeline.

7. Communicate your findings and results. This is a crucial yet often overlooked component. Failing to do so can cause much confusion in the organization.

There’s one other important point I want to make and that is the role of experience and the use of the various problem solving tools.  Knowledge of problem solving tools isn’t a substitute for thinking.  Tools won’t help you with most of the seven components of critical thinking listed above.  As you go through the process of critical thinking there are some fundamental concepts at play that set good problem solvers apart.  One of these concepts is looking for patterns in the data and information collected.  A good problem solver will look for and exploit these patterns to help them determine the root cause of the problem.  The ability to do this primarily lies in the experience level of the problem solver.  Even when a pattern doesn’t exist, it will mean something to a good problem solver.

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