Think Bigger and Reach Higher to Solve a Persistent Problem with an Old Process

Are we following the Best Practices for solving a persistent problem?

As leaders, we all face those chronic problems that continually drain our resources. Two weeks ago, I examined the problem of mass shootings.  Today we look at an old process that has been proven to solve those chronic problems.

You might be familiar with John Dewey’s 7 step process for solving problems. It is a great critical thinking tool that I first learned in a college communication course labeled, “Small Group Problem Solving.” Over the years it has proven to be a great way to cut through the clutter and work collaboratively to disrupt the status quo. Let’s take a look.

First, Define the Right Problem

Too often we jump into a problem and begin suggesting solutions. After all, as busy leaders, we are intelligent, experienced and driven. Why waste time? But too often we are frustrated by an unsolved problem because we are offering great solutions to the wrong problem.

Returning to the issue of mass shootings that we discussed two weeks ago, many jump in and demand that we outlaw guns. But what is the problem? Yes, the problem is individuals using guns to kill many in public. But is the problem guns or violence? Are we looking for ways to control guns or to stop violence?

Think Bigger – Reach Higher: As you face difficult issues in your workplace, be careful that you are identifying the right problem.

Second, Analyze the Problem

DisruptiveQuestionOnce we have defined the correct problem, then we proceed to analyze it. Analyzing means to study and scrutinize what you find. We don’t quit until we have a complete understanding of the problem.

If we see mass shootings as more than just one cause, we progress to look deeper into a variety of areas such as the presence of guns, level of public protection, mental health of the perpetrator, violence in culture, to name a few. Let’s look at one aspect in specific.

As a culture, we have done a very poor job in discussing mental health in this country. We don’t seem to want to discuss it. That doesn’t work very well. That leaves the mental health of shooters neglected during the gun purchasing process and rarely discussed after the shooting. While we want to erase the stigma of mental health, we also need to understand it better so we can prevent more violence. At this point, we don’t know what we don’t know. Examining mental health is critical to solving the problem.

What issues are you overlooking or avoiding in solving your chronic problem?

But mental health isn’t the only issue. Why are mass shootings am American phenomenon? Is it due to the presence of guns? Is due to fostering violence in our video games, movies, and conversation? Are these elements a correlation or causation? Further analysis requires asking a number of questions. Are gun laws working? Have laws helped prevent more mass shootings? Given mass shootings have tripled since 2012, how have laws helped or enabled those shootings?

Just like some of the persistent problems you face as a leader, there are many other aspects to this complex problem. While there is an urgency to solve the problems immediately, we must analyze the problem thoroughly. That means we must work quickly but not jump to conclusions or the solution we offer will never work.

Think Bigger – Reach Higher: Work with intense urgency but analyze every aspect of the problem to create the best solution.

Third, Establish Criteria for Solving the Problem

As leaders, we are paid for success and expected to know what it looks like.

In solving the problem of mass shootings, naturally, we want them to end immediately. But what will that success look like? Ask these questions:

  • What will success look like in solving your persistent problem?
  • What will cease?
  • What will emerge?
  • When can we expect it?

With the mass shootings, naturally, we want them to end now. But what does that look like?

  • Is success simply the lack of mass shootings?
  • Does success include a significant decrease in individual to individual acts of violence?
  • To what extent will the public be restricted?
  • To what extent will public discourse be limited?

Like many authors have written, we must begin with the successful end in mind.

Think Bigger – Reach Higher: What will the future look like when you solve your persistent problem?

Fourth, Consider Possible Solutions

This is absolutely critical and what many are overlooking in the mass shooting problem. With very few exceptions, no matter what persistent problem you are considering, there are many different answers. Take a serious look at the following for to determine potential solutions.

  • Has someone solved this problem before? (Look back in time)
  • Has someone solved this problem somewhere else? (Look around)
  • Has someone solved a similar problem?
  • How could that solution help you?
  • Who else might be having the same problem? How are they working to solve it?
  • Who might help you solve that problem that you have overlooked or dismissed?

Imagine if our political leaders used this process to solve the mass shootings. Imagine the potential solutions they would generate.

Think Bigger – Reach Higher: Consider a wide variety of ways to solve that persistent problem.pexels-photo.jpg

Fifth, Decide on the Best Solution

Once we have done our research and defined the problem, revealed the roots of the problem, established the criteria it takes to solve the problem and potential solutions, it is time to make a decision. This is what great leaders do best. They make effective decisions because they have done their homework. Often that comes from mixing hard evidence with good, common sense and a keen sense of what customers, executives, and boards of directors want.

Think Bigger – Reach Higher: Choose the most appropriate decision that will solve the problem as your stakeholders want. 

Sixth, Implement the Solution

Nike has it right. Just do it. Great success at this point comes down to taking the right action at the perfect time. The perfect time to solve persistent problems is usually a.s.a.p. We don’t have time to waste. But execution must be done right. How many times have we seen someone with a great idea that was

  • A. Never implemented.
  • B. Implemented at the wrong time.
  • C. Implemented in the wrong way.
  • D. Implemented in the wrong place.

Think Bigger – Reach Higher: Implement your solution in the right way at the perfect time.  

Seventh, Follow up on the Solution

To what degree does the solution work the way you anticipated?

Many don’t fully appreciate those complex problems are not solved in one loop of this old process. Often problem-solving is like physical training. It takes multiple repetitions. Unfortunately many don’t give the solution process enough effort and quit with a mediocre solution. Worse yet, they give up, claiming that nothing can be done.

  • Are you willing to follow-up?
  • Are you willing to repeat the grueling process until you solve the problem?

Think Bigger -Reach Higher: Be More persistent in solving the problem as it is in refusing to be solved.

(c) 2018 Loren Murfield.


LorenLightBowTie4053Loren Murfield, PhD

I am a Visionary Facilitator who helps clients do what many never thought possible by disrupting the world, innovating radical change and leaving a great legacy. Contact me to take your next, disruptive step.

You might be interested in my first book that has been helping clients think bigger for 11 years. Check out Chevettes to Corvettes: Unleashing the Ultimate Small Business. 

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