6 actions to build a problem-solving mindset during uncertain times

Disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic is the breeding ground for inscrutable problems of all proportions and sizes. But after assisting businesses in problem-solving for decades, McKinsey states that great problem solvers are not born but made.

Leaders who are proficient in problem solving adopt a specific mindset that is open and curious and follow a systemic process to solve even the worst deadlocks. According to McKinsey, such problem solvers are terrific under all circumstances and exhibit extraordinary brilliance even in most uncertain situations by undertaking the following six approaches.

  1. Being ever-curious

Organizational leaders are used to seeing a macro view of problems, trying to find patterns in exponential numbers of data points. Often, problem solving in uncertain times requires uncovering the root cause of the issue and the best way to do that is to tap into our curious self that is as inquisitive as a 4 year old, relentlessly asking questions, even if some of them appear to be rather stupid or pointless.

Curiosity drives creativity. Being overtly curious counters our natural bias in decision making and makes way for more creative and better solutions by giving us access to a broader range of information. Openly discussing potential solutions and adopting thesis/antithesis sessions immensely help in problem solving and so does embracing uncertainty.

  1. Tolerating ambiguity while staying humble

Contrary to general belief, problem solving is not about being able to visualize the perfect solution but about developing a tolerance for ambiguity and being ready to solve problems through the trial and error mechanism (in essence, gaining a sense of probabilities like a gambler).

The key to problem solving amid uncertainties is “epistemic humility”, which basically implies that the leader implements a probable solution with the awareness that his knowledge is incomplete and provisional and hence might need revision as and when new evidence emerges. To do this, one must challenge solutions that imply certainty. Good problem solving thus requires leaders to accept imperfection and take small steps or implement experimental solutions to reduce important uncertainties; and build new capabilities in light of new information.

  1. Taking a “dragonfly-eye view”

Nature has blessed dragonflies with large compound eyes that are amalgamated with innumerable lenses and photoreceptors that are sensitive to multiple wavelengths of lights. Having a dragonfly-eye view is basically an analogy of considering multiple perspectives of a problem. The aim is to see beyond the familiar patterns that our brains are trained to recognize. It widens our aperture and help us identify risks and opportunities beyond our jurisdiction.

The secret to practice this is to “anchor outside” instead of inside when looking for solutions. Business leaders might attain that by looking at the broader ecosystem, speaking with customers, suppliers or even consult people from different industries. However, when operating under tight deadlines, leaders might have to make do with a limited number of perceptions.

  1. Pursue “occurrent behavior”

Occurrent behavior denotes something that has actually happened at a given time and space as opposed to predicted or potential behavior. Finding solutions to complex problems is not easy and hence leaders must develop and test evidence-based hypotheses to study occurrent behavior and generate their own data.

Leaders must be ready to take risks and reach the best solution through constant experimenting. Conducting A/B tests and tracking the results, analyzing fresh data helps in generating more focused insights and reaching better solutions.

  1. Utilizing collective intelligence and crowd wisdom

Most companies believe that they have some of the smartest people on their team – you have to begin by throwing that assumption out of the door. You need to access the collective intelligence of not just your teams but also venture outside and tap into the wisdom of the crowd.

There are several models of crowd-sourced problem solving that company leaders can employ. It allows drawing insights from diverse experiences from a broader range of people facilitating novel and creative solutions. Such endeavors, however, are highly time-taking and might involve considerable costs and companies should be very careful when using this approach.

  1. Driving action through “show and tell” approach

Now this involves what some might consider theatrics, but it drives action like nothing else. Rookie problem solvers often display their analytics and logic to demonstrate their ingenuity, but veteran problem solvers lay out the problem in such a way that the solution appears to be obvious to the audience.

A visual and more experiential presentation of the problem that culminates to only one course of action is how “show and tell” approach works. The argument needs to be a balanced representation of logic and emotion, and also demonstrate the price and risks of inaction. This makes holistic acceptance of the proposed solution easier and frictionless.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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