Friday, June 17, 2011

What 's Next After First-Round of Problem/Challenge Identification?

If you start to read this post and feel like you dropped in an hour late at the movie, check back to the June 10 and June 3 posts for some background.

Here are examples of problem identification, mundane and complex.

•  My colleague seems angry at me for no obvious reason and I have to work with him on a weekly basis.
•  The leaves on my newly planted lettuce are turning yellow.
•  Rivalries and hostilities are damaging a previously well run organization that I am involved in.
•  Very few readers comment on my blog posts.

Often, you realize that you haven't really hit the nail on the head with problem identification when you go to step two, which is gathering information. Then you  need to go back in your mind and re-identify the problem. E.g. when I started to gather information about my seemingly angry colleague, I realized that the problem really was my discomfort with his annoyed attitude toward me. We were still working together adequately, functioning as we needed to, not arguing. When I restated the problem as, "I'm uncomfortable with Joe's attitude toward me and I feel awkward with him," I became much more in control of the problem and its solution.

Sometimes you find that you need to be more specific in problem identification. E.g. Instead of focusing on my readers and their lack of comments, I would do better by restating the problem as, "My blog and posts aren't eliciting reader comments." Again, I then am more in control of the problem and its possible solution.

It's also not uncommon for new problem-solving thinkers to think you have to drill down to the real underlying problem before you can move on to gathering information. E.g. Why have rivalries and hostilities emerged? Who has started the cycle? What's her/his underlying motive? Ah-ha. The  real problem is that Sam is full of himself and Maria is afraid of conflict and one sub-group sides with her and one with him. Wrong.

The problem is that the organization is not functioning in a way that reflects its mission and values. The desired end point is that the organization is functioning well, as it was designed to do.  I am in a much better position to work collaboratively with the group to arrive at some solutions to the problem than if I'm continuing to try to find underlying issues. They may ultimately emerge and then they become a new problem to solve! The p-s thinking process is often an ongoing work-in-progress, recycling back and forth from one step to another and back again. It's often trial and error, back and forth, but eventually it can become almost intuitive, like many skills that you and I have acquired over the years. More to come on problem-solving next week. I'd like to hear from you about problem-solving thinking. Do you already do it? Did you learn it in school, in life, or intuitively did it as long as you can remember?
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