The Real Roots of Problem Solving

imagesSo many models of problem solving start at the end!  The creators of this thinking have never looked at the roots of the issue. Solid buildings require foundations; sure they are not pretty and no one sees them and they are hard to dig, but it is the foundation that supports all else.  Problem solving does not start with brainstorming options; brainstorming is only effective when it is preceded by clarity, focus, and understanding.

Thrice in the last two days the term “problem solving” has crossed my bow. The first was a book I am reading.  The second was a school that has rushed to an answer way before they knew the nature of the problem they were trying to solve.  And the third was some of my own visioning on how to build organizational sustainability.  For the last I pulled out my own book, The Falconer, quickly turned to the back where the Cheat Sheets summarize key points, and found what I was trying to remember.

Here are my Problem Solving steps.  See how much comes before we seek solutions? And of these, the first three are the keys.  ALL problems are rooted in dissonance: the difference between the way the world is and the way we want it to be.  To understand a problem you have to find the dissonance; and the rest flows from there.

  1. Find the dissonance.
  2. Articulate the problem.
  3. Ask questions; beware the answer that comes before the question is asked.
  4. Know yourself; assess your strengths and weaknesses, your resources, or those of your group, before attempting a solution.
  5. Know the enemy; understand the strengths and weaknesses of the problem to know its nature.
  6. Define the problem in terms of a goal; determine one or more acceptable outcomes.
  7. Brainstorm solutions.
  8. Understand the implications of possible outcomes.
  9. Act; without action all of our work is just so much tacking into the teeth of a nasty gale.

The next time a pithy problem presents itself, rather than rushing in committee to Step 7, try spending a bit more time; ask the team to go through these steps.  This is called “working the problem”.  This is called rigor. This is what we ask our students to do, so we need to model it ourselves.

0 thoughts on “The Real Roots of Problem Solving

  1. Mark Silberberg (@SilberbergMark)

    Grant,

    Reminds me of the Einstein quote, “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first fifty-five minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”

    I really like the structure outlined above. Our school is hosting a digital portfolio design workshop with a number of peer schools next week. The day is structured so that the schools will learn from and with each other. As schools move into the action planning portion of the day, we’d be well advised to spend ample time working through your problem solving steps. Thanks for the reminder.

    Reply
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