Your Problem Solving Process for BIG Problems

Man pushing BIG rock

Facing BIG problems? Our CEO’s insights on the problem-solving process

Here are 6 insights on resolving BIG problems (plus an example of the problem-solving process), from Insight Assessment CEO Noreen Facione, PhD:

1. Making a commitment to resolve a BIG problem is a thing all by itself

Lots of us know about BIG problems, but we don’t think that we can solve them, “at least, not now.” That’s why most of these BIG problems still exist.

Whether your business is thriving in this pandemic or struggling, COVID-19 is presenting many companies with the necessary opportunity to attack and tackle BIG problems. 

You will need to decide which of your problems are BIG problems, and then work on resolving them, employing help where necessary. 

When you make and keep a commitment to resolve a BIG problem, think of it as getting into your ‘hero mode.’ Heroes can be flawed, but they keep fighting.  And, they don’t have to fight alone.  While they fight, they often become stronger.  This is what you want your leaders and employees to do.  

No further insight is needed, if committing to resolve at least one BIG problem is out of the question…

2.  Attacking a BIG problem usually results in the problem becoming BIGGER and MORE COMPLICATED

It’s a good thing, when this happens. Since you have to first analyze the problem (to clarify what you’re trying to resolve), the problem becomes BIGGER because you begin to really see it.

This is ‘Problem-Solving Process Phase 1,’ more commonly described as “working to get the problem right.”

3.  There is nothing more energy-sapping than being given a BIG problem to solve, and then being told to back off and just work on something smaller

This occurs because BIG problems are usually sticky. It is very appealing, particularly for people who are conflict averse, to solve some smaller problem and claim a victory. But the original BIG problem lives on, and everyone knows it.

The one job to do in ‘hero mode’ is to help your organization keep the BIG problem in focus.

Actions for Phase 1 include:  see the problem from as many perspectives as possible; determine whether the problem is relatively stable versus more of a moving train wreck; check on commitment to resolving the problem; maximize the collection of available information and check assumptions.

Key question: who else has the resources, knowledge, motivation and energy to help resolve this BIG problem?   

4.  Resolving BIG problems always requires a system change

Many of the BIG problems persist because they are embedded in your current systems. If it were possible to make one of these BIG problems instantaneously disappear, one or more systems would function differently. People often seek to solve BIG problems while keeping existing systems unchanged. That method cannot succeed.  

Resolving BIG problems requires a plan that moves to eliminate the problem, in a timely fashion, while remodeling the systems to keep any value that they bring. Again, this is why BIG problems get BIGGER, at first.

5.  We can see when/if a BIG problem is being resolved and when it is not

Clear evidence for resolving certain BIG problems can be easily determined and described. But, for other BIG problems, finding evidence that the BIG problem is being resolved can be a challenge.  You’ll need to develop an evaluation plan for deciding whether a BIG problem has actually been resolved, even if the evidence may be difficult to obtain.  Knowing what to look for saves time and helps to anticipate issues that might otherwise prevent you and your team from resolving the BIG one.  

6.  Know that BIG Problems are resolved over time, but not much else about the process is linear

Successful problem solving is iterative, just as good critical thinking is iterative. You repeat the steps, refining the understanding of the problem, tweaking and making improvements in a continuous cycle. It involves evaluating the effectiveness of your resolution efforts and reinforcing the plan using the knowledge that you gained.

Heroes are able to resolve Big Problems

Here is an example, presented in dialogue, of the problem-solving process for resolving a BIG problem:


Problem-Solving Process Phase 1 Getting the Problem Right:

Attempt 1 (commitment): “Every time we meet, all we talk about is missing delivery deadlines. We are all talk and no action. Let’s fix this!”

Attempt 2: “Why do we keep missing the deadlines?”

Attempt 3: “Here’s our list of 14 issues that are making our deliveries late. We’ve added notes about what we think is happening, in each case, and which ones matter the most. The numbers are right there for you to see along with comments from our people.”

Attempt 4 (reinforcing the plan): “These 14 issues are really all the result of two main systemic gaps!  Yes, only two! And, the way some people are failing to respond with the right fixes. Yes, only two!”  

Attempt 5: “Given that we have to make some significant changes, let’s make the systems better while we are at it.”

Problem-Solving Process Phase 2 – Developing the Resolution and Evaluation Plan:

Attempt 1: “So, how would our systems have to change to fix the BIG problem?” Along with, “What issues can we anticipate with this plan?” And, “What has to happen to show that we have it fixed (the BIG problem)?”

Attempt 2: “Here is the list of key people that must embrace these changes and guarantee that their teams will deliver using these new strategies.”

Attempt 3: “Progress, at last, seeing meetings, trainings, document rewrites, discussions in the parking lot, analysis of the data we planned to monitor, examination of some other datapoints that we realized might be even more relevant…”

Attempt 4: (reinforcing the plan): “Some of our people are not co-operating with this initiative. They don’t like the changes and seem to think it is a waiting game. There is one person, in particular, that has not come on board.”

Attempt 5 (more commitment, more action):We cannot allow ourselves to fail. Late deliveries can’t continue, if our business is to succeed. Make it clear to this person that they are obstructing our efforts to resolve a critical problem. If they don’t move quickly, we will need to step in. And, they should immediately voice their concerns about any systems that are dragging down their end of things. These processes can happen simultaneously.”

Reliable Conclusion: the BIG problem will be completely resolved. Otherwise, it’s back to Phase 1 and Phase 2 for the heroes, because resolving this BIG problem is important to them all.  

BIG problems can be solved

Successful resolution of BIG problems requires strong critical thinking skills and mindset. Your leaders and employees need to build their capacity to think, together, so that BIG problems can be identified, analyzed, reviewed and resolved.

Insight Assessment is your BIG resource for problem-solving

Insight Assessment has 30+ years of data-driven experience researching and measuring critical thinking—the foundation of superior problem-solving and decision-making.  We deliver objective, actionable data globally. 

Our comprehensive industry specific assessments provide in-depth analysis of individuals and teams.  Assessments focus on the fifteen key components of critical thinking and the associated mental disciplines.  Strengths and weaknesses are clearly identified. 

INSIGHT Development Program is an accessible, efficient, online training program to address the skill gaps in your teams. Designed for independent study by employees, INSIGHT Development Program can also be seamlessly incorporated into your existing training.  Proven online modules deliver continued improvement for both your struggling and your top critical thinkers.  Be proactive.

Dr. Noreen Facione, CEO of Insight Assessment

Noreen Facione, Ph.D, CEO of Insight AssessmentDr. Noreen Facione, CEO of Insight Assessment has led the company expansion into being a global provider of critical thinking assessments for the Business, Health Sciences, Education, Legal and Defense sectors.  Under Dr. Facione’s leadership, Insight Assessment maintains valid and reliable, technologically secure, assessment and training capability, responsive to the needs of the client. This standard is possible because of the exceptional team that is Insight Assessment.

For Dr. Facione, the company’s commitment to improving critical thinking worldwide is a challenge worth tireless effort. “Analyzing problems, making high-stakes decisions, managing risks, having innovative ideas, all of these depend on strength in critical thinking skills and mindset.  We need all of these to be healthy people, and to have happy families, successful businesses and stable governments, worldwide.

As a decision scientist and psychometrician at the University of California San Francisco, Dr. Facione described how strength in decision-making influenced symptom interpretation, care-seeking behavior and, as a result, earlier cancer detection. Links between reasoning skills and mindset attributes led to the development of assessments targeting the habits of mind needed for strength in critical thinking. 

Insight Assessment was founded to make reasoning skills and mindset assessments available to independent scholars and educators engaged in the training and assessment of critical thinking. Over the years, Dr. Facione and the other research professionals at Insight Assessment, have worked with thousands of educators, government leaders, and corporate executives to help them design and carry out initiatives to improve reasoning and problem-solving in their organizations, agencies and classrooms. Her published books and training materials include: Critical Thinking and Clinical Reasoning in the Health Sciences; Thinking and Reasoning in Human Decision Making; and the INSIGHT Development Program.

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