Tips for Problem-Solving and Decision-Making Skills
"Out of intense complexities, intense simplicities emerge." -Winston Churchill
Effective and efficient Problem-Solving and Decision-Making are critical for personal and organizational performance and success. If we fail to identify problems correctly or fail to resolve them properly, the cost to our time, our health, our customers, or our financial well-being will be very high and most unwelcome.
Staff members at all levels of an organization solve work-related problems on a daily basis. Some of these problems are quite minor, such as a photocopier that is always jamming, while others will have to do with major decisions to, say, invest large amounts of capital in new ventures at home or abroad. Some of these problems are technical, such as computer system breakdowns, and others are people-related, such as inadequate communication between two departments or poor team morale.
Regardless of the nature and the dimension of the problem, people need to know how to identify and resolve problems whatever their level so that the organization can continuously improve and innovate and workers can progress and move on.
We all solve problems on a daily basis. Most of us tend to rush headlong into a resolution without considering the process, skills, and techniques that would make things easier and lead to the best solution. Not everyone agrees on the competencies that constitute effective problem-solving and decision-making, but we can distil some key themes or broad competency areas from which most good problem-solvers and decision-makers will draw.
Ideally, these competencies should be viewed as individual pieces in the "problem-solving jigsaw puzzle." No one piece by itself will solve the problem: each piece works in combination with the others to reveal a fully integrated model. By working to improve our performance in all of these categories, we strengthen our ability to solve problems successfully and become more confident about the decisions we make.
Each of the competencies is summarized in the paragraph under each respective heading.
- Critical Thinking Practice mentally challenging what you see and hear, and try to think of more than one interpretation or alternative to explain your experiences. You can also try to be less "dogmatic" in your views, and try to accept ambiguity more readily.
- Data Gathering and Processing Develop your step-by-step process for gathering data and organize it logically and in an ordered fashion. You can also generate or standardize a set of questions that help you make sure that the information collected is complete and without obvious gaps.
- Selecting Tools Talk to several people about their favorite problem-solving tools and methods, and find out how they work and when, where, and how they can be successfully applied. Try to become "expert" in at least three problem-solving methods, and practice using them frequently.
- Lateral Conceptualization Try to turn issues or situations upside-down, back-to-front, or the "wrong" side out to gain new insights or perspectives. You should try to break problems down into their parts and re-assemble these in a different way or order.
- Weighing Alternatives Design the criteria by which you are going to evaluate different options before you write down all the alternative ideas or possible courses of action on paper. Make two columns and put each option side-to-side. Review the comparisons to make sure a sound decision is made.
- Risk Assessment Think about the subject of risk from two perspectives: likelihood, the frequency with which problems or difficulties might occur; and consequence, the severity of the potential impact. Think in terms of high, medium, or low, but develop this into a more discerning calculation system in due course.
- Perception and Judgment Think longer and harder about the alternatives presented to you and try to generate two or three different ways in which you can interpret what you experience. Avoid making hasty assessments or arriving at the easiest or most convenient conclusions when the issue matters or is important.
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