Career Sidekick

26 Expert-Backed Problem Solving Examples – Interview Answers

Published: February 13, 2023

Interview Questions and Answers

Actionable advice from real experts:

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Biron Clark

Former Recruiter

what is a example for problem solving

Contributor

Dr. Kyle Elliott

Career Coach

what is a example for problem solving

Hayley Jukes

Editor-in-Chief

Biron Clark

Biron Clark , Former Recruiter

Kyle Elliott , Career Coach

Image of Hayley Jukes

Hayley Jukes , Editor

As a recruiter , I know employers like to hire people who can solve problems and work well under pressure.

 A job rarely goes 100% according to plan, so hiring managers are more likely to hire you if you seem like you can handle unexpected challenges while staying calm and logical.

But how do they measure this?

Hiring managers will ask you interview questions about your problem-solving skills, and they might also look for examples of problem-solving on your resume and cover letter. 

In this article, I’m going to share a list of problem-solving examples and sample interview answers to questions like, “Give an example of a time you used logic to solve a problem?” and “Describe a time when you had to solve a problem without managerial input. How did you handle it, and what was the result?”

  • Problem-solving involves identifying, prioritizing, analyzing, and solving problems using a variety of skills like critical thinking, creativity, decision making, and communication.
  • Describe the Situation, Task, Action, and Result ( STAR method ) when discussing your problem-solving experiences.
  • Tailor your interview answer with the specific skills and qualifications outlined in the job description.
  • Provide numerical data or metrics to demonstrate the tangible impact of your problem-solving efforts.

What are Problem Solving Skills? 

Problem-solving is the ability to identify a problem, prioritize based on gravity and urgency, analyze the root cause, gather relevant information, develop and evaluate viable solutions, decide on the most effective and logical solution, and plan and execute implementation. 

Problem-solving encompasses other skills that can be showcased in an interview response and your resume. Problem-solving skills examples include:

  • Critical thinking
  • Analytical skills
  • Decision making
  • Research skills
  • Technical skills
  • Communication skills
  • Adaptability and flexibility

Why is Problem Solving Important in the Workplace?

Problem-solving is essential in the workplace because it directly impacts productivity and efficiency. Whenever you encounter a problem, tackling it head-on prevents minor issues from escalating into bigger ones that could disrupt the entire workflow. 

Beyond maintaining smooth operations, your ability to solve problems fosters innovation. It encourages you to think creatively, finding better ways to achieve goals, which keeps the business competitive and pushes the boundaries of what you can achieve. 

Effective problem-solving also contributes to a healthier work environment; it reduces stress by providing clear strategies for overcoming obstacles and builds confidence within teams. 

Examples of Problem-Solving in the Workplace

  • Correcting a mistake at work, whether it was made by you or someone else
  • Overcoming a delay at work through problem solving and communication
  • Resolving an issue with a difficult or upset customer
  • Overcoming issues related to a limited budget, and still delivering good work through the use of creative problem solving
  • Overcoming a scheduling/staffing shortage in the department to still deliver excellent work
  • Troubleshooting and resolving technical issues
  • Handling and resolving a conflict with a coworker
  • Solving any problems related to money, customer billing, accounting and bookkeeping, etc.
  • Taking initiative when another team member overlooked or missed something important
  • Taking initiative to meet with your superior to discuss a problem before it became potentially worse
  • Solving a safety issue at work or reporting the issue to those who could solve it
  • Using problem solving abilities to reduce/eliminate a company expense
  • Finding a way to make the company more profitable through new service or product offerings, new pricing ideas, promotion and sale ideas, etc.
  • Changing how a process, team, or task is organized to make it more efficient
  • Using creative thinking to come up with a solution that the company hasn’t used before
  • Performing research to collect data and information to find a new solution to a problem
  • Boosting a company or team’s performance by improving some aspect of communication among employees
  • Finding a new piece of data that can guide a company’s decisions or strategy better in a certain area

Problem-Solving Examples for Recent Grads/Entry-Level Job Seekers

  • Coordinating work between team members in a class project
  • Reassigning a missing team member’s work to other group members in a class project
  • Adjusting your workflow on a project to accommodate a tight deadline
  • Speaking to your professor to get help when you were struggling or unsure about a project
  • Asking classmates, peers, or professors for help in an area of struggle
  • Talking to your academic advisor to brainstorm solutions to a problem you were facing
  • Researching solutions to an academic problem online, via Google or other methods
  • Using problem solving and creative thinking to obtain an internship or other work opportunity during school after struggling at first

How To Answer “Tell Us About a Problem You Solved”

When you answer interview questions about problem-solving scenarios, or if you decide to demonstrate your problem-solving skills in a cover letter (which is a good idea any time the job description mentions problem-solving as a necessary skill), I recommend using the STAR method.

STAR stands for:

It’s a simple way of walking the listener or reader through the story in a way that will make sense to them. 

Start by briefly describing the general situation and the task at hand. After this, describe the course of action you chose and why. Ideally, show that you evaluated all the information you could given the time you had, and made a decision based on logic and fact. Finally, describe the positive result you achieved.

Note: Our sample answers below are structured following the STAR formula. Be sure to check them out!

EXPERT ADVICE

what is a example for problem solving

Dr. Kyle Elliott , MPA, CHES Tech & Interview Career Coach caffeinatedkyle.com

How can I communicate complex problem-solving experiences clearly and succinctly?

Before answering any interview question, it’s important to understand why the interviewer is asking the question in the first place.

When it comes to questions about your complex problem-solving experiences, for example, the interviewer likely wants to know about your leadership acumen, collaboration abilities, and communication skills, not the problem itself.

Therefore, your answer should be focused on highlighting how you excelled in each of these areas, not diving into the weeds of the problem itself, which is a common mistake less-experienced interviewees often make.

Tailoring Your Answer Based on the Skills Mentioned in the Job Description

As a recruiter, one of the top tips I can give you when responding to the prompt “Tell us about a problem you solved,” is to tailor your answer to the specific skills and qualifications outlined in the job description. 

Once you’ve pinpointed the skills and key competencies the employer is seeking, craft your response to highlight experiences where you successfully utilized or developed those particular abilities. 

For instance, if the job requires strong leadership skills, focus on a problem-solving scenario where you took charge and effectively guided a team toward resolution. 

By aligning your answer with the desired skills outlined in the job description, you demonstrate your suitability for the role and show the employer that you understand their needs.

Amanda Augustine expands on this by saying:

“Showcase the specific skills you used to solve the problem. Did it require critical thinking, analytical abilities, or strong collaboration? Highlight the relevant skills the employer is seeking.”  

Interview Answers to “Tell Me About a Time You Solved a Problem”

Now, let’s look at some sample interview answers to, “Give me an example of a time you used logic to solve a problem,” or “Tell me about a time you solved a problem,” since you’re likely to hear different versions of this interview question in all sorts of industries.

The example interview responses are structured using the STAR method and are categorized into the top 5 key problem-solving skills recruiters look for in a candidate.

1. Analytical Thinking

what is a example for problem solving

Situation: In my previous role as a data analyst , our team encountered a significant drop in website traffic.

Task: I was tasked with identifying the root cause of the decrease.

Action: I conducted a thorough analysis of website metrics, including traffic sources, user demographics, and page performance. Through my analysis, I discovered a technical issue with our website’s loading speed, causing users to bounce. 

Result: By optimizing server response time, compressing images, and minimizing redirects, we saw a 20% increase in traffic within two weeks.

2. Critical Thinking

what is a example for problem solving

Situation: During a project deadline crunch, our team encountered a major technical issue that threatened to derail our progress.

Task: My task was to assess the situation and devise a solution quickly.

Action: I immediately convened a meeting with the team to brainstorm potential solutions. Instead of panicking, I encouraged everyone to think outside the box and consider unconventional approaches. We analyzed the problem from different angles and weighed the pros and cons of each solution.

Result: By devising a workaround solution, we were able to meet the project deadline, avoiding potential delays that could have cost the company $100,000 in penalties for missing contractual obligations.

3. Decision Making

what is a example for problem solving

Situation: As a project manager , I was faced with a dilemma when two key team members had conflicting opinions on the project direction.

Task: My task was to make a decisive choice that would align with the project goals and maintain team cohesion.

Action: I scheduled a meeting with both team members to understand their perspectives in detail. I listened actively, asked probing questions, and encouraged open dialogue. After carefully weighing the pros and cons of each approach, I made a decision that incorporated elements from both viewpoints.

Result: The decision I made not only resolved the immediate conflict but also led to a stronger sense of collaboration within the team. By valuing input from all team members and making a well-informed decision, we were able to achieve our project objectives efficiently.

4. Communication (Teamwork)

what is a example for problem solving

Situation: During a cross-functional project, miscommunication between departments was causing delays and misunderstandings.

Task: My task was to improve communication channels and foster better teamwork among team members.

Action: I initiated regular cross-departmental meetings to ensure that everyone was on the same page regarding project goals and timelines. I also implemented a centralized communication platform where team members could share updates, ask questions, and collaborate more effectively.

Result: Streamlining workflows and improving communication channels led to a 30% reduction in project completion time, saving the company $25,000 in operational costs.

5. Persistence 

Situation: During a challenging sales quarter, I encountered numerous rejections and setbacks while trying to close a major client deal.

Task: My task was to persistently pursue the client and overcome obstacles to secure the deal.

Action: I maintained regular communication with the client, addressing their concerns and demonstrating the value proposition of our product. Despite facing multiple rejections, I remained persistent and resilient, adjusting my approach based on feedback and market dynamics.

Result: After months of perseverance, I successfully closed the deal with the client. By closing the major client deal, I exceeded quarterly sales targets by 25%, resulting in a revenue increase of $250,000 for the company.

Tips to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills

Throughout your career, being able to showcase and effectively communicate your problem-solving skills gives you more leverage in achieving better jobs and earning more money .

So to improve your problem-solving skills, I recommend always analyzing a problem and situation before acting.

 When discussing problem-solving with employers, you never want to sound like you rush or make impulsive decisions. They want to see fact-based or data-based decisions when you solve problems.

Don’t just say you’re good at solving problems. Show it with specifics. How much did you boost efficiency? Did you save the company money? Adding numbers can really make your achievements stand out.

To get better at solving problems, analyze the outcomes of past solutions you came up with. You can recognize what works and what doesn’t.

Think about how you can improve researching and analyzing a situation, how you can get better at communicating, and deciding on the right people in the organization to talk to and “pull in” to help you if needed, etc.

Finally, practice staying calm even in stressful situations. Take a few minutes to walk outside if needed. Step away from your phone and computer to clear your head. A work problem is rarely so urgent that you cannot take five minutes to think (with the possible exception of safety problems), and you’ll get better outcomes if you solve problems by acting logically instead of rushing to react in a panic.

You can use all of the ideas above to describe your problem-solving skills when asked interview questions about the topic. If you say that you do the things above, employers will be impressed when they assess your problem-solving ability.

More Interview Resources

  • 3 Answers to “How Do You Handle Stress?”
  • How to Answer “How Do You Handle Conflict?” (Interview Question)
  • Sample Answers to “Tell Me About a Time You Failed”

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About the Author

Biron Clark is a former executive recruiter who has worked individually with hundreds of job seekers, reviewed thousands of resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and recruited for top venture-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies. He has been advising job seekers since 2012 to think differently in their job search and land high-paying, competitive positions. Follow on Twitter and LinkedIn .

Read more articles by Biron Clark

About the Contributor

Kyle Elliott , career coach and mental health advocate, transforms his side hustle into a notable practice, aiding Silicon Valley professionals in maximizing potential. Follow Kyle on LinkedIn .

Image of Hayley Jukes

About the Editor

Hayley Jukes is the Editor-in-Chief at CareerSidekick with five years of experience creating engaging articles, books, and transcripts for diverse platforms and audiences.

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Status.net

What is Problem Solving? (Steps, Techniques, Examples)

By Status.net Editorial Team on May 7, 2023 — 5 minutes to read

What Is Problem Solving?

Definition and importance.

Problem solving is the process of finding solutions to obstacles or challenges you encounter in your life or work. It is a crucial skill that allows you to tackle complex situations, adapt to changes, and overcome difficulties with ease. Mastering this ability will contribute to both your personal and professional growth, leading to more successful outcomes and better decision-making.

Problem-Solving Steps

The problem-solving process typically includes the following steps:

  • Identify the issue : Recognize the problem that needs to be solved.
  • Analyze the situation : Examine the issue in depth, gather all relevant information, and consider any limitations or constraints that may be present.
  • Generate potential solutions : Brainstorm a list of possible solutions to the issue, without immediately judging or evaluating them.
  • Evaluate options : Weigh the pros and cons of each potential solution, considering factors such as feasibility, effectiveness, and potential risks.
  • Select the best solution : Choose the option that best addresses the problem and aligns with your objectives.
  • Implement the solution : Put the selected solution into action and monitor the results to ensure it resolves the issue.
  • Review and learn : Reflect on the problem-solving process, identify any improvements or adjustments that can be made, and apply these learnings to future situations.

Defining the Problem

To start tackling a problem, first, identify and understand it. Analyzing the issue thoroughly helps to clarify its scope and nature. Ask questions to gather information and consider the problem from various angles. Some strategies to define the problem include:

  • Brainstorming with others
  • Asking the 5 Ws and 1 H (Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How)
  • Analyzing cause and effect
  • Creating a problem statement

Generating Solutions

Once the problem is clearly understood, brainstorm possible solutions. Think creatively and keep an open mind, as well as considering lessons from past experiences. Consider:

  • Creating a list of potential ideas to solve the problem
  • Grouping and categorizing similar solutions
  • Prioritizing potential solutions based on feasibility, cost, and resources required
  • Involving others to share diverse opinions and inputs

Evaluating and Selecting Solutions

Evaluate each potential solution, weighing its pros and cons. To facilitate decision-making, use techniques such as:

  • SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats)
  • Decision-making matrices
  • Pros and cons lists
  • Risk assessments

After evaluating, choose the most suitable solution based on effectiveness, cost, and time constraints.

Implementing and Monitoring the Solution

Implement the chosen solution and monitor its progress. Key actions include:

  • Communicating the solution to relevant parties
  • Setting timelines and milestones
  • Assigning tasks and responsibilities
  • Monitoring the solution and making adjustments as necessary
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of the solution after implementation

Utilize feedback from stakeholders and consider potential improvements. Remember that problem-solving is an ongoing process that can always be refined and enhanced.

Problem-Solving Techniques

During each step, you may find it helpful to utilize various problem-solving techniques, such as:

  • Brainstorming : A free-flowing, open-minded session where ideas are generated and listed without judgment, to encourage creativity and innovative thinking.
  • Root cause analysis : A method that explores the underlying causes of a problem to find the most effective solution rather than addressing superficial symptoms.
  • SWOT analysis : A tool used to evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats related to a problem or decision, providing a comprehensive view of the situation.
  • Mind mapping : A visual technique that uses diagrams to organize and connect ideas, helping to identify patterns, relationships, and possible solutions.

Brainstorming

When facing a problem, start by conducting a brainstorming session. Gather your team and encourage an open discussion where everyone contributes ideas, no matter how outlandish they may seem. This helps you:

  • Generate a diverse range of solutions
  • Encourage all team members to participate
  • Foster creative thinking

When brainstorming, remember to:

  • Reserve judgment until the session is over
  • Encourage wild ideas
  • Combine and improve upon ideas

Root Cause Analysis

For effective problem-solving, identifying the root cause of the issue at hand is crucial. Try these methods:

  • 5 Whys : Ask “why” five times to get to the underlying cause.
  • Fishbone Diagram : Create a diagram representing the problem and break it down into categories of potential causes.
  • Pareto Analysis : Determine the few most significant causes underlying the majority of problems.

SWOT Analysis

SWOT analysis helps you examine the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats related to your problem. To perform a SWOT analysis:

  • List your problem’s strengths, such as relevant resources or strong partnerships.
  • Identify its weaknesses, such as knowledge gaps or limited resources.
  • Explore opportunities, like trends or new technologies, that could help solve the problem.
  • Recognize potential threats, like competition or regulatory barriers.

SWOT analysis aids in understanding the internal and external factors affecting the problem, which can help guide your solution.

Mind Mapping

A mind map is a visual representation of your problem and potential solutions. It enables you to organize information in a structured and intuitive manner. To create a mind map:

  • Write the problem in the center of a blank page.
  • Draw branches from the central problem to related sub-problems or contributing factors.
  • Add more branches to represent potential solutions or further ideas.

Mind mapping allows you to visually see connections between ideas and promotes creativity in problem-solving.

Examples of Problem Solving in Various Contexts

In the business world, you might encounter problems related to finances, operations, or communication. Applying problem-solving skills in these situations could look like:

  • Identifying areas of improvement in your company’s financial performance and implementing cost-saving measures
  • Resolving internal conflicts among team members by listening and understanding different perspectives, then proposing and negotiating solutions
  • Streamlining a process for better productivity by removing redundancies, automating tasks, or re-allocating resources

In educational contexts, problem-solving can be seen in various aspects, such as:

  • Addressing a gap in students’ understanding by employing diverse teaching methods to cater to different learning styles
  • Developing a strategy for successful time management to balance academic responsibilities and extracurricular activities
  • Seeking resources and support to provide equal opportunities for learners with special needs or disabilities

Everyday life is full of challenges that require problem-solving skills. Some examples include:

  • Overcoming a personal obstacle, such as improving your fitness level, by establishing achievable goals, measuring progress, and adjusting your approach accordingly
  • Navigating a new environment or city by researching your surroundings, asking for directions, or using technology like GPS to guide you
  • Dealing with a sudden change, like a change in your work schedule, by assessing the situation, identifying potential impacts, and adapting your plans to accommodate the change.
  • How to Resolve Employee Conflict at Work [Steps, Tips, Examples]
  • How to Write Inspiring Core Values? 5 Steps with Examples
  • 30 Employee Feedback Examples (Positive & Negative)

35 problem-solving techniques and methods for solving complex problems

Problem solving workshop

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All teams and organizations encounter challenges as they grow. There are problems that might occur for teams when it comes to miscommunication or resolving business-critical issues . You may face challenges around growth , design , user engagement, and even team culture and happiness. In short, problem-solving techniques should be part of every team’s skillset.

Problem-solving methods are primarily designed to help a group or team through a process of first identifying problems and challenges , ideating possible solutions , and then evaluating the most suitable .

Finding effective solutions to complex problems isn’t easy, but by using the right process and techniques, you can help your team be more efficient in the process.

So how do you develop strategies that are engaging, and empower your team to solve problems effectively?

In this blog post, we share a series of problem-solving tools you can use in your next workshop or team meeting. You’ll also find some tips for facilitating the process and how to enable others to solve complex problems.

Let’s get started! 

How do you identify problems?

How do you identify the right solution.

  • Tips for more effective problem-solving

Complete problem-solving methods

  • Problem-solving techniques to identify and analyze problems
  • Problem-solving techniques for developing solutions

Problem-solving warm-up activities

Closing activities for a problem-solving process.

Before you can move towards finding the right solution for a given problem, you first need to identify and define the problem you wish to solve. 

Here, you want to clearly articulate what the problem is and allow your group to do the same. Remember that everyone in a group is likely to have differing perspectives and alignment is necessary in order to help the group move forward. 

Identifying a problem accurately also requires that all members of a group are able to contribute their views in an open and safe manner. It can be scary for people to stand up and contribute, especially if the problems or challenges are emotive or personal in nature. Be sure to try and create a psychologically safe space for these kinds of discussions.

Remember that problem analysis and further discussion are also important. Not taking the time to fully analyze and discuss a challenge can result in the development of solutions that are not fit for purpose or do not address the underlying issue.

Successfully identifying and then analyzing a problem means facilitating a group through activities designed to help them clearly and honestly articulate their thoughts and produce usable insight.

With this data, you might then produce a problem statement that clearly describes the problem you wish to be addressed and also state the goal of any process you undertake to tackle this issue.  

Finding solutions is the end goal of any process. Complex organizational challenges can only be solved with an appropriate solution but discovering them requires using the right problem-solving tool.

After you’ve explored a problem and discussed ideas, you need to help a team discuss and choose the right solution. Consensus tools and methods such as those below help a group explore possible solutions before then voting for the best. They’re a great way to tap into the collective intelligence of the group for great results!

Remember that the process is often iterative. Great problem solvers often roadtest a viable solution in a measured way to see what works too. While you might not get the right solution on your first try, the methods below help teams land on the most likely to succeed solution while also holding space for improvement.

Every effective problem solving process begins with an agenda . A well-structured workshop is one of the best methods for successfully guiding a group from exploring a problem to implementing a solution.

In SessionLab, it’s easy to go from an idea to a complete agenda . Start by dragging and dropping your core problem solving activities into place . Add timings, breaks and necessary materials before sharing your agenda with your colleagues.

The resulting agenda will be your guide to an effective and productive problem solving session that will also help you stay organized on the day!

what is a example for problem solving

Tips for more effective problem solving

Problem-solving activities are only one part of the puzzle. While a great method can help unlock your team’s ability to solve problems, without a thoughtful approach and strong facilitation the solutions may not be fit for purpose.

Let’s take a look at some problem-solving tips you can apply to any process to help it be a success!

Clearly define the problem

Jumping straight to solutions can be tempting, though without first clearly articulating a problem, the solution might not be the right one. Many of the problem-solving activities below include sections where the problem is explored and clearly defined before moving on.

This is a vital part of the problem-solving process and taking the time to fully define an issue can save time and effort later. A clear definition helps identify irrelevant information and it also ensures that your team sets off on the right track.

Don’t jump to conclusions

It’s easy for groups to exhibit cognitive bias or have preconceived ideas about both problems and potential solutions. Be sure to back up any problem statements or potential solutions with facts, research, and adequate forethought.

The best techniques ask participants to be methodical and challenge preconceived notions. Make sure you give the group enough time and space to collect relevant information and consider the problem in a new way. By approaching the process with a clear, rational mindset, you’ll often find that better solutions are more forthcoming.  

Try different approaches  

Problems come in all shapes and sizes and so too should the methods you use to solve them. If you find that one approach isn’t yielding results and your team isn’t finding different solutions, try mixing it up. You’ll be surprised at how using a new creative activity can unblock your team and generate great solutions.

Don’t take it personally 

Depending on the nature of your team or organizational problems, it’s easy for conversations to get heated. While it’s good for participants to be engaged in the discussions, ensure that emotions don’t run too high and that blame isn’t thrown around while finding solutions.

You’re all in it together, and even if your team or area is seeing problems, that isn’t necessarily a disparagement of you personally. Using facilitation skills to manage group dynamics is one effective method of helping conversations be more constructive.

Get the right people in the room

Your problem-solving method is often only as effective as the group using it. Getting the right people on the job and managing the number of people present is important too!

If the group is too small, you may not get enough different perspectives to effectively solve a problem. If the group is too large, you can go round and round during the ideation stages.

Creating the right group makeup is also important in ensuring you have the necessary expertise and skillset to both identify and follow up on potential solutions. Carefully consider who to include at each stage to help ensure your problem-solving method is followed and positioned for success.

Document everything

The best solutions can take refinement, iteration, and reflection to come out. Get into a habit of documenting your process in order to keep all the learnings from the session and to allow ideas to mature and develop. Many of the methods below involve the creation of documents or shared resources. Be sure to keep and share these so everyone can benefit from the work done!

Bring a facilitator 

Facilitation is all about making group processes easier. With a subject as potentially emotive and important as problem-solving, having an impartial third party in the form of a facilitator can make all the difference in finding great solutions and keeping the process moving. Consider bringing a facilitator to your problem-solving session to get better results and generate meaningful solutions!

Develop your problem-solving skills

It takes time and practice to be an effective problem solver. While some roles or participants might more naturally gravitate towards problem-solving, it can take development and planning to help everyone create better solutions.

You might develop a training program, run a problem-solving workshop or simply ask your team to practice using the techniques below. Check out our post on problem-solving skills to see how you and your group can develop the right mental process and be more resilient to issues too!

Design a great agenda

Workshops are a great format for solving problems. With the right approach, you can focus a group and help them find the solutions to their own problems. But designing a process can be time-consuming and finding the right activities can be difficult.

Check out our workshop planning guide to level-up your agenda design and start running more effective workshops. Need inspiration? Check out templates designed by expert facilitators to help you kickstart your process!

In this section, we’ll look at in-depth problem-solving methods that provide a complete end-to-end process for developing effective solutions. These will help guide your team from the discovery and definition of a problem through to delivering the right solution.

If you’re looking for an all-encompassing method or problem-solving model, these processes are a great place to start. They’ll ask your team to challenge preconceived ideas and adopt a mindset for solving problems more effectively.

  • Six Thinking Hats
  • Lightning Decision Jam
  • Problem Definition Process
  • Discovery & Action Dialogue
Design Sprint 2.0
  • Open Space Technology

1. Six Thinking Hats

Individual approaches to solving a problem can be very different based on what team or role an individual holds. It can be easy for existing biases or perspectives to find their way into the mix, or for internal politics to direct a conversation.

Six Thinking Hats is a classic method for identifying the problems that need to be solved and enables your team to consider them from different angles, whether that is by focusing on facts and data, creative solutions, or by considering why a particular solution might not work.

Like all problem-solving frameworks, Six Thinking Hats is effective at helping teams remove roadblocks from a conversation or discussion and come to terms with all the aspects necessary to solve complex problems.

2. Lightning Decision Jam

Featured courtesy of Jonathan Courtney of AJ&Smart Berlin, Lightning Decision Jam is one of those strategies that should be in every facilitation toolbox. Exploring problems and finding solutions is often creative in nature, though as with any creative process, there is the potential to lose focus and get lost.

Unstructured discussions might get you there in the end, but it’s much more effective to use a method that creates a clear process and team focus.

In Lightning Decision Jam, participants are invited to begin by writing challenges, concerns, or mistakes on post-its without discussing them before then being invited by the moderator to present them to the group.

From there, the team vote on which problems to solve and are guided through steps that will allow them to reframe those problems, create solutions and then decide what to execute on. 

By deciding the problems that need to be solved as a team before moving on, this group process is great for ensuring the whole team is aligned and can take ownership over the next stages. 

Lightning Decision Jam (LDJ)   #action   #decision making   #problem solving   #issue analysis   #innovation   #design   #remote-friendly   The problem with anything that requires creative thinking is that it’s easy to get lost—lose focus and fall into the trap of having useless, open-ended, unstructured discussions. Here’s the most effective solution I’ve found: Replace all open, unstructured discussion with a clear process. What to use this exercise for: Anything which requires a group of people to make decisions, solve problems or discuss challenges. It’s always good to frame an LDJ session with a broad topic, here are some examples: The conversion flow of our checkout Our internal design process How we organise events Keeping up with our competition Improving sales flow

3. Problem Definition Process

While problems can be complex, the problem-solving methods you use to identify and solve those problems can often be simple in design. 

By taking the time to truly identify and define a problem before asking the group to reframe the challenge as an opportunity, this method is a great way to enable change.

Begin by identifying a focus question and exploring the ways in which it manifests before splitting into five teams who will each consider the problem using a different method: escape, reversal, exaggeration, distortion or wishful. Teams develop a problem objective and create ideas in line with their method before then feeding them back to the group.

This method is great for enabling in-depth discussions while also creating space for finding creative solutions too!

Problem Definition   #problem solving   #idea generation   #creativity   #online   #remote-friendly   A problem solving technique to define a problem, challenge or opportunity and to generate ideas.

4. The 5 Whys 

Sometimes, a group needs to go further with their strategies and analyze the root cause at the heart of organizational issues. An RCA or root cause analysis is the process of identifying what is at the heart of business problems or recurring challenges. 

The 5 Whys is a simple and effective method of helping a group go find the root cause of any problem or challenge and conduct analysis that will deliver results. 

By beginning with the creation of a problem statement and going through five stages to refine it, The 5 Whys provides everything you need to truly discover the cause of an issue.

The 5 Whys   #hyperisland   #innovation   This simple and powerful method is useful for getting to the core of a problem or challenge. As the title suggests, the group defines a problems, then asks the question “why” five times, often using the resulting explanation as a starting point for creative problem solving.

5. World Cafe

World Cafe is a simple but powerful facilitation technique to help bigger groups to focus their energy and attention on solving complex problems.

World Cafe enables this approach by creating a relaxed atmosphere where participants are able to self-organize and explore topics relevant and important to them which are themed around a central problem-solving purpose. Create the right atmosphere by modeling your space after a cafe and after guiding the group through the method, let them take the lead!

Making problem-solving a part of your organization’s culture in the long term can be a difficult undertaking. More approachable formats like World Cafe can be especially effective in bringing people unfamiliar with workshops into the fold. 

World Cafe   #hyperisland   #innovation   #issue analysis   World Café is a simple yet powerful method, originated by Juanita Brown, for enabling meaningful conversations driven completely by participants and the topics that are relevant and important to them. Facilitators create a cafe-style space and provide simple guidelines. Participants then self-organize and explore a set of relevant topics or questions for conversation.

6. Discovery & Action Dialogue (DAD)

One of the best approaches is to create a safe space for a group to share and discover practices and behaviors that can help them find their own solutions.

With DAD, you can help a group choose which problems they wish to solve and which approaches they will take to do so. It’s great at helping remove resistance to change and can help get buy-in at every level too!

This process of enabling frontline ownership is great in ensuring follow-through and is one of the methods you will want in your toolbox as a facilitator.

Discovery & Action Dialogue (DAD)   #idea generation   #liberating structures   #action   #issue analysis   #remote-friendly   DADs make it easy for a group or community to discover practices and behaviors that enable some individuals (without access to special resources and facing the same constraints) to find better solutions than their peers to common problems. These are called positive deviant (PD) behaviors and practices. DADs make it possible for people in the group, unit, or community to discover by themselves these PD practices. DADs also create favorable conditions for stimulating participants’ creativity in spaces where they can feel safe to invent new and more effective practices. Resistance to change evaporates as participants are unleashed to choose freely which practices they will adopt or try and which problems they will tackle. DADs make it possible to achieve frontline ownership of solutions.

7. Design Sprint 2.0

Want to see how a team can solve big problems and move forward with prototyping and testing solutions in a few days? The Design Sprint 2.0 template from Jake Knapp, author of Sprint, is a complete agenda for a with proven results.

Developing the right agenda can involve difficult but necessary planning. Ensuring all the correct steps are followed can also be stressful or time-consuming depending on your level of experience.

Use this complete 4-day workshop template if you are finding there is no obvious solution to your challenge and want to focus your team around a specific problem that might require a shortcut to launching a minimum viable product or waiting for the organization-wide implementation of a solution.

8. Open space technology

Open space technology- developed by Harrison Owen – creates a space where large groups are invited to take ownership of their problem solving and lead individual sessions. Open space technology is a great format when you have a great deal of expertise and insight in the room and want to allow for different takes and approaches on a particular theme or problem you need to be solved.

Start by bringing your participants together to align around a central theme and focus their efforts. Explain the ground rules to help guide the problem-solving process and then invite members to identify any issue connecting to the central theme that they are interested in and are prepared to take responsibility for.

Once participants have decided on their approach to the core theme, they write their issue on a piece of paper, announce it to the group, pick a session time and place, and post the paper on the wall. As the wall fills up with sessions, the group is then invited to join the sessions that interest them the most and which they can contribute to, then you’re ready to begin!

Everyone joins the problem-solving group they’ve signed up to, record the discussion and if appropriate, findings can then be shared with the rest of the group afterward.

Open Space Technology   #action plan   #idea generation   #problem solving   #issue analysis   #large group   #online   #remote-friendly   Open Space is a methodology for large groups to create their agenda discerning important topics for discussion, suitable for conferences, community gatherings and whole system facilitation

Techniques to identify and analyze problems

Using a problem-solving method to help a team identify and analyze a problem can be a quick and effective addition to any workshop or meeting.

While further actions are always necessary, you can generate momentum and alignment easily, and these activities are a great place to get started.

We’ve put together this list of techniques to help you and your team with problem identification, analysis, and discussion that sets the foundation for developing effective solutions.

Let’s take a look!

  • The Creativity Dice
  • Fishbone Analysis
  • Problem Tree
  • SWOT Analysis
  • Agreement-Certainty Matrix
  • The Journalistic Six
  • LEGO Challenge
  • What, So What, Now What?
  • Journalists

Individual and group perspectives are incredibly important, but what happens if people are set in their minds and need a change of perspective in order to approach a problem more effectively?

Flip It is a method we love because it is both simple to understand and run, and allows groups to understand how their perspectives and biases are formed. 

Participants in Flip It are first invited to consider concerns, issues, or problems from a perspective of fear and write them on a flip chart. Then, the group is asked to consider those same issues from a perspective of hope and flip their understanding.  

No problem and solution is free from existing bias and by changing perspectives with Flip It, you can then develop a problem solving model quickly and effectively.

Flip It!   #gamestorming   #problem solving   #action   Often, a change in a problem or situation comes simply from a change in our perspectives. Flip It! is a quick game designed to show players that perspectives are made, not born.

10. The Creativity Dice

One of the most useful problem solving skills you can teach your team is of approaching challenges with creativity, flexibility, and openness. Games like The Creativity Dice allow teams to overcome the potential hurdle of too much linear thinking and approach the process with a sense of fun and speed. 

In The Creativity Dice, participants are organized around a topic and roll a dice to determine what they will work on for a period of 3 minutes at a time. They might roll a 3 and work on investigating factual information on the chosen topic. They might roll a 1 and work on identifying the specific goals, standards, or criteria for the session.

Encouraging rapid work and iteration while asking participants to be flexible are great skills to cultivate. Having a stage for idea incubation in this game is also important. Moments of pause can help ensure the ideas that are put forward are the most suitable. 

The Creativity Dice   #creativity   #problem solving   #thiagi   #issue analysis   Too much linear thinking is hazardous to creative problem solving. To be creative, you should approach the problem (or the opportunity) from different points of view. You should leave a thought hanging in mid-air and move to another. This skipping around prevents premature closure and lets your brain incubate one line of thought while you consciously pursue another.

11. Fishbone Analysis

Organizational or team challenges are rarely simple, and it’s important to remember that one problem can be an indication of something that goes deeper and may require further consideration to be solved.

Fishbone Analysis helps groups to dig deeper and understand the origins of a problem. It’s a great example of a root cause analysis method that is simple for everyone on a team to get their head around. 

Participants in this activity are asked to annotate a diagram of a fish, first adding the problem or issue to be worked on at the head of a fish before then brainstorming the root causes of the problem and adding them as bones on the fish. 

Using abstractions such as a diagram of a fish can really help a team break out of their regular thinking and develop a creative approach.

Fishbone Analysis   #problem solving   ##root cause analysis   #decision making   #online facilitation   A process to help identify and understand the origins of problems, issues or observations.

12. Problem Tree 

Encouraging visual thinking can be an essential part of many strategies. By simply reframing and clarifying problems, a group can move towards developing a problem solving model that works for them. 

In Problem Tree, groups are asked to first brainstorm a list of problems – these can be design problems, team problems or larger business problems – and then organize them into a hierarchy. The hierarchy could be from most important to least important or abstract to practical, though the key thing with problem solving games that involve this aspect is that your group has some way of managing and sorting all the issues that are raised.

Once you have a list of problems that need to be solved and have organized them accordingly, you’re then well-positioned for the next problem solving steps.

Problem tree   #define intentions   #create   #design   #issue analysis   A problem tree is a tool to clarify the hierarchy of problems addressed by the team within a design project; it represents high level problems or related sublevel problems.

13. SWOT Analysis

Chances are you’ve heard of the SWOT Analysis before. This problem-solving method focuses on identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats is a tried and tested method for both individuals and teams.

Start by creating a desired end state or outcome and bare this in mind – any process solving model is made more effective by knowing what you are moving towards. Create a quadrant made up of the four categories of a SWOT analysis and ask participants to generate ideas based on each of those quadrants.

Once you have those ideas assembled in their quadrants, cluster them together based on their affinity with other ideas. These clusters are then used to facilitate group conversations and move things forward. 

SWOT analysis   #gamestorming   #problem solving   #action   #meeting facilitation   The SWOT Analysis is a long-standing technique of looking at what we have, with respect to the desired end state, as well as what we could improve on. It gives us an opportunity to gauge approaching opportunities and dangers, and assess the seriousness of the conditions that affect our future. When we understand those conditions, we can influence what comes next.

14. Agreement-Certainty Matrix

Not every problem-solving approach is right for every challenge, and deciding on the right method for the challenge at hand is a key part of being an effective team.

The Agreement Certainty matrix helps teams align on the nature of the challenges facing them. By sorting problems from simple to chaotic, your team can understand what methods are suitable for each problem and what they can do to ensure effective results. 

If you are already using Liberating Structures techniques as part of your problem-solving strategy, the Agreement-Certainty Matrix can be an invaluable addition to your process. We’ve found it particularly if you are having issues with recurring problems in your organization and want to go deeper in understanding the root cause. 

Agreement-Certainty Matrix   #issue analysis   #liberating structures   #problem solving   You can help individuals or groups avoid the frequent mistake of trying to solve a problem with methods that are not adapted to the nature of their challenge. The combination of two questions makes it possible to easily sort challenges into four categories: simple, complicated, complex , and chaotic .  A problem is simple when it can be solved reliably with practices that are easy to duplicate.  It is complicated when experts are required to devise a sophisticated solution that will yield the desired results predictably.  A problem is complex when there are several valid ways to proceed but outcomes are not predictable in detail.  Chaotic is when the context is too turbulent to identify a path forward.  A loose analogy may be used to describe these differences: simple is like following a recipe, complicated like sending a rocket to the moon, complex like raising a child, and chaotic is like the game “Pin the Tail on the Donkey.”  The Liberating Structures Matching Matrix in Chapter 5 can be used as the first step to clarify the nature of a challenge and avoid the mismatches between problems and solutions that are frequently at the root of chronic, recurring problems.

Organizing and charting a team’s progress can be important in ensuring its success. SQUID (Sequential Question and Insight Diagram) is a great model that allows a team to effectively switch between giving questions and answers and develop the skills they need to stay on track throughout the process. 

Begin with two different colored sticky notes – one for questions and one for answers – and with your central topic (the head of the squid) on the board. Ask the group to first come up with a series of questions connected to their best guess of how to approach the topic. Ask the group to come up with answers to those questions, fix them to the board and connect them with a line. After some discussion, go back to question mode by responding to the generated answers or other points on the board.

It’s rewarding to see a diagram grow throughout the exercise, and a completed SQUID can provide a visual resource for future effort and as an example for other teams.

SQUID   #gamestorming   #project planning   #issue analysis   #problem solving   When exploring an information space, it’s important for a group to know where they are at any given time. By using SQUID, a group charts out the territory as they go and can navigate accordingly. SQUID stands for Sequential Question and Insight Diagram.

16. Speed Boat

To continue with our nautical theme, Speed Boat is a short and sweet activity that can help a team quickly identify what employees, clients or service users might have a problem with and analyze what might be standing in the way of achieving a solution.

Methods that allow for a group to make observations, have insights and obtain those eureka moments quickly are invaluable when trying to solve complex problems.

In Speed Boat, the approach is to first consider what anchors and challenges might be holding an organization (or boat) back. Bonus points if you are able to identify any sharks in the water and develop ideas that can also deal with competitors!   

Speed Boat   #gamestorming   #problem solving   #action   Speedboat is a short and sweet way to identify what your employees or clients don’t like about your product/service or what’s standing in the way of a desired goal.

17. The Journalistic Six

Some of the most effective ways of solving problems is by encouraging teams to be more inclusive and diverse in their thinking.

Based on the six key questions journalism students are taught to answer in articles and news stories, The Journalistic Six helps create teams to see the whole picture. By using who, what, when, where, why, and how to facilitate the conversation and encourage creative thinking, your team can make sure that the problem identification and problem analysis stages of the are covered exhaustively and thoughtfully. Reporter’s notebook and dictaphone optional.

The Journalistic Six – Who What When Where Why How   #idea generation   #issue analysis   #problem solving   #online   #creative thinking   #remote-friendly   A questioning method for generating, explaining, investigating ideas.

18. LEGO Challenge

Now for an activity that is a little out of the (toy) box. LEGO Serious Play is a facilitation methodology that can be used to improve creative thinking and problem-solving skills. 

The LEGO Challenge includes giving each member of the team an assignment that is hidden from the rest of the group while they create a structure without speaking.

What the LEGO challenge brings to the table is a fun working example of working with stakeholders who might not be on the same page to solve problems. Also, it’s LEGO! Who doesn’t love LEGO! 

LEGO Challenge   #hyperisland   #team   A team-building activity in which groups must work together to build a structure out of LEGO, but each individual has a secret “assignment” which makes the collaborative process more challenging. It emphasizes group communication, leadership dynamics, conflict, cooperation, patience and problem solving strategy.

19. What, So What, Now What?

If not carefully managed, the problem identification and problem analysis stages of the problem-solving process can actually create more problems and misunderstandings.

The What, So What, Now What? problem-solving activity is designed to help collect insights and move forward while also eliminating the possibility of disagreement when it comes to identifying, clarifying, and analyzing organizational or work problems. 

Facilitation is all about bringing groups together so that might work on a shared goal and the best problem-solving strategies ensure that teams are aligned in purpose, if not initially in opinion or insight.

Throughout the three steps of this game, you give everyone on a team to reflect on a problem by asking what happened, why it is important, and what actions should then be taken. 

This can be a great activity for bringing our individual perceptions about a problem or challenge and contextualizing it in a larger group setting. This is one of the most important problem-solving skills you can bring to your organization.

W³ – What, So What, Now What?   #issue analysis   #innovation   #liberating structures   You can help groups reflect on a shared experience in a way that builds understanding and spurs coordinated action while avoiding unproductive conflict. It is possible for every voice to be heard while simultaneously sifting for insights and shaping new direction. Progressing in stages makes this practical—from collecting facts about What Happened to making sense of these facts with So What and finally to what actions logically follow with Now What . The shared progression eliminates most of the misunderstandings that otherwise fuel disagreements about what to do. Voila!

20. Journalists  

Problem analysis can be one of the most important and decisive stages of all problem-solving tools. Sometimes, a team can become bogged down in the details and are unable to move forward.

Journalists is an activity that can avoid a group from getting stuck in the problem identification or problem analysis stages of the process.

In Journalists, the group is invited to draft the front page of a fictional newspaper and figure out what stories deserve to be on the cover and what headlines those stories will have. By reframing how your problems and challenges are approached, you can help a team move productively through the process and be better prepared for the steps to follow.

Journalists   #vision   #big picture   #issue analysis   #remote-friendly   This is an exercise to use when the group gets stuck in details and struggles to see the big picture. Also good for defining a vision.

Problem-solving techniques for developing solutions 

The success of any problem-solving process can be measured by the solutions it produces. After you’ve defined the issue, explored existing ideas, and ideated, it’s time to narrow down to the correct solution.

Use these problem-solving techniques when you want to help your team find consensus, compare possible solutions, and move towards taking action on a particular problem.

  • Improved Solutions
  • Four-Step Sketch
  • 15% Solutions
  • How-Now-Wow matrix
  • Impact Effort Matrix

21. Mindspin  

Brainstorming is part of the bread and butter of the problem-solving process and all problem-solving strategies benefit from getting ideas out and challenging a team to generate solutions quickly. 

With Mindspin, participants are encouraged not only to generate ideas but to do so under time constraints and by slamming down cards and passing them on. By doing multiple rounds, your team can begin with a free generation of possible solutions before moving on to developing those solutions and encouraging further ideation. 

This is one of our favorite problem-solving activities and can be great for keeping the energy up throughout the workshop. Remember the importance of helping people become engaged in the process – energizing problem-solving techniques like Mindspin can help ensure your team stays engaged and happy, even when the problems they’re coming together to solve are complex. 

MindSpin   #teampedia   #idea generation   #problem solving   #action   A fast and loud method to enhance brainstorming within a team. Since this activity has more than round ideas that are repetitive can be ruled out leaving more creative and innovative answers to the challenge.

22. Improved Solutions

After a team has successfully identified a problem and come up with a few solutions, it can be tempting to call the work of the problem-solving process complete. That said, the first solution is not necessarily the best, and by including a further review and reflection activity into your problem-solving model, you can ensure your group reaches the best possible result. 

One of a number of problem-solving games from Thiagi Group, Improved Solutions helps you go the extra mile and develop suggested solutions with close consideration and peer review. By supporting the discussion of several problems at once and by shifting team roles throughout, this problem-solving technique is a dynamic way of finding the best solution. 

Improved Solutions   #creativity   #thiagi   #problem solving   #action   #team   You can improve any solution by objectively reviewing its strengths and weaknesses and making suitable adjustments. In this creativity framegame, you improve the solutions to several problems. To maintain objective detachment, you deal with a different problem during each of six rounds and assume different roles (problem owner, consultant, basher, booster, enhancer, and evaluator) during each round. At the conclusion of the activity, each player ends up with two solutions to her problem.

23. Four Step Sketch

Creative thinking and visual ideation does not need to be confined to the opening stages of your problem-solving strategies. Exercises that include sketching and prototyping on paper can be effective at the solution finding and development stage of the process, and can be great for keeping a team engaged. 

By going from simple notes to a crazy 8s round that involves rapidly sketching 8 variations on their ideas before then producing a final solution sketch, the group is able to iterate quickly and visually. Problem-solving techniques like Four-Step Sketch are great if you have a group of different thinkers and want to change things up from a more textual or discussion-based approach.

Four-Step Sketch   #design sprint   #innovation   #idea generation   #remote-friendly   The four-step sketch is an exercise that helps people to create well-formed concepts through a structured process that includes: Review key information Start design work on paper,  Consider multiple variations , Create a detailed solution . This exercise is preceded by a set of other activities allowing the group to clarify the challenge they want to solve. See how the Four Step Sketch exercise fits into a Design Sprint

24. 15% Solutions

Some problems are simpler than others and with the right problem-solving activities, you can empower people to take immediate actions that can help create organizational change. 

Part of the liberating structures toolkit, 15% solutions is a problem-solving technique that focuses on finding and implementing solutions quickly. A process of iterating and making small changes quickly can help generate momentum and an appetite for solving complex problems.

Problem-solving strategies can live and die on whether people are onboard. Getting some quick wins is a great way of getting people behind the process.   

It can be extremely empowering for a team to realize that problem-solving techniques can be deployed quickly and easily and delineate between things they can positively impact and those things they cannot change. 

15% Solutions   #action   #liberating structures   #remote-friendly   You can reveal the actions, however small, that everyone can do immediately. At a minimum, these will create momentum, and that may make a BIG difference.  15% Solutions show that there is no reason to wait around, feel powerless, or fearful. They help people pick it up a level. They get individuals and the group to focus on what is within their discretion instead of what they cannot change.  With a very simple question, you can flip the conversation to what can be done and find solutions to big problems that are often distributed widely in places not known in advance. Shifting a few grains of sand may trigger a landslide and change the whole landscape.

25. How-Now-Wow Matrix

The problem-solving process is often creative, as complex problems usually require a change of thinking and creative response in order to find the best solutions. While it’s common for the first stages to encourage creative thinking, groups can often gravitate to familiar solutions when it comes to the end of the process. 

When selecting solutions, you don’t want to lose your creative energy! The How-Now-Wow Matrix from Gamestorming is a great problem-solving activity that enables a group to stay creative and think out of the box when it comes to selecting the right solution for a given problem.

Problem-solving techniques that encourage creative thinking and the ideation and selection of new solutions can be the most effective in organisational change. Give the How-Now-Wow Matrix a go, and not just for how pleasant it is to say out loud. 

How-Now-Wow Matrix   #gamestorming   #idea generation   #remote-friendly   When people want to develop new ideas, they most often think out of the box in the brainstorming or divergent phase. However, when it comes to convergence, people often end up picking ideas that are most familiar to them. This is called a ‘creative paradox’ or a ‘creadox’. The How-Now-Wow matrix is an idea selection tool that breaks the creadox by forcing people to weigh each idea on 2 parameters.

26. Impact and Effort Matrix

All problem-solving techniques hope to not only find solutions to a given problem or challenge but to find the best solution. When it comes to finding a solution, groups are invited to put on their decision-making hats and really think about how a proposed idea would work in practice. 

The Impact and Effort Matrix is one of the problem-solving techniques that fall into this camp, empowering participants to first generate ideas and then categorize them into a 2×2 matrix based on impact and effort.

Activities that invite critical thinking while remaining simple are invaluable. Use the Impact and Effort Matrix to move from ideation and towards evaluating potential solutions before then committing to them. 

Impact and Effort Matrix   #gamestorming   #decision making   #action   #remote-friendly   In this decision-making exercise, possible actions are mapped based on two factors: effort required to implement and potential impact. Categorizing ideas along these lines is a useful technique in decision making, as it obliges contributors to balance and evaluate suggested actions before committing to them.

27. Dotmocracy

If you’ve followed each of the problem-solving steps with your group successfully, you should move towards the end of your process with heaps of possible solutions developed with a specific problem in mind. But how do you help a group go from ideation to putting a solution into action? 

Dotmocracy – or Dot Voting -is a tried and tested method of helping a team in the problem-solving process make decisions and put actions in place with a degree of oversight and consensus. 

One of the problem-solving techniques that should be in every facilitator’s toolbox, Dot Voting is fast and effective and can help identify the most popular and best solutions and help bring a group to a decision effectively. 

Dotmocracy   #action   #decision making   #group prioritization   #hyperisland   #remote-friendly   Dotmocracy is a simple method for group prioritization or decision-making. It is not an activity on its own, but a method to use in processes where prioritization or decision-making is the aim. The method supports a group to quickly see which options are most popular or relevant. The options or ideas are written on post-its and stuck up on a wall for the whole group to see. Each person votes for the options they think are the strongest, and that information is used to inform a decision.

All facilitators know that warm-ups and icebreakers are useful for any workshop or group process. Problem-solving workshops are no different.

Use these problem-solving techniques to warm up a group and prepare them for the rest of the process. Activating your group by tapping into some of the top problem-solving skills can be one of the best ways to see great outcomes from your session.

  • Check-in/Check-out
  • Doodling Together
  • Show and Tell
  • Constellations
  • Draw a Tree

28. Check-in / Check-out

Solid processes are planned from beginning to end, and the best facilitators know that setting the tone and establishing a safe, open environment can be integral to a successful problem-solving process.

Check-in / Check-out is a great way to begin and/or bookend a problem-solving workshop. Checking in to a session emphasizes that everyone will be seen, heard, and expected to contribute. 

If you are running a series of meetings, setting a consistent pattern of checking in and checking out can really help your team get into a groove. We recommend this opening-closing activity for small to medium-sized groups though it can work with large groups if they’re disciplined!

Check-in / Check-out   #team   #opening   #closing   #hyperisland   #remote-friendly   Either checking-in or checking-out is a simple way for a team to open or close a process, symbolically and in a collaborative way. Checking-in/out invites each member in a group to be present, seen and heard, and to express a reflection or a feeling. Checking-in emphasizes presence, focus and group commitment; checking-out emphasizes reflection and symbolic closure.

29. Doodling Together  

Thinking creatively and not being afraid to make suggestions are important problem-solving skills for any group or team, and warming up by encouraging these behaviors is a great way to start. 

Doodling Together is one of our favorite creative ice breaker games – it’s quick, effective, and fun and can make all following problem-solving steps easier by encouraging a group to collaborate visually. By passing cards and adding additional items as they go, the workshop group gets into a groove of co-creation and idea development that is crucial to finding solutions to problems. 

Doodling Together   #collaboration   #creativity   #teamwork   #fun   #team   #visual methods   #energiser   #icebreaker   #remote-friendly   Create wild, weird and often funny postcards together & establish a group’s creative confidence.

30. Show and Tell

You might remember some version of Show and Tell from being a kid in school and it’s a great problem-solving activity to kick off a session.

Asking participants to prepare a little something before a workshop by bringing an object for show and tell can help them warm up before the session has even begun! Games that include a physical object can also help encourage early engagement before moving onto more big-picture thinking.

By asking your participants to tell stories about why they chose to bring a particular item to the group, you can help teams see things from new perspectives and see both differences and similarities in the way they approach a topic. Great groundwork for approaching a problem-solving process as a team! 

Show and Tell   #gamestorming   #action   #opening   #meeting facilitation   Show and Tell taps into the power of metaphors to reveal players’ underlying assumptions and associations around a topic The aim of the game is to get a deeper understanding of stakeholders’ perspectives on anything—a new project, an organizational restructuring, a shift in the company’s vision or team dynamic.

31. Constellations

Who doesn’t love stars? Constellations is a great warm-up activity for any workshop as it gets people up off their feet, energized, and ready to engage in new ways with established topics. It’s also great for showing existing beliefs, biases, and patterns that can come into play as part of your session.

Using warm-up games that help build trust and connection while also allowing for non-verbal responses can be great for easing people into the problem-solving process and encouraging engagement from everyone in the group. Constellations is great in large spaces that allow for movement and is definitely a practical exercise to allow the group to see patterns that are otherwise invisible. 

Constellations   #trust   #connection   #opening   #coaching   #patterns   #system   Individuals express their response to a statement or idea by standing closer or further from a central object. Used with teams to reveal system, hidden patterns, perspectives.

32. Draw a Tree

Problem-solving games that help raise group awareness through a central, unifying metaphor can be effective ways to warm-up a group in any problem-solving model.

Draw a Tree is a simple warm-up activity you can use in any group and which can provide a quick jolt of energy. Start by asking your participants to draw a tree in just 45 seconds – they can choose whether it will be abstract or realistic. 

Once the timer is up, ask the group how many people included the roots of the tree and use this as a means to discuss how we can ignore important parts of any system simply because they are not visible.

All problem-solving strategies are made more effective by thinking of problems critically and by exposing things that may not normally come to light. Warm-up games like Draw a Tree are great in that they quickly demonstrate some key problem-solving skills in an accessible and effective way.

Draw a Tree   #thiagi   #opening   #perspectives   #remote-friendly   With this game you can raise awarness about being more mindful, and aware of the environment we live in.

Each step of the problem-solving workshop benefits from an intelligent deployment of activities, games, and techniques. Bringing your session to an effective close helps ensure that solutions are followed through on and that you also celebrate what has been achieved.

Here are some problem-solving activities you can use to effectively close a workshop or meeting and ensure the great work you’ve done can continue afterward.

  • One Breath Feedback
  • Who What When Matrix
  • Response Cards

How do I conclude a problem-solving process?

All good things must come to an end. With the bulk of the work done, it can be tempting to conclude your workshop swiftly and without a moment to debrief and align. This can be problematic in that it doesn’t allow your team to fully process the results or reflect on the process.

At the end of an effective session, your team will have gone through a process that, while productive, can be exhausting. It’s important to give your group a moment to take a breath, ensure that they are clear on future actions, and provide short feedback before leaving the space. 

The primary purpose of any problem-solving method is to generate solutions and then implement them. Be sure to take the opportunity to ensure everyone is aligned and ready to effectively implement the solutions you produced in the workshop.

Remember that every process can be improved and by giving a short moment to collect feedback in the session, you can further refine your problem-solving methods and see further success in the future too.

33. One Breath Feedback

Maintaining attention and focus during the closing stages of a problem-solving workshop can be tricky and so being concise when giving feedback can be important. It’s easy to incur “death by feedback” should some team members go on for too long sharing their perspectives in a quick feedback round. 

One Breath Feedback is a great closing activity for workshops. You give everyone an opportunity to provide feedback on what they’ve done but only in the space of a single breath. This keeps feedback short and to the point and means that everyone is encouraged to provide the most important piece of feedback to them. 

One breath feedback   #closing   #feedback   #action   This is a feedback round in just one breath that excels in maintaining attention: each participants is able to speak during just one breath … for most people that’s around 20 to 25 seconds … unless of course you’ve been a deep sea diver in which case you’ll be able to do it for longer.

34. Who What When Matrix 

Matrices feature as part of many effective problem-solving strategies and with good reason. They are easily recognizable, simple to use, and generate results.

The Who What When Matrix is a great tool to use when closing your problem-solving session by attributing a who, what and when to the actions and solutions you have decided upon. The resulting matrix is a simple, easy-to-follow way of ensuring your team can move forward. 

Great solutions can’t be enacted without action and ownership. Your problem-solving process should include a stage for allocating tasks to individuals or teams and creating a realistic timeframe for those solutions to be implemented or checked out. Use this method to keep the solution implementation process clear and simple for all involved. 

Who/What/When Matrix   #gamestorming   #action   #project planning   With Who/What/When matrix, you can connect people with clear actions they have defined and have committed to.

35. Response cards

Group discussion can comprise the bulk of most problem-solving activities and by the end of the process, you might find that your team is talked out! 

Providing a means for your team to give feedback with short written notes can ensure everyone is head and can contribute without the need to stand up and talk. Depending on the needs of the group, giving an alternative can help ensure everyone can contribute to your problem-solving model in the way that makes the most sense for them.

Response Cards is a great way to close a workshop if you are looking for a gentle warm-down and want to get some swift discussion around some of the feedback that is raised. 

Response Cards   #debriefing   #closing   #structured sharing   #questions and answers   #thiagi   #action   It can be hard to involve everyone during a closing of a session. Some might stay in the background or get unheard because of louder participants. However, with the use of Response Cards, everyone will be involved in providing feedback or clarify questions at the end of a session.

Save time and effort discovering the right solutions

A structured problem solving process is a surefire way of solving tough problems, discovering creative solutions and driving organizational change. But how can you design for successful outcomes?

With SessionLab, it’s easy to design engaging workshops that deliver results. Drag, drop and reorder blocks  to build your agenda. When you make changes or update your agenda, your session  timing   adjusts automatically , saving you time on manual adjustments.

Collaborating with stakeholders or clients? Share your agenda with a single click and collaborate in real-time. No more sending documents back and forth over email.

Explore  how to use SessionLab  to design effective problem solving workshops or  watch this five minute video  to see the planner in action!

what is a example for problem solving

Over to you

The problem-solving process can often be as complicated and multifaceted as the problems they are set-up to solve. With the right problem-solving techniques and a mix of creative exercises designed to guide discussion and generate purposeful ideas, we hope we’ve given you the tools to find the best solutions as simply and easily as possible.

Is there a problem-solving technique that you are missing here? Do you have a favorite activity or method you use when facilitating? Let us know in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you! 

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thank you very much for these excellent techniques

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Certainly wonderful article, very detailed. Shared!

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Your list of techniques for problem solving can be helpfully extended by adding TRIZ to the list of techniques. TRIZ has 40 problem solving techniques derived from methods inventros and patent holders used to get new patents. About 10-12 are general approaches. many organization sponsor classes in TRIZ that are used to solve business problems or general organiztational problems. You can take a look at TRIZ and dwonload a free internet booklet to see if you feel it shound be included per your selection process.

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What Is Problem Solving?

Find a solution to any problem you face..

By the Mind Tools Content Team

what is a example for problem solving

We all spend a lot of our time solving problems, both at work and in our personal lives.

Some problems are small, and we can quickly sort them out ourselves. But others are complex challenges that take collaboration, creativity, and a considerable amount of effort to solve.

At work, the types of problems we face depend largely on the organizations we're in and the jobs we do. A manager in a cleaning company, for example, might spend their day untangling staffing issues, resolving client complaints, and sorting out problems with equipment and supplies. An aircraft designer, on the other hand, might be grappling with a problem about aerodynamics, or trying to work out why a new safety feature isn't working. Meanwhile, a politician might be exploring solutions to racial injustice or climate change.

But whatever issues we face, there are some common ways to tackle them effectively. And we can all boost our confidence and ability to succeed by building a strong set of problem-solving skills.

Mind Tools offers a large collection of resources to help you do just that!

How Well Do You Solve Problems?

Start by taking an honest look at your existing skills. What's your current approach to solving problems, and how well is it working? Our quiz, How Good Is Your Problem Solving? lets you analyze your abilities, and signposts ways to address any areas of weakness.

Define Every Problem

The first step in solving a problem is understanding what that problem actually is. You need to be sure that you're dealing with the real problem – not its symptoms. For example, if performance in your department is substandard, you might think that the problem lies with the individuals submitting work. However, if you look a bit deeper, the real issue might be a general lack of training, or an unreasonable workload across the team.

Tools like 5 Whys , Appreciation and Root Cause Analysis get you asking the right questions, and help you to work through the layers of a problem to uncover what's really going on.

However, defining a problem doesn't mean deciding how to solve it straightaway. It's important to look at the issue from a variety of perspectives. If you commit yourself too early, you can end up with a short-sighted solution. The CATWOE checklist provides a powerful reminder to look at many elements that may contribute to the problem, keeping you open to a variety of possible solutions.

Understanding Complexity

As you define your problem, you'll often discover just how complicated it is. There are likely several interrelated issues involved. That's why it's important to have ways to visualize, simplify and make sense of this tangled mess!

Affinity Diagrams are great for organizing many different pieces of information into common themes, and for understanding the relationships between them.

Another popular tool is the Cause-and-Effect Diagram . To generate viable solutions, you need a solid understanding of what's causing the problem.

When your problem occurs within a business process, creating a Flow Chart , Swim Lane Diagram or a Systems Diagram will help you to see how various activities and inputs fit together. This may well highlight a missing element or bottleneck that's causing your problem.

Quite often, what seems to be a single problem turns out to be a whole series of problems. The Drill Down technique prompts you to split your problem into smaller, more manageable parts.

General Problem-Solving Tools

When you understand the problem in front of you, you’re ready to start solving it. With your definition to guide you, you can generate several possible solutions, choose the best one, then put it into action. That's the four-step approach at the heart of good problem solving.

There are various problem-solving styles to use. For example:

  • Constructive Controversy is a way of widening perspectives and energizing discussions.
  • Inductive Reasoning makes the most of people’s experiences and know-how, and can speed up solution finding.
  • Means-End Analysis can bring extra clarity to your thinking, and kick-start the process of implementing solutions.

Specific Problem-Solving Systems

Some particularly complicated or important problems call for a more comprehensive process. Again, Mind Tools has a range of approaches to try, including:

  • Simplex , which involves an eight-stage process: problem finding, fact finding, defining the problem, idea finding, selecting and evaluating, planning, selling the idea, and acting. These steps build upon the basic, four-step process described above, and they create a cycle of problem finding and solving that will continually improve your organization.
  • Appreciative Inquiry , which is a uniquely positive way of solving problems by examining what's working well in the areas surrounding them.
  • Soft Systems Methodology , which takes you through four stages to uncover more details about what's creating your problem, and then define actions that will improve the situation.

Further Problem-Solving Strategies

Good problem solving requires a number of other skills – all of which are covered by Mind Tools.

For example, we have a large section of resources to improve your Creativity , so that you come up with a range of possible solutions.

By strengthening your Decision Making , you'll be better at evaluating the options, selecting the best ones, then choosing how to implement them.

And our Project Management collection has valuable advice for strengthening the whole problem-solving process. The resources there will help you to make effective changes – and then keep them working long term.

Problems are an inescapable part of life, both in and out of work. So we can all benefit from having strong problem-solving skills.

It's important to understand your current approach to problem solving, and to know where and how to improve.

Define every problem you encounter – and understand its complexity, rather than trying to solve it too soon.

There's a range of general problem-solving approaches, helping you to generate possible answers, choose the best ones, and then implement your solution.

Some complicated or serious problems require more specific problem-solving systems, especially when they relate to business processes.

By boosting your creativity, decision-making and project-management skills, you’ll become even better at solving all the problems you face.

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10 Problem-solving strategies to turn challenges on their head

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What is an example of problem-solving?

What are the 5 steps to problem-solving, 10 effective problem-solving strategies, what skills do efficient problem solvers have, how to improve your problem-solving skills.

Problems come in all shapes and sizes — from workplace conflict to budget cuts.

Creative problem-solving is one of the most in-demand skills in all roles and industries. It can boost an organization’s human capital and give it a competitive edge. 

Problem-solving strategies are ways of approaching problems that can help you look beyond the obvious answers and find the best solution to your problem . 

Let’s take a look at a five-step problem-solving process and how to combine it with proven problem-solving strategies. This will give you the tools and skills to solve even your most complex problems.

Good problem-solving is an essential part of the decision-making process . To see what a problem-solving process might look like in real life, let’s take a common problem for SaaS brands — decreasing customer churn rates.

To solve this problem, the company must first identify it. In this case, the problem is that the churn rate is too high. 

Next, they need to identify the root causes of the problem. This could be anything from their customer service experience to their email marketing campaigns. If there are several problems, they will need a separate problem-solving process for each one. 

Let’s say the problem is with email marketing — they’re not nurturing existing customers. Now that they’ve identified the problem, they can start using problem-solving strategies to look for solutions. 

This might look like coming up with special offers, discounts, or bonuses for existing customers. They need to find ways to remind them to use their products and services while providing added value. This will encourage customers to keep paying their monthly subscriptions.

They might also want to add incentives, such as access to a premium service at no extra cost after 12 months of membership. They could publish blog posts that help their customers solve common problems and share them as an email newsletter.

The company should set targets and a time frame in which to achieve them. This will allow leaders to measure progress and identify which actions yield the best results.

team-meeting-problem-solving-strategies

Perhaps you’ve got a problem you need to tackle. Or maybe you want to be prepared the next time one arises. Either way, it’s a good idea to get familiar with the five steps of problem-solving. 

Use this step-by-step problem-solving method with the strategies in the following section to find possible solutions to your problem.

1. Identify the problem

The first step is to know which problem you need to solve. Then, you need to find the root cause of the problem. 

The best course of action is to gather as much data as possible, speak to the people involved, and separate facts from opinions. 

Once this is done, formulate a statement that describes the problem. Use rational persuasion to make sure your team agrees .

2. Break the problem down 

Identifying the problem allows you to see which steps need to be taken to solve it. 

First, break the problem down into achievable blocks. Then, use strategic planning to set a time frame in which to solve the problem and establish a timeline for the completion of each stage.

3. Generate potential solutions

At this stage, the aim isn’t to evaluate possible solutions but to generate as many ideas as possible. 

Encourage your team to use creative thinking and be patient — the best solution may not be the first or most obvious one.

Use one or more of the different strategies in the following section to help come up with solutions — the more creative, the better.

4. Evaluate the possible solutions

Once you’ve generated potential solutions, narrow them down to a shortlist. Then, evaluate the options on your shortlist. 

There are usually many factors to consider. So when evaluating a solution, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Will my team be on board with the proposition?
  • Does the solution align with organizational goals ?
  • Is the solution likely to achieve the desired outcomes?
  • Is the solution realistic and possible with current resources and constraints?
  • Will the solution solve the problem without causing additional unintended problems?

woman-helping-her-colleague-problem-solving-strategies

5. Implement and monitor the solutions

Once you’ve identified your solution and got buy-in from your team, it’s time to implement it. 

But the work doesn’t stop there. You need to monitor your solution to see whether it actually solves your problem. 

Request regular feedback from the team members involved and have a monitoring and evaluation plan in place to measure progress.

If the solution doesn’t achieve your desired results, start this step-by-step process again.

There are many different ways to approach problem-solving. Each is suitable for different types of problems. 

The most appropriate problem-solving techniques will depend on your specific problem. You may need to experiment with several strategies before you find a workable solution.

Here are 10 effective problem-solving strategies for you to try:

  • Use a solution that worked before
  • Brainstorming
  • Work backward
  • Use the Kipling method
  • Draw the problem
  • Use trial and error
  • Sleep on it
  • Get advice from your peers
  • Use the Pareto principle
  • Add successful solutions to your toolkit

Let’s break each of these down.

1. Use a solution that worked before

It might seem obvious, but if you’ve faced similar problems in the past, look back to what worked then. See if any of the solutions could apply to your current situation and, if so, replicate them.

2. Brainstorming

The more people you enlist to help solve the problem, the more potential solutions you can come up with.

Use different brainstorming techniques to workshop potential solutions with your team. They’ll likely bring something you haven’t thought of to the table.

3. Work backward

Working backward is a way to reverse engineer your problem. Imagine your problem has been solved, and make that the starting point.

Then, retrace your steps back to where you are now. This can help you see which course of action may be most effective.

4. Use the Kipling method

This is a method that poses six questions based on Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “ I Keep Six Honest Serving Men .” 

  • What is the problem?
  • Why is the problem important?
  • When did the problem arise, and when does it need to be solved?
  • How did the problem happen?
  • Where is the problem occurring?
  • Who does the problem affect?

Answering these questions can help you identify possible solutions.

5. Draw the problem

Sometimes it can be difficult to visualize all the components and moving parts of a problem and its solution. Drawing a diagram can help.

This technique is particularly helpful for solving process-related problems. For example, a product development team might want to decrease the time they take to fix bugs and create new iterations. Drawing the processes involved can help you see where improvements can be made.

woman-drawing-mind-map-problem-solving-strategies

6. Use trial-and-error

A trial-and-error approach can be useful when you have several possible solutions and want to test them to see which one works best.

7. Sleep on it

Finding the best solution to a problem is a process. Remember to take breaks and get enough rest . Sometimes, a walk around the block can bring inspiration, but you should sleep on it if possible.

A good night’s sleep helps us find creative solutions to problems. This is because when you sleep, your brain sorts through the day’s events and stores them as memories. This enables you to process your ideas at a subconscious level. 

If possible, give yourself a few days to develop and analyze possible solutions. You may find you have greater clarity after sleeping on it. Your mind will also be fresh, so you’ll be able to make better decisions.

8. Get advice from your peers

Getting input from a group of people can help you find solutions you may not have thought of on your own. 

For solo entrepreneurs or freelancers, this might look like hiring a coach or mentor or joining a mastermind group. 

For leaders , it might be consulting other members of the leadership team or working with a business coach .

It’s important to recognize you might not have all the skills, experience, or knowledge necessary to find a solution alone. 

9. Use the Pareto principle

The Pareto principle — also known as the 80/20 rule — can help you identify possible root causes and potential solutions for your problems.

Although it’s not a mathematical law, it’s a principle found throughout many aspects of business and life. For example, 20% of the sales reps in a company might close 80% of the sales. 

You may be able to narrow down the causes of your problem by applying the Pareto principle. This can also help you identify the most appropriate solutions.

10. Add successful solutions to your toolkit

Every situation is different, and the same solutions might not always work. But by keeping a record of successful problem-solving strategies, you can build up a solutions toolkit. 

These solutions may be applicable to future problems. Even if not, they may save you some of the time and work needed to come up with a new solution.

three-colleagues-looking-at-computer-problem-solving-strategies

Improving problem-solving skills is essential for professional development — both yours and your team’s. Here are some of the key skills of effective problem solvers:

  • Critical thinking and analytical skills
  • Communication skills , including active listening
  • Decision-making
  • Planning and prioritization
  • Emotional intelligence , including empathy and emotional regulation
  • Time management
  • Data analysis
  • Research skills
  • Project management

And they see problems as opportunities. Everyone is born with problem-solving skills. But accessing these abilities depends on how we view problems. Effective problem-solvers see problems as opportunities to learn and improve.

Ready to work on your problem-solving abilities? Get started with these seven tips.

1. Build your problem-solving skills

One of the best ways to improve your problem-solving skills is to learn from experts. Consider enrolling in organizational training , shadowing a mentor , or working with a coach .

2. Practice

Practice using your new problem-solving skills by applying them to smaller problems you might encounter in your daily life. 

Alternatively, imagine problematic scenarios that might arise at work and use problem-solving strategies to find hypothetical solutions.

3. Don’t try to find a solution right away

Often, the first solution you think of to solve a problem isn’t the most appropriate or effective.

Instead of thinking on the spot, give yourself time and use one or more of the problem-solving strategies above to activate your creative thinking. 

two-colleagues-talking-at-corporate-event-problem-solving-strategies

4. Ask for feedback

Receiving feedback is always important for learning and growth. Your perception of your problem-solving skills may be different from that of your colleagues. They can provide insights that help you improve. 

5. Learn new approaches and methodologies

There are entire books written about problem-solving methodologies if you want to take a deep dive into the subject. 

We recommend starting with “ Fixed — How to Perfect the Fine Art of Problem Solving ” by Amy E. Herman. 

6. Experiment

Tried-and-tested problem-solving techniques can be useful. However, they don’t teach you how to innovate and develop your own problem-solving approaches. 

Sometimes, an unconventional approach can lead to the development of a brilliant new idea or strategy. So don’t be afraid to suggest your most “out there” ideas.

7. Analyze the success of your competitors

Do you have competitors who have already solved the problem you’re facing? Look at what they did, and work backward to solve your own problem. 

For example, Netflix started in the 1990s as a DVD mail-rental company. Its main competitor at the time was Blockbuster. 

But when streaming became the norm in the early 2000s, both companies faced a crisis. Netflix innovated, unveiling its streaming service in 2007. 

If Blockbuster had followed Netflix’s example, it might have survived. Instead, it declared bankruptcy in 2010.

Use problem-solving strategies to uplevel your business

When facing a problem, it’s worth taking the time to find the right solution. 

Otherwise, we risk either running away from our problems or headlong into solutions. When we do this, we might miss out on other, better options.

Use the problem-solving strategies outlined above to find innovative solutions to your business’ most perplexing problems.

If you’re ready to take problem-solving to the next level, request a demo with BetterUp . Our expert coaches specialize in helping teams develop and implement strategies that work.

Boost your productivity

Maximize your time and productivity with strategies from our expert coaches.

Elizabeth Perry, ACC

Elizabeth Perry is a Coach Community Manager at BetterUp. She uses strategic engagement strategies to cultivate a learning community across a global network of Coaches through in-person and virtual experiences, technology-enabled platforms, and strategic coaching industry partnerships. With over 3 years of coaching experience and a certification in transformative leadership and life coaching from Sofia University, Elizabeth leverages transpersonal psychology expertise to help coaches and clients gain awareness of their behavioral and thought patterns, discover their purpose and passions, and elevate their potential. She is a lifelong student of psychology, personal growth, and human potential as well as an ICF-certified ACC transpersonal life and leadership Coach.

8 creative solutions to your most challenging problems

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what is a example for problem solving

  • Spencer Greenberg
  • 14 min read

Problem-Solving Techniques That Work For All Types of Challenges

Essay by Spencer Greenberg, Clearer Thinking founder

A lot of people don’t realize that there are general purpose problem solving techniques that cut across domains. They can help you deal with thorny challenges in work, your personal life, startups, or even if you’re trying to prove a new theorem in math.

Below are the 26 general purpose problem solving techniques that I like best, along with a one-word name I picked for each, and hypothetical examples to illustrate what sort of strategy I’m referring to.

Consider opening up this list whenever you’re stuck solving a challenging problem. It’s likely that one or more of these techniques can help!

what is a example for problem solving

1. Clarifying

Try to define the problem you are facing as precisely as you can, maybe by writing down a detailed description of exactly what the problem is and what constraints exist for a solution, or by describing it in detail to another person. This may lead to you realizing the problem is not quite what you had thought, or that it has a more obvious solution than you thought.

Life Example

“I thought that I needed to find a new job, but when I thought really carefully about what I don’t like about my current job, I realized that I could likely fix those things by talking to my boss or even, potentially, just by thinking about them differently.”

Startup Example

“we thought we had a problem with users not wanting to sign up for the product, but when we carefully investigated what the problem really was, we discovered it was actually more of a problem of users wanting the product but then growing frustrated because of bad interface design.”

2. Subdividing

Break the problem down into smaller problems in such a way that if you solve each of the small problems, you will have solved the entire problem. Once a problem is subdivided it can also sometimes be parallelized (e.g., by involving different people to work on the different components).

“My goal is to get company Z to become a partner with my company, and that seems hard, so let me break that goal into the steps of (a) listing the ways that company Z would benefit from becoming a partner with us, (b) finding an employee at company Z who would be responsive to hearing about these benefits, and (c) tracking down someone who can introduce me to that employee.”

Math Example

“I want to prove that a certain property applies to all functions of a specific type, so I start by (a) showing that every function of that type can be written as a sum of a more specific type of function, then I show that (b) the property applies to each function of the more specific type, and finally I show that (c) if the property applies to each function in a set of functions then it applies to arbitrary sums of those functions as well.”

3. Simplifying

Think of the simplest variation of the problem that you expect you can solve that shares important features in common with your problem, and see if solving this simpler problem gives you ideas for how to solve the more difficult version.

“I don’t know how to hire a CTO, but I do know how to hire a software engineer because I’ve done it many times, and good CTOs will often themselves be good software engineers, so how can I tweak my software engineer hiring to make it appropriate for hiring a CTO?”

“I don’t know how to calculate this integral as it is, but if I remove one of the free parameters, I actually do know how to calculate it, and maybe doing that calculation will give me insight into the solution of the more complex integral.”

4. Crowd-sourcing 

Use suggestions from multiple people to gain insight into how to solve the problem, for instance by posting on Facebook or Twitter requesting people’s help, or by posting to a Q&A site like Quora, or by sending emails to 10 people you know explaining the problem and requesting assistance.

Business Example

“Do you have experience outsourcing manufacturing to China? If so, I’d appreciate hearing your thoughts about how to approach choosing a vendor.”

Health Example

“I have trouble getting myself to stick to doing exercise daily. If you also used to have trouble getting yourself to exercise but don’t anymore, I’d love to know what worked to make it easier for you.”

5. Splintering

If the problem you are trying to solve has special cases that a solution to the general problem would also apply to, consider just one or two of these special cases as examples and solve the problem just for those cases first. Then see if a solution to one of those special cases helps you solve the problem in general.

“I want to figure out how to improve employee retention in general, let me examine how I could have improved retention in the case of the last three people that quit.”

“I want to figure out how to convince a large number of people to become customers, let me first figure out how to convince just Bill and John to become customers since they seem like the sort of customer I want to attract, and see what general lessons I learn from doing that.”

Read the books or textbooks that seem most related to the topic, and see whether they provide a solution to the problem, or teach you enough related information that you can now solve it yourself.

Economics Example

“Economists probably have already figured out reasonable ways to estimate demand elasticity, let’s see what an econometrics textbook says rather than trying to invent a technique from scratch.”

Mental Health Example

“I’ve been feeling depressed for a long time, maybe I should read some well-liked books about depression.”

7. Searching

Think of a similar problem that you think practitioners, bloggers or academics might have already solved and search online (e.g., via google, Q&A sites, or google scholar academic paper search) to see if anyone has done a write-up about how they solved it.

Advertising Example

“I’m having trouble figuring out the right advertising keywords to bid on for my specific product, I bet someone has a blog post describing how to approach choosing keywords for other related products.”

Machine Learning Example

“I can’t get this neural network to train properly in my specific case, I wonder if someone has written a tutorial about how to apply neural networks to related problems.”

8. Unconstraining

List all the constraints of the problem, then temporarily ignore one or more of the constraints that make the problem especially hard, and try to solve it without those constraints. If you can, then see if you can modify that unconstrained solution until it becomes a solution for the fully constrained problem.

“I need to hire someone who can do work at the intersection of machine learning and cryptography, let me drop the constraint of having cryptography experience and recruit machine learning people, then pick from among them a person that seems both generally capable and well positioned to learn the necessary cryptography.”

Computer Science Example

“I need to implement a certain algorithm, and it needs to be efficient, but that seems very difficult, so let me first figure out how to implement an inefficient version of the algorithm (i.e., drop the efficiency constraint), then at the end I will try to figure out how to optimize that algorithm for efficiency.”

9. Distracting

Fill your mind with everything you know about the problem, including facts, constraints, challenges, considerations, etc. and then stop thinking about the problem, and go and do a relaxing activity that requires little focus, such as walking, swimming, cooking, napping or taking a bath to see if new ideas or potential solutions pop into your mind unexpectedly as your subconscious continues to work on the problem without your attention.

“For three days, I’ve been trying to solve this problem at work, but the solution only came to me when I was strolling in the woods and not even thinking about it.”

Example from mathematician Henri Poincaré

“The incidents of the travel made me forget my mathematical work. Having reached Coutances, we entered an omnibus to go someplace or other. At the moment when I put my foot on the step, the idea came to me, without anything in my former thoughts seeming to have paved the way for it, that the transformations I had used to define the Fuchsian functions were identical with those of non-Euclidean geometry.”

10. Reexamining

Write down all the assumptions you’ve been making about the problem or about what a solution should I look like (yes – make an actual list). Then start challenging them one by one to see if they are actually needed or whether some may be unnecessary or mistaken.

Psychology Example

“We were assuming in our lab experiments that when people get angry they have some underlying reason behind it, but there may be some anger that is better modeled as a chemical fluctuation that is only loosely related to what happens in the lab, such as when people are quick to anger because they are hungry.”

“I need to construct a function that has this strange property, and so far I’ve assumed that the function must be smooth, but if it doesn’t actually need to be then perhaps I can construct just such a function out of simple linear pieces that are glued together.”

11. Reframing

Try to see the problem differently. For instance, by flipping the default, analyzing the inverse of the problem instead, thinking about how you would achieve the opposite of what you want, or shifting to an opposing perspective.

If we were building this company over again completely from scratch, what would we do differently in the design of our product, and can we pivot the product in that direction right now?”

“Should move to New York to take a job that pays $20,000 more per year? Well, if I already lived in New York, the decision to stay there rather than taking a $20,000 pay cut to move here would be an easy one. So maybe I’m overly focused on the current default of not being in New York and the short term unpleasantness of relocating.”

Marketing Example

“If I were one of our typical potential customers, what would I do to try to find a product like ours?”

12. Brainstorming

Set a timer for at least 5 minutes, and generate as many plausible solutions or ideas that you can without worrying about quality at all. Evaluate the ideas only at the end after the timer goes off.

“I’m going to set a timer for 5 minutes and come up with at least three new ways I could go about looking for a co-founder.”

“I’m going to set a timer for 20 minutes and come up with at least five possible explanations for why I’ve been feeling so anxious lately.”

13. Experting

Find an expert (or someone highly knowledgeable) in the topic area and ask their opinion about the best way to solve the problem.

“Why do you think most attempts at creating digital medical records failed, and what would someone have to do differently to have a reasonable chance at success?”

“What sort of optimization algorithm would be most efficient for minimizing the objective functions of this type?”

14. Eggheading

Ask the smartest person you know how they would solve the problem. Be sure to send an email in advance, describing the details so that this person has time to deeply consider the problem before you discuss it.

“Given the information I sent you about our competitors and the interviews we’ve done with potential customers, in which direction would you pivot our product if you were me (and why)?”

Research Example

“Given the information I sent you about our goals and the fact that our previous research attempts have gotten nowhere, how would you approach researching this topic to find the answer we need?”

15. Guessing

Start with a guess for what the solution could be, now check if it actually works and if not, start tweaking that guess to see if you can morph it into something that could work.

“I don’t know what price to use for the product we’re selling, so let me start with an initial guess and then begin trying to sell the thing, and tweak the price down if it seems to be a sticking point for customers, and tweak the price up if the customers don’t seem to pay much attention to the price.”

“My off the cuff intuition says that this differential equation might have a solution of the form x^a * e^(b x)for some a or b, let me plug it into the equation to see if indeed it satisfies the equation for any choice of a and b, and if not, let me see if I can tweak it to make something similar work.”

“I don’t know what the most effective diet for me would be, so I’ll just use my intuition to ban from my diet some foods that seem both unhealthy and addictive, and see if that helps.”

16. Comparing

Think of similar domains you already understand or similar problems you have already solved in the past, and see whether your knowledge of those domains or solutions to those similar problems may work as a complete or partial solution here.

“I don’t know how to find someone to fix things in my apartment, but I have found a good house cleaner before by asking a few friends who they use, so maybe I can simply use the same approach for finding a person to fix things.”

“This equation I’m trying to simplify reminds me of work I’m familiar with related to Kullback-Leibler divergence, I wonder if results from information theory could be applied in this case.”

17. Outsourcing

Consider whether you can hire someone to solve this problem, instead of figuring out how to solve it yourself.

“I don’t really understand how to get media attention for my company, so let me hire a public relations firm and let them handle the process.”

“I have no fashion sense, but I’d like to look better. Maybe I should hire someone fashionable who works in apparel to go shopping with me and help me choose what I should wear.”

18. Experimenting

Rapidly develop possible solutions and test them out (in sequence, or in parallel) by applying cheap and fast experiments. Discard those that don’t work, or iterate on them to improve them based on what you learn from the experiments.

“We don’t know if people will like a product like the one we have in mind, but we can put together a functioning prototype quickly, show five people that seem like they could be potential users, and iterate or create an entirely new design based on how they respond.”

“I don’t know if cutting out sugar will help improve my energy levels, but I can try it for two weeks and see if I notice any differences.”

19. Generalizing

Consider the more general case of the specific problem you are trying to solve, and then work on solving the general version instead. Paradoxically, it is sometimes easier to make progress on the general case rather than a specific one because it increases your focus on the structure of the problem rather than unimportant details.

“I want to figure out how to get this particular key employee more motivated to do good work, let me construct a model of what makes employees motivated to do good work in general, then I’ll apply it to this case.”

“I want to solve this specific differential equation, but it’s clearly a special case of a more general class of differential equations, let me study the general class and see what I can learn about them first and then apply what I learn to the specific case.”

20. Approximating

Consider whether a partial or approximate solution would be acceptable and, if so, aim for that instead of a full or exact solution.

“Our goal is to figure out which truck to send out for which delivery, which theoretically depends on many factors such as current location, traffic conditions, truck capacity, fuel efficiency, how many hours the driver has been on duty, the number of people manning each truck, the hourly rate we pay each driver, etc. etc. Maybe if we focus on just the three variables that we think are most important, we can find a good enough solution.”

“Finding a solution to this equation seems difficult, but if I approximate one of the terms linearly it becomes much easier, and maybe for the range of values we’re interested in, that’s close enough to an exact solution!”

21. Annihilating

Try to prove that the problem you are attempting to solve is actually impossible. If you succeed, you may save yourself a lot of time working on something impossible. Furthermore, in attempting to prove that the problem is impossible, you may gain insight into what makes it actually possible to solve, or if it turns out to truly be impossible, figure out how you could tweak the problem to make it solvable.

“I’m struggling to find a design for a theoretical voting system that has properties X, Y, and Z, let me see if I can instead prove that no such voting system with these three properties could possibly exist.”

“My goal has been to prove that this property always applies to this class of functions, let me see if I can generate a counterexample to prove that this goal is actually impossible.”

Physics Example

“I was trying to design a physical system with certain properties, but I now realize that if such a system could be realized, then it would allow for perpetual motion, and therefore it is impossible to build the sort of system I had in mind.”

22. Modeling

Try to build an explicit model of the situation, including what elements there are and how they related to each other. For instance, try drawing a diagram or flow chart that encapsulates your understanding of all the important information that relates to the problem.

“I’ve noticed that there are certain situations that cause me to freak out that would not bother other people. So what are the common elements when this happens, and how do they seem to relate to each other and to the way I end up feeling? Let me see if I can draw a diagram of this on paper.”

“What are all the different groups (e.g., providers, payers, patients) involved in the healthcare system, and if we diagram how they interact with each other, will that give us ideas for how we can sell our healthcare product?”

23. Brute forcing

One-by-one, consider every possible solution to the problem until you’ve found a good one or exhausted them all.

Startup example

“We’re not sure the order that these four parts of the user registration process should go in, so let’s make a list of all 24 possible orderings, and examine them one by one to see which makes the most sense.”

“It’s not clear how to pick which of these machine learning methods to use on this problem, but since we have lots of data, we can just try each of the algorithms and see which makes the most accurate predictions on data we’ve held to the side for testing.”

24. Refocusing

Forget about trying to solve the problem, and instead consider why you are trying to solve it. Then consider if there is a different problem you can work on that is aimed at producing the same sort of value in a different way.

Startup Example 1

“Maybe instead of trying increasingly hard to figure out how to get this type of consumer to buy, we need to switch our focus to the problem of how to sell to businesses, since what we actually care about is selling it, not selling it to one particular group.”

Startup Example 2

“I’ve been banging my head against the wall trying to implement this extremely complex feature, but there are lots of features that users would find just as valuable that are much easier to implement, maybe I should focus on those instead.”

25. Sidestepping

Consider whether you really want to spend more time trying to solve this problem and whether you can avoid the problem by instead working on totally different problems that you also care about.

“We’ve tried selling our solution to replace Excel for 12 months without much success, maybe we should go back to the drawing board and consider designing a totally new product. Our assumptions about customer needs seem to simply have been wrong.”

“I’ve spent six months on this math problem with little progress, but there are two other math problems I’m equally excited about, so maybe I should spend some time investigating whether one of those may be more tractable.”

26. Aggregating

Consider whether multiple problems you’re now experiencing might, in fact, be caused by the same source of difficulty, rather than being independent problems.

“I seem to be having conflict with a few different friends right now – could it be that I’m doing something without realizing it that is increasing my chance of conflict with all of them?”

“Three employees have quit in the last month. Perhaps the primary problem isn’t really about convincing this one important employee to stay, which is how I was framing it, but rather, about identifying why people keep leaving more generally.”

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The problem-solving process, how to solve problems: 5 steps, train to solve problems with lean today, what is problem solving steps, techniques, & best practices explained.

What Is Problem Solving? Steps, Techniques, and Best Practices Explained

Problem solving is the art of identifying problems and implementing the best possible solutions. Revisiting your problem-solving skills may be the missing piece to leveraging the performance of your business, achieving Lean success, or unlocking your professional potential. 

Ask any colleague if they’re an effective problem-solver and their likely answer will be, “Of course! I solve problems every day.” 

Problem solving is part of most job descriptions, sure. But not everyone can do it consistently. 

Problem solving is the process of defining a problem, identifying its root cause, prioritizing and selecting potential solutions, and implementing the chosen solution.

There’s no one-size-fits-all problem-solving process. Often, it’s a unique methodology that aligns your short- and long-term objectives with the resources at your disposal. Nonetheless, many paradigms center problem solving as a pathway for achieving one’s goals faster and smarter. 

One example is the Six Sigma framework , which emphasizes eliminating errors and refining the customer experience, thereby improving business outcomes. Developed originally by Motorola, the Six Sigma process identifies problems from the perspective of customer satisfaction and improving product delivery. 

Lean management, a similar method, is about streamlining company processes over time so they become “leaner” while producing better outcomes. 

Trendy business management lingo aside, both of these frameworks teach us that investing in your problem solving process for personal and professional arenas will bring better productivity.

1. Precisely Identify Problems

As obvious as it seems, identifying the problem is the first step in the problem-solving process. Pinpointing a problem at the beginning of the process will guide your research, collaboration, and solutions in the right direction. 

At this stage, your task is to identify the scope and substance of the problem. Ask yourself a series of questions: 

  • What’s the problem? 
  • How many subsets of issues are underneath this problem? 
  • What subject areas, departments of work, or functions of business can best define this problem? 

Although some problems are naturally large in scope, precision is key. Write out the problems as statements in planning sheets . Should information or feedback during a later step alter the scope of your problem, revise the statements. 

Framing the problem at this stage will help you stay focused if distractions come up in later stages. Furthermore, how you frame a problem will aid your search for a solution. A strategy of building Lean success, for instance, will emphasize identifying and improving upon inefficient systems. 

2. Collect Information and Plan 

The second step is to collect information and plan the brainstorming process. This is another foundational step to road mapping your problem-solving process. Data, after all, is useful in identifying the scope and substance of your problems. 

Collecting information on the exact details of the problem, however, is done to narrow the brainstorming portion to help you evaluate the outcomes later. Don’t overwhelm yourself with unnecessary information — use the problem statements that you identified in step one as a north star in your research process. 

This stage should also include some planning. Ask yourself:

  • What parties will ultimately decide a solution? 
  • Whose voices and ideas should be heard in the brainstorming process? 
  • What resources are at your disposal for implementing a solution? 

Establish a plan and timeline for steps 3-5. 

3. Brainstorm Solutions

Brainstorming solutions is the bread and butter of the problem-solving process. At this stage, focus on generating creative ideas. As long as the solution directly addresses the problem statements and achieves your goals, don’t immediately rule it out. 

Moreover, solutions are rarely a one-step answer and are more like a roadmap with a set of actions. As you brainstorm ideas, map out these solutions visually and include any relevant factors such as costs involved, action steps, and involved parties. 

With Lean success in mind, stay focused on solutions that minimize waste and improve the flow of business ecosystems. 

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4. Decide and Implement

The most critical stage is selecting a solution. Easier said than done. Consider the criteria that has arisen in previous steps as you decide on a solution that meets your needs. 

Once you select a course of action, implement it. 

Practicing due diligence in earlier stages of the process will ensure that your chosen course of action has been evaluated from all angles. Often, efficient implementation requires us to act correctly and successfully the first time, rather than being hurried and sloppy. Further compilations will create more problems, bringing you back to step 1. 

5. Evaluate

Exercise humility and evaluate your solution honestly. Did you achieve the results you hoped for? What would you do differently next time? 

As some experts note, formulating feedback channels into your evaluation helps solidify future success. A framework like Lean success, for example, will use certain key performance indicators (KPIs) like quality, delivery success, reducing errors, and more. Establish metrics aligned with company goals to assess your solutions.

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What is Problem Solving? Process, Techniques, Examples

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Whether tackling a technical issue at work or finding our way around a roadblock unnoticed by Google Maps, problem-solving is a daily occurrence for most people. But how prepared are you to overcome life's challenges? Do you rely on a structured process to ensure successful outcomes, or do you navigate through problems impulsively? 

Here's the crux: the strength of your problem-solving skills significantly impacts the ease and success of your life, both professionally and personally. Practical problem-solving is a valuable career and life skill. You're in the right place if you're eager to enhance your problem-solving abilities efficiently. 

In this blog post, I will delve into what is problem solving the steps, techniques, and exercises of the problem-solving process. Whether seeking to troubleshoot technical issues or navigate life's complexities, mastering organized problem-solving can elevate your capabilities and lead to more favorable outcomes. 

What is Problem Solving? And Its Importance

First, let me help you understand what is problem solving. Problem-solving is a comprehensive process involving identifying issues, prioritizing based on urgency and severity, analyzing root causes, gathering pertinent Information, devising and assessing solutions, making informed decisions, and planning and executing implementation strategies. 

This skill set also encompasses critical thinking, effective communication, active listening, creativity, research, data analysis, risk assessment, continuous learning, and decision-making abilities. Effective problem-solving strategies mitigate potential losses or damages and enhance self-confidence and reputation. Problem-solving is essential in personal and professional contexts as it allows individuals and teams to navigate obstacles, make informed decisions, and drive progress. 

Importance: 

  • Enhances Decision-Making: Effective problem solving leads to better decision-making by evaluating various options and selecting the most suitable solution. 
  • Promotes Innovation: Problem solving encourages innovation and creativity as individuals seek new approaches to tackle challenges. 
  • Improves Efficiency: By resolving issues efficiently, problem solving helps streamline processes and optimize resource allocation. 
  • Builds Resilience: Successfully overcoming obstacles builds confidence and resilience, enabling  
  • individuals and teams to tackle future challenges with greater confidence.  

Problem-solving Process 

Now that we have a clear understanding of the problem solving definition as to what is problem solving let us now navigate the problem solving process. Effective problem-solving is a valuable skill sought after by employers in various fields. Here's a breakdown of a common problem-solving process, presented in a pointwise manner: 

1. Identifying the Problem 

The first step in the problem-solving process is clearly defining the issue. This involves gathering relevant Information, observing patterns or trends, and understanding the impact of the problem on stakeholders. 

2. Analyzing the Situation 

Once the problem is identified, it's essential to analyze its root causes and contributing factors. This may involve conducting research, gathering data, and exploring different perspectives to comprehensively understand the situation. 

3. Generating Solutions 

With a clear understanding of the problem solving methods, brainstorming potential solutions is the next step. Encouraging creativity and considering various alternatives can lead to innovative ideas. Evaluating each solution based on feasibility, effectiveness, and alignment with goals and values is crucial. 

4. Evaluating Options 

After generating a list of potential solutions, it's essential to carefully evaluate each option. This involves weighing the pros and cons, considering potential risks and benefits, and assessing the likelihood of success. Consulting with relevant stakeholders or experts can provide valuable insights during this stage. 

5. Selecting the Best Solution 

Based on the evaluation, one or more solutions are the most viable options. It's essential to prioritize solutions that address the root cause of the problem and have the most significant potential for long-term success. Communicating the chosen solution effectively to stakeholders is crucial for garnering support and buy-in. 

6. Implementing the Solution 

Once a solution is selected, it's time to put it into action. This involves developing a detailed action plan, allocating resources, and assigning responsibilities. Effective communication, coordination, and monitoring are essential during the implementation phase to ensure smooth execution and timely resolution of the problem. 

7. Monitoring and Reviewing 

After implementing the solution, it's essential to monitor its progress and evaluate its effectiveness over time. This may involve collecting feedback, analyzing performance metrics, and making adjustments as needed. Continuous monitoring and review allow for ongoing improvement and refinement of the problem-solving process.  

How to Solve Problems in 5 Simple Steps? 

Here's a breakdown of the 5 problem-solving steps for your understanding: 

1. Define the Problem (Understand & Gather Information)  

  • Identify the Issue: Clearly understand what the problem is. What isn't working, or what needs improvement? 
  • Gather Information: Talk to people involved, collect data, and research relevant details to get a well-rounded picture of the situation. 
  • Ask Why? Don't just focus on symptoms. Ask "why" several times to identify the root cause of the problem. 

Example: Let's say customer complaints about slow website loading times have increased. 

2. Brainstorm Solutions (Think Creatively & Be Open-Minded)  

  • Think Outside the Box: Don't settle for the first solution that comes to mind. Brainstorm a variety of options, even seemingly unconventional ones. 
  • Consider All Angles: Evaluate the problem from different perspectives. What are potential solutions from a technical standpoint? From a user experience point of view? 
  • Build on Ideas: Don't shut down ideas prematurely. Encourage others to build upon and refine suggestions collaboratively. 

Example: Potential solutions for slow website loading times could include optimizing images, upgrading server capacity, or implementing a content delivery network (CDN). 

3. Evaluate & Choose a Solution (Consider Feasibility & Impact)  

  • Weigh the Pros & Cons: Analyze the feasibility, resource requirements, and potential risks and benefits of each solution. 
  • Align with Goals: Ensure the chosen solution directly addresses the root cause of the problem and aligns with your overall objectives. 
  • Prioritize Impact: Choose the solution with the most significant potential to achieve a positive outcome and lasting improvement. 

Example: Upgrading server capacity might be a very effective solution, but it could be expensive. Optimizing images is a more feasible solution that could yield significant improvement. 

4. Implement the Solution (Take Action & Communicate Clearly)  

  • Develop a Plan: Create a clear action plan outlining the steps involved in implementing the chosen solution. Assign tasks and set deadlines. 
  • Communication is Key: Clearly communicate the plan to everyone involved, including stakeholders and team members. 
  • Monitor Progress: Track the implementation process and make adjustments as needed based on the results. 

Example: The website optimization plan might involve tasks like image resizing, code minification, and implementing caching mechanisms. 

5. Evaluate the Outcome (Learn & Adapt)  

  • Measure Success: Assess whether the implemented solution effectively resolved the problem. Did it meet your goals? 
  • Lessons Learned: Reflect on what worked well and what could be improved during the problem-solving process. 
  • Continuous Improvement: Use this experience to refine your problem-solving approach and enhance your skills for future challenges. Enroll in free online certification courses for professional development and skill enhancement. 

Example: After website optimization, monitor website loading times and customer feedback to see if the issue has been resolved. If not, repeat the process, considering new solutions based on the learnings from this attempt. 

Remember, problem-solving is an iterative process. Be prepared to adapt your approach as you gather more Information and evaluate the effectiveness of your solutions.  

Essential Things to Consider in Each of the Problem-solving Steps

Creative problem solving requires careful consideration at each stage. Here are vital things to focus on: 

1. Identifying & Defining the Problem 

  • Gather Information: Consult stakeholders, review data, and gain insights from various perspectives. 
  • Identify Root Cause: Address the underlying reason, not just symptoms. 
  • Define Scope: Clearly outline the problem's boundaries to maintain focus. 

2. Analyzing the Problem 

  • Consider Multiple Perspectives: Explore diverse angles to uncover potential factors. 
  • Brainstorm Freely: Foster creativity without judgment to generate innovative ideas. 
  • Analyze Impact: Evaluate the severity and consequences of the problem if left unresolved. 
  • Think Creatively: Explore unconventional solutions beyond initial ideas. 
  • Consider Feasibility: Assess the practicality and resource requirements of each option. 
  • Identify Potential Risks & Benefits: Weigh the pros and cons to select the most balanced approach. 

4. Evaluating and Selecting a Solution 

  • Align with Goals: Ensure the chosen solution addresses the core issue and aligns with objectives. 
  • Consider Long-Term Impact: Choose solutions with lasting benefits beyond immediate results. 
  • Team Input: Involve team members to gain diverse perspectives during evaluation. 

5. Implementing the Solution  

  • Develop a Clear Plan: Outline implementation steps with clear timelines and responsibilities. 
  • Communication is Key: Ensure all stakeholders understand the plan to facilitate smooth execution. 
  • Monitor Progress: Track implementation and adjust as needed based on results. 

6. Evaluating the Outcome  

  • Measure Effectiveness: Assess if the solution effectively resolves the problem or needs refinement. 
  • Lessons Learned: Identify successes and areas for improvement to enhance future problem-solving efforts. 

Problem Solving Examples

Let us look at problem solving example scenarios in a typical workplace: , example 1: project deadline challenge .

  • Situation: You're a project manager leading a team that is developing a new marketing campaign website. The launch date is approaching, but a critical developer is unexpectedly out sick for a week. 
  • Action: You immediately assess the workload and delegate tasks among the remaining team members. You identify an opportunity to streamline a design element, reducing development time. You also reach out to a freelancer with a proven track record to fill in for the missing developer on specific tasks. 
  • Result: The team successfully launches the website on time and within budget. The streamlined design element is praised by stakeholders for its user-friendliness. 
  • Highlight: This example showcases your problem-solving skills, leadership, adaptability, and ability to manage resources effectively under pressure. 

Example 2: Client Communication Breakdown 

  • Situation: You're a Customer Service Representative for an e-commerce company. A regular customer expresses extreme dissatisfaction with a recent purchase due to a malfunctioning product and a negative experience with a previous representative. 
  • Action: You actively listen to the customer's concerns, apologizing for the inconvenience. You then troubleshoot the product issue and offer a solution (replacement or refund). Additionally, you acknowledge the previous negative experience and offer to ensure better communication going forward. 
  • Result: The customer is satisfied with the resolution and expresses appreciation for your attentiveness and problem-solving approach. They remain a loyal customer of the company. 
  • Highlight: This example demonstrates your active listening skills, empathy, ability to de-escalate situations, and commitment to customer satisfaction. 

By following these examples of problem-solving skills, you can effectively tackle challenges and achieve successful outcomes. Also, explore KnowledgeHut’ s best online courses for further skill enhancement. 

Problem Solving Techniques

Effective problem-solving techniques are essential for tackling challenges and achieving desired outcomes. Here are some problem solving tools and techniques commonly used in problem-solving: 

  • Brainstorming : Encourages the generation of a wide range of ideas and solutions in a non-judgmental environment. This technique promotes creativity and can uncover innovative approaches to problems. 
  • Root Cause Analysis : Focuses on identifying the underlying causes of a problem rather than just addressing its symptoms. By pinpointing root causes, solutions can be targeted more effectively to prevent recurrence. 
  • Fishbone Diagram (Ishikawa Diagram): Provides a visual representation of the various factors contributing to a problem, categorized into branches such as people, process, equipment, environment, and management. This technique helps analyze complex issues and identify potential causes. 
  • SWOT Analysis : Evaluates the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats associated with a problem or situation. This technique helps assess the internal and external factors influencing the problem and guides decision-making. 
  • Pareto Analysis: Focuses on identifying and prioritizing the most significant causes contributing to a problem. By allocating resources to address the vital few rather than the trivial many, this technique maximizes impact and efficiency. 
  • 5 Whys : Involves asking "why" repeatedly to trace the root cause of a problem. This iterative questioning technique helps uncover more profound layers of causation beyond surface-level symptoms. 
  • Decision Matrix Analysis: Helps evaluate multiple options by systematically comparing their pros and cons against predetermined criteria. This technique facilitates objective decision-making by considering various factors and their relative importance. 

By incorporating these problem-solving techniques in the workplace, you can approach problems systematically, generate creative solutions, and develop a well-rounded plan for achieving success.  

Conquering challenges is a key to professional success, and practical problem-solving equips you to do just that. By following a structured approach, you can transform from a bystander to a solution-oriented individual. This involves gathering Information to clearly define the problem and identify its root cause. Analyzing the situation from various angles and brainstorming freely unlock creative solutions. Evaluating potential solutions ensures you choose the one that aligns with your goals and is feasible to implement. Clear communication and a well-defined plan are crucial for successful execution. Finally, reflecting on the outcome allows you to learn and continuously improve your problem-solving skills, making you an invaluable asset in any environment. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

The best method involves identifying the problem, brainstorming solutions, evaluating options, implementing the chosen solution, and assessing outcomes for improvement.

The principles include defining the problem, generating alternatives, evaluating options, implementing solutions, and reviewing outcomes for continuous improvement.

Different types include analytical problem-solving, creative problem-solving, critical thinking, decision-making, and systematic problem-solving.

The significant elements include understanding the problem, devising a plan, executing the plan, and evaluating the results.

The skills encompass critical thinking, decision-making, and analytical reasoning. These abilities aid in identifying, analyzing, and resolving problems effectively. 

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Abhresh Sugandhi

Abhresh is specialized as a corporate trainer, He has a decade of experience in technical training blended with virtual webinars and instructor-led session created courses, tutorials, and articles for organizations. He is also the founder of Nikasio.com, which offers multiple services in technical training, project consulting, content development, etc.

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What Is Creative Problem-Solving & Why Is It Important?

Business team using creative problem-solving

  • 01 Feb 2022

One of the biggest hindrances to innovation is complacency—it can be more comfortable to do what you know than venture into the unknown. Business leaders can overcome this barrier by mobilizing creative team members and providing space to innovate.

There are several tools you can use to encourage creativity in the workplace. Creative problem-solving is one of them, which facilitates the development of innovative solutions to difficult problems.

Here’s an overview of creative problem-solving and why it’s important in business.

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What Is Creative Problem-Solving?

Research is necessary when solving a problem. But there are situations where a problem’s specific cause is difficult to pinpoint. This can occur when there’s not enough time to narrow down the problem’s source or there are differing opinions about its root cause.

In such cases, you can use creative problem-solving , which allows you to explore potential solutions regardless of whether a problem has been defined.

Creative problem-solving is less structured than other innovation processes and encourages exploring open-ended solutions. It also focuses on developing new perspectives and fostering creativity in the workplace . Its benefits include:

  • Finding creative solutions to complex problems : User research can insufficiently illustrate a situation’s complexity. While other innovation processes rely on this information, creative problem-solving can yield solutions without it.
  • Adapting to change : Business is constantly changing, and business leaders need to adapt. Creative problem-solving helps overcome unforeseen challenges and find solutions to unconventional problems.
  • Fueling innovation and growth : In addition to solutions, creative problem-solving can spark innovative ideas that drive company growth. These ideas can lead to new product lines, services, or a modified operations structure that improves efficiency.

Design Thinking and Innovation | Uncover creative solutions to your business problems | Learn More

Creative problem-solving is traditionally based on the following key principles :

1. Balance Divergent and Convergent Thinking

Creative problem-solving uses two primary tools to find solutions: divergence and convergence. Divergence generates ideas in response to a problem, while convergence narrows them down to a shortlist. It balances these two practices and turns ideas into concrete solutions.

2. Reframe Problems as Questions

By framing problems as questions, you shift from focusing on obstacles to solutions. This provides the freedom to brainstorm potential ideas.

3. Defer Judgment of Ideas

When brainstorming, it can be natural to reject or accept ideas right away. Yet, immediate judgments interfere with the idea generation process. Even ideas that seem implausible can turn into outstanding innovations upon further exploration and development.

4. Focus on "Yes, And" Instead of "No, But"

Using negative words like "no" discourages creative thinking. Instead, use positive language to build and maintain an environment that fosters the development of creative and innovative ideas.

Creative Problem-Solving and Design Thinking

Whereas creative problem-solving facilitates developing innovative ideas through a less structured workflow, design thinking takes a far more organized approach.

Design thinking is a human-centered, solutions-based process that fosters the ideation and development of solutions. In the online course Design Thinking and Innovation , Harvard Business School Dean Srikant Datar leverages a four-phase framework to explain design thinking.

The four stages are:

The four stages of design thinking: clarify, ideate, develop, and implement

  • Clarify: The clarification stage allows you to empathize with the user and identify problems. Observations and insights are informed by thorough research. Findings are then reframed as problem statements or questions.
  • Ideate: Ideation is the process of coming up with innovative ideas. The divergence of ideas involved with creative problem-solving is a major focus.
  • Develop: In the development stage, ideas evolve into experiments and tests. Ideas converge and are explored through prototyping and open critique.
  • Implement: Implementation involves continuing to test and experiment to refine the solution and encourage its adoption.

Creative problem-solving primarily operates in the ideate phase of design thinking but can be applied to others. This is because design thinking is an iterative process that moves between the stages as ideas are generated and pursued. This is normal and encouraged, as innovation requires exploring multiple ideas.

Creative Problem-Solving Tools

While there are many useful tools in the creative problem-solving process, here are three you should know:

Creating a Problem Story

One way to innovate is by creating a story about a problem to understand how it affects users and what solutions best fit their needs. Here are the steps you need to take to use this tool properly.

1. Identify a UDP

Create a problem story to identify the undesired phenomena (UDP). For example, consider a company that produces printers that overheat. In this case, the UDP is "our printers overheat."

2. Move Forward in Time

To move forward in time, ask: “Why is this a problem?” For example, minor damage could be one result of the machines overheating. In more extreme cases, printers may catch fire. Don't be afraid to create multiple problem stories if you think of more than one UDP.

3. Move Backward in Time

To move backward in time, ask: “What caused this UDP?” If you can't identify the root problem, think about what typically causes the UDP to occur. For the overheating printers, overuse could be a cause.

Following the three-step framework above helps illustrate a clear problem story:

  • The printer is overused.
  • The printer overheats.
  • The printer breaks down.

You can extend the problem story in either direction if you think of additional cause-and-effect relationships.

4. Break the Chains

By this point, you’ll have multiple UDP storylines. Take two that are similar and focus on breaking the chains connecting them. This can be accomplished through inversion or neutralization.

  • Inversion: Inversion changes the relationship between two UDPs so the cause is the same but the effect is the opposite. For example, if the UDP is "the more X happens, the more likely Y is to happen," inversion changes the equation to "the more X happens, the less likely Y is to happen." Using the printer example, inversion would consider: "What if the more a printer is used, the less likely it’s going to overheat?" Innovation requires an open mind. Just because a solution initially seems unlikely doesn't mean it can't be pursued further or spark additional ideas.
  • Neutralization: Neutralization completely eliminates the cause-and-effect relationship between X and Y. This changes the above equation to "the more or less X happens has no effect on Y." In the case of the printers, neutralization would rephrase the relationship to "the more or less a printer is used has no effect on whether it overheats."

Even if creating a problem story doesn't provide a solution, it can offer useful context to users’ problems and additional ideas to be explored. Given that divergence is one of the fundamental practices of creative problem-solving, it’s a good idea to incorporate it into each tool you use.

Brainstorming

Brainstorming is a tool that can be highly effective when guided by the iterative qualities of the design thinking process. It involves openly discussing and debating ideas and topics in a group setting. This facilitates idea generation and exploration as different team members consider the same concept from multiple perspectives.

Hosting brainstorming sessions can result in problems, such as groupthink or social loafing. To combat this, leverage a three-step brainstorming method involving divergence and convergence :

  • Have each group member come up with as many ideas as possible and write them down to ensure the brainstorming session is productive.
  • Continue the divergence of ideas by collectively sharing and exploring each idea as a group. The goal is to create a setting where new ideas are inspired by open discussion.
  • Begin the convergence of ideas by narrowing them down to a few explorable options. There’s no "right number of ideas." Don't be afraid to consider exploring all of them, as long as you have the resources to do so.

Alternate Worlds

The alternate worlds tool is an empathetic approach to creative problem-solving. It encourages you to consider how someone in another world would approach your situation.

For example, if you’re concerned that the printers you produce overheat and catch fire, consider how a different industry would approach the problem. How would an automotive expert solve it? How would a firefighter?

Be creative as you consider and research alternate worlds. The purpose is not to nail down a solution right away but to continue the ideation process through diverging and exploring ideas.

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Continue Developing Your Skills

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, marketer, or business leader, learning the ropes of design thinking can be an effective way to build your skills and foster creativity and innovation in any setting.

If you're ready to develop your design thinking and creative problem-solving skills, explore Design Thinking and Innovation , one of our online entrepreneurship and innovation courses. If you aren't sure which course is the right fit, download our free course flowchart to determine which best aligns with your goals.

what is a example for problem solving

About the Author

Into all problem-solving, a little dissent must fall

Events of the past several years have reiterated for executives the importance of collaboration and of welcoming diverse perspectives when trying to solve complicated workplace problems. Companies weren’t fully prepared for the onset of a global pandemic, for instance, and all that it engendered—including supply chain snarls and the resulting Great Attrition  and shift to remote (and now hybrid) work, which required employers to fundamentally rethink their talent strategies . But in most cases leaders have been able to collaborate their way through the uncertainty, engage in rigorous debate and analyses about the best steps to take, and work with employees, suppliers, partners, and other critical stakeholders to react and, ultimately, recover.

And It’s not just COVID-19: many organisations have had to rethink their business strategies and practices in the wake of environmental concerns, the war in Ukraine, and social movements sparked by racial injustice, sexual misconduct, and widespread economic inequity . Ours are fast-moving, complex times, rich not just in worrisome challenges but also in exciting potential—organisations that enable innovation will find ample opportunities to thrive. So now more than ever, decision makers can’t act alone; they must bring diverse perspectives to the table and ensure that those voices are fully heard . 1 Sundiatu Dixon-Fyle, Kevin Dolan, Vivian Hunt, and Sara Prince, “ Diversity wins: How inclusion matters ,” McKinsey, May 19, 2020.

But while many leaders say they welcome dissent, their reactions often change when they actually get some. They may feel defensive. They may question their own judgment. They may resent having to take time to revisit the decision-making process. These are natural responses, of course; employees’ loyalty and affirmation are more reassuring to leaders than robust challenges from the group. There is discomfort, too, for potential dissenters; it is much safer to keep your thoughts to yourself and conform  than to risk expulsion from the group. 2 Derived from this work on the evolutionary origins of social and political behavior: Christopher Boehm, Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior , Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2001.

What’s missing in many companies, in our experience, is the use of “contributory dissent” or the capabilities required to engage in healthy if divergent discussions about critical business problems. Contributory dissent allows individuals and groups to air their differences in a way that moves the discussion toward a positive outcome and doesn’t undermine leadership or group cohesion . 3 McKinsey itself has established obligation to dissent as one of its core values alongside those focused on client service and talent development. For more, see Bill Taylor, “True leaders believe dissent is an obligation,” Harvard Business Review , January 12, 2017.

McKinsey’s research and experience in the field point to several steps leaders can take to engage in healthy dissent and build a culture where constructive feedback is expected and where communication is forthright. These include modeling “open” behaviors, embedding psychological safety  and robust debate into decision-making processes, and equipping employees with the communication skills that will allow them to contribute dissenting opinions effectively.

In this article we outline the steps leaders can take to encourage healthy dissent, and the actions teams and individuals can take to share their voices and perspectives most effectively. It takes both sides, after all, to engage in robust debate, find the right solutions, and enable lasting, positive change.

How leaders can encourage contributory dissent

Senior leaders in an organisation play a central role in ensuring that individuals and teams see contributory dissent as a normal part of any discussion. They can signal the importance of dissent by taking a series of steps to institutionalise the practice within an organisation and empower employees to share their ideas freely and productively. Specifically, senior leaders should strive to inspire rather than direct employees to collaborate, explicitly demand dissent and, taking that one step further, actively engage with naysayers (see sidebar “How to encourage healthy dissent”). 4 Leaders can also draw on McKinsey’s “influence model” for changing mindsets and behaviors: role modeling, fostering understanding and conviction, reinforcing with formal mechanisms, and developing talent and skills. For more, see Tessa Basford and Bill Schaninger, “ The four building blocks of change ,” McKinsey Quarterly , April 11, 2016.

Inspire, don’t direct

How to encourage healthy dissent.

To encourage dissent through personal leadership:

Lead to inspire, not to direct:

  • Empower the group to come up with ideas: “None of us knows the answer yet, but we can work it out together if we harness the best of everyone’s thinking.”

Foster dissent by actively seeking it:

  • Explicitly seek dissent; give people permission and encouragement.
  • Consider including dissent as a stated organisational value.
  • Make provision for open discussion in the buildup to decisions.

Welcome open discussion when it comes:

  • Listen to dissenters and naysayers, and thank them for their insights.
  • Recognise this as a usefully unfiltered channel for understanding the organisation’s perceptions on issues.
  • Seek to bring dissenters along the decision journey, so they become positive influencers later during implementation.
  • Employ deliberate techniques such as red teaming and pre-mortems to widen the debate and mitigate groupthink.

As the inspirational speaker Simon Sinek put it, “The role of a leader is not to come up with all the great ideas. The role of a leader is to create an environment in which great ideas can happen.” 5 Simon Sinek, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action , New York, NY: Portfolio, 2009. That is especially important for fostering an atmosphere of collaboration and contributory dissent. Rather than immediately jump into a discussion about solutions, one senior leader in an international organisation addressed his team’s anxiety in the wake of a crisis. “Let me guess,” he said, “you’re all feeling confused and uncertain about the way ahead. Terrific. I’m so glad we are of one mind and that we all understand our situation correctly! I’m sure that we can work it out together, but it’s going to require the best of everyone’s thinking. Let’s get started.” His authenticity and understated humor allowed him to connect with the group and inspired them to keep calm, carry on, and generate solutions that the leader alone couldn’t have come up with. Harvard professor Ron Heifetz describes this as creating a holding environment, a key element of adaptive leadership. 6 Ronald A. Heifetz and Mary Linksy, Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading , Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2002; Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linksy, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World , Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press, 2009.

Explicitly demand dissent

It’s not enough for leaders to give people permission to dissent; they must demand it of people. In many companies, individuals and teams may (understandably) default to collegiality, not realizing that there are ways to challenge ideas while still respecting colleagues’ roles and intellect. It’s on senior leaders, then, to help employees understand where the boundaries are. In World War 1, Australia’s General Sir John Monash was determined to develop better tactics to overcome the catastrophic impasse of trench warfare. He knew there were answers to be found from the experience of soldiers in the trenches, but he needed to loosen the military discipline of blind obedience: “I don’t care a damn for your loyal service when you think I am right; when I really want it most is when you think I am wrong.” Monash scheduled open battle planning sessions and pulled in advice from whoever offered it. In doing so, he built ownership of and confidence in his plans among all ranks. The resulting orchestration of tanks, artillery, aircraft, and troops led to rapid advances along the Somme Valley, and Monash garnered respect and appreciation from his troops, whose chances of survival and ultimate victory had increased markedly.

Actively engage with naysayers

Taking the demand imperative one step further, it’s beneficial for leaders to actively seek out the views of vocal naysayers , who can turn into influential champions just by being part of the conversation. They can immediately improve the nature of business debate and may boost the quality of the final decision, although engaging with naysayers can be tough. Some dissenting opinions can be ill-informed or uncomfortable to hear. The objective for senior leaders, then, is to put their discomfort aside and listen for signs of cognitive dissonance within an organisation. As an example, front-line employees may say things like “We’re not considered strategic thinkers,” or “The company doesn’t put people first,” while senior management may actually feel as though they have made strides in both of those areas. Still, leaders need to absorb such comments, treat them as useful data points, assess their validity, and engage in what may be a challenging discussion. They may want to use red teams  and premortems , in which teams at the outset anticipate all the ways a project could fail, to frame up dissenting opinions, mitigate groupthink, and find a positive resolution. These behaviours also serve to enhance organizational agility and resilience .

How leaders can establish psychological safety

Senior leaders need to establish a work environment in which it is safe to offer dissenting views. The McKinsey Health Institute’s work on employee well-being points to a strong correlation between leadership behaviors, collaborative culture, and resistance to mental health problems and burnout : only 15 percent of employees in environments with low inclusivity and low support for personal growth are highly engaged, compared with 38 percent in high-scoring environments. 7 “ Addressing employee burnout: Are you solving the right problem? ,” McKinsey, May 27, 2022. Leaders can build psychological safety (where team members feel they can take interpersonal risks and remain respected and accepted) and set the conditions for contributory dissent by rethinking how they engage in debate—both the dynamics and the choreography of it.

The dynamics of debate

The poet and playwright Oscar Wilde described a healthy debating culture as one in which people are “playing gracefully with ideas”— listening to, and even nourishing, opposing points of view in a measured and respectful way. 8 The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, Volume 2: De Profundis, “Epistola: In Carcere et Vinculis,” Oxford, United Kingdom: Clarendon Press, 2005. Indeed, the best ideas can emerge at the intersection of cultures and opinions. In 15th century Florence, for instance, the Medici family attracted and funded creators from across the arts and sciences to establish an epicenter of innovative thinking that sparked the Renaissance. 9 Frans Johansson, The Medici Effect: Breakthrough Insights at the Intersection of Ideas, Concepts, and Culture , Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2004. Closer to this century, we have seen cross-discipline innovations like the application of biologists’ research on ant colonies to solve problems in telecommunications routing. And in the business world, extraordinary innovations have been achieved by open-minded leaders bringing together smart people and creating the conditions for playful exploration.

To achieve a state of “graceful play,” senior leaders must carefully manage group dynamics during debates. Rather than lead with their own opinions, for instance, which might immediately carry outsize weight in the group and stifle discussion, senior leaders can hold back and let others lead the discussion . They can lean in to show genuine curiosity or to explicitly recognise when a dissenting view has changed their thinking. But by letting other, more junior voices carry the agenda and work through ideas, however imperfect, senior leaders can establish a climate of psychological safety—and garner more respect from colleagues long term. 10 Amy C. Edmondson, The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth , Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2019.

Leaders will also need to be aware of cultural differences that may crop up during debates. For example, many Australians speak candidly and are happy to address issues squarely. By contrast, the concept of “face” is so important in many Asian cultures that a more circumspect approach is taken. And the Pacific and Maori cultures emphasize displays of both strength and respect. 11 Erin Meyer, The Culture Map: Breaking through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business , Philadelphia, PA: PublicAffairs, 2014. These differences in debate dynamics really matter. They can be a great source of hybrid vigour, 12 “Heterosis, also called hybrid vigour: the increase in such characteristics as size, growth rate, fertility, and yield of a hybrid organism over those of its parents. The first-generation offspring generally show, in greater measure, the desired characteristics of both parents.” Encyclopedia Britannica , accessed September 19, 2022. if sensitively managed, or a source of conflict and disenfranchisement if not. To approach these differences in a positive way, senior leaders could undertake a mapping exercise that identifies the different styles of the cultures present, thereby providing validation and enabling pragmatic measures to integrate them.

Choreographing debate

Beyond just managing debate dynamics, business leaders must take a hand in choreographing the debate and, specifically, in helping to design collective-thinking processes  so people know how best to play their part. Business leaders may adopt a structured approach  to brainstorming, for instance, or plan strategic off-site schedules that combine deliberate thinking with “distracted” thinking—taking time to engage in a social activity, for instance—to take advantage of employees’ deep-thinking processes.

How deliberate choices by the leader can optimise a decision-making process

A leader must consciously assess each new situation and design the collective-thinking process accordingly, then articulate this so that people know how best to play their part.

In doing so, the leader should consider an array of questions, the answers to which will determine the context, for example:

  • What does success look like?
  • Will the organisation underwrite initial failures in the interests of agility and innovation?
  • How broad and freethinking an analysis is required?
  • What are the explicit expectations for contributory dissent?
  • Are any topics and behaviours out of bounds?
  • Who will lead the discussion, and how will comments be captured?
  • Does urgency mean that it’s better to be directive?
  • Who will be consulted?
  • Which decisions can be delegated, and to whom?
  • Whose support needs to be built?
  • What parameters and boundaries exist?
  • Are there interim decisions and communications required?
  • What form should the deliverable outcomes take?
  • When are the deliverables required?
  • Direction setting on these parameters by the leader focuses the team, while also creating space for creativity and iterative learning.

To create a sustainable structure for debate, business leaders will need to consider questions relating to team structure and rules of engagement: What does success look like when it comes to contributory dissent? What topics and behaviors are out of bounds? Who will lead the discussion, and how will comments be captured? Who has the final say on decisions, or which decisions can be delegated, and to whom? (For a more comprehensive explanation, see sidebar “How deliberate choices by the leader can optimise a decision-making process.”)

Having these parameters in place can free up the team to think more creatively about the issue at hand. Establishing such protocols can also make it easier to raise dissenting opinions. At one company, people are asked to call out their underlying values or potential biases when expressing a dissenting view. During meetings of the promotion committee, for instance, a statement like “I think we are making the wrong decision” would be rephrased as “I am someone who values experience over collaboration, and this decision would risk losing too much institutional knowledge.”

How individuals and teams can engage and dissent

As we’ve shared, senior leaders can take steps to set conditions for robust discussion and problem-solving, but individuals and teams themselves must also have the right mindsets and skills for contributory dissent to work well (see sidebar “How teams and individuals can dissent effectively”). In particular, they must embrace the obligation to dissent, actively make space to analyse ideas that are different from their own, and then find ways to either iterate on others’ ideas or respectfully agree to disagree.

Embrace the obligation to dissent

How teams and individuals can dissent effectively.

For dissent to be effective, its delivery requires courage and tactical skills underpinned by sincere respect and grace. Speaking up with respect is the right thing to do, and the responsibility to do so exists, even if there is uncertainty. The following guidelines are useful in enabling effective dissent:

Prepare a welcome for dissenting views:

  • Understand the context and motivations of others, appreciate their views, and syndicate your own.
  • Stop and strategise before wading into the conversations, establish a solid platform for agreement, and explicitly seek permission to dissent.

Play the long game:

  • Be open minded and iterative. Don’t expect to succeed on the first try.
  • Listen to others for what their views might add rather than to defend your own.

Withhold assent if you need to, but do it carefully:

  • Withholding assent is a legitimate option if done judiciously.
  • Minimise offense to and loss of face for the decision maker.
  • If principles or legality is at stake, document your dissent.

Individuals and teams need to exhibit a certain amount of humility and confidence in order to speak truth to power with respect; they must be sure for themselves that doing so is the right thing to do. To build this confidence, individuals and teams should remember that the very act of dissent can be valuable, even if the contribution itself isn’t 100 percent baked. Others can react or build on the dissenting view—which, in itself, can be a satisfying process for a dissenter. If the ultimate decision isn’t what they proposed, they still helped shape it by offering and testing a worthy possibility.

Make space to analyse different views

Individuals and teams may need time to determine their positions on an issue. During this period, it’s important to be (and seen to be) open-minded and respectful of others’ views. That means asking lots of questions, gathering information, assessing others’ motivations, and acknowledging their views before syndicating alternatives of your own. Much of this fact gathering can be done one-on-one, in a nonconfrontational way, in offline conversations rather than in a tension-filled meeting room. In these conversations, individuals could start by reaffirming a shared commitment to finding a solution to the issue at hand, their respect for the decision-making process and the group, and areas of broad agreement. They could also signal their possible intention to dissent and seek permission to do so rather than confronting people head-on. People will find it harder to refuse that permission, and will be less likely to get defensive, when approached with statements like “This is a great discussion, and I love the vision of where we are headed, but would it be OK for us to explore some alternatives for how to get there?”

Agree to iterate …

Individuals and teams that decide to offer dissenting views should agree to iterate on other solutions, rather than digging in. Their dissenting opinions should be cogent, persuasive, and open-minded—but dissenters shouldn’t expect to change hearts and minds on the first try. They should plant seeds gently and bide their time; they might even see their idea come back as someone else’s. The critical skill required here is active, open listening: dissenters should listen carefully for others’ additive insights and find ways to build on them. In their contributory dissent, individuals and teams can take a moment to summarize what others have said and then use statements like “Can I offer another take?” and then allow the momentum of the conversation to take over.

… or agree to disagree

But what happens if, after all the considered and tactful input, the dissenter still believes a decision is heading in the wrong direction? In our experience, withholding assent then becomes a legitimate option: people shouldn’t agree if they don’t agree. This is where all the careful, respectful groundwork the dissenter has done can pay dividends. In fact, a dissenting view gains even more power when an individual can say something like, “I still believe in my alternate solution, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this process, and I respect that you have the final say.” In this case, the dissenter is supporting the leader while flagging that the open debate hasn’t convinced them to change their initial view.

Of course, withholding assent should be a relatively rare action, taken only after an individual or team has shown that they can accommodate other views and have aligned with the consensus when they believe it’s right to do so. Think of US Supreme Court associate justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who joined the consensus view on many decisions but who is especially celebrated for the positive changes that arose from her highly influential dissenting opinions on issues such as gender equity, human rights, and religious freedom.

Contributory dissent can help strengthen employee engagement, unlock hidden insights, and help organisations solve tough challenges. But putting it into practice takes courage and humility, and it won’t just happen by accident. Leaders need to be intentional about welcoming challenges to their plans and opinions, even when it’s uncomfortable to do so. They need to establish cultures and structures where respectful debate can occur and where individuals and teams feel free to bring innovative—and often better—alternative solutions to the table.

Ben Fletcher is a senior partner in McKinsey’s Sydney office, Chris Hartley is a partner in the Melbourne office, Rupe Hoskin is a senior expert in the Canberra office, and Dana Maor is a senior partner in the Tel Aviv office.

The authors wish to thank Jacqueline Brassey, Nikki Dines, Richard Fitzgerald, Sam Hemphill, Ayush Jain, Jemma King, and Martin Nimmo for their contributions to this article.

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The four building blocks of change

what is a example for problem solving

Canine cognitive traits linked to everyday behavior

I n recent decades, canine cognitive tests which measure, for example, problem-solving ability, memory, logical reasoning and impulse control in various situations, have been extensively used in many studies.

Until now, it has remained unknown whether the traits measured by the tests can be seen in everyday life as well. Are dogs that fare well in these tests, for example, easier to train in everyday settings? Is coexistence perhaps easier with such dogs?

A study conducted at the University of Helsinki found that self-control and turning to humans in problem situations are valuable traits for pet dogs, while impulsiveness and an independent problem-solving style can lead to challenges in daily life.

"We found surprisingly many connections between everyday canine behavior and cognitive traits, even after taking into account, for example, the age, sex, background and training history of dogs," says Doctoral Researcher Saara Junttila from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine.

Extensive study on the links between cognition and everyday behavior

The study dataset was composed of 987 Finnish dogs who had undergone the smartDOG cognitive test battery developed by Docent of Animal Behavioral Science Katriina Tiira.

The study included five tests that measure the ability to read human gestures, impulse control, problem-solving ability and strategy, and logical reasoning. In four of these tests, a direct link was observed with the dogs' everyday behavior. The findings are published in the journal Animal Behaviour .

As the study focused on the behavior of dogs in everyday life with their owners, the owners of the participating dogs were sent two previously validated surveys with questions relevant to the topic.

"It's impossible to collect such data relying on research funding alone. Instead, you have to specifically combine commercial tests and research," Tiira notes.

Dogs that ask humans for help and have good impulse control are easier to train

A so-called impossible task was used to measure the dogs' primary problem-solving strategies. In problematic situations, dogs may attempt to solve the task independently, or they may turn to humans, as if asking for help. Dogs can also abandon the task and go elsewhere.

Dogs that spent the most time asking humans for help were, according to their owners, more obedient and easier to train in everyday life, and they also had fewer management issues, such as pulling on the leash, stealing food, running away and chewing on objects.

Everyday obedience was also associated with what is known as the cylinder test, which is assumed to measure self-control. In the test, the dog must go to the open end of a transparent cylinder to get a treat. The study confirmed this link, as the dogs that made the most mistakes in the cylinder test were more impulsive, and also more difficult to train in everyday life, according to the owners.

"It appears that good impulse control could make everyday co-existence with the owner easier, while impulsiveness can make it considerably more difficult," Junttila says.

At the same time, traits detrimental to the everyday lives of pet dogs may be valuable to working dogs or dogs used in dog sports. For example, impulsiveness can be useful in dog sports or work-related tasks where fast reactions and excitability can be assets, while independence (as opposed to reliance on humans) may be a valuable trait in scent work.

The results will help to better identify the kinds of traits in dogs that facilitate everyday life with them, improving the welfare of both owner and dog. "In an earlier study, we observed differences between breeds and sex in different test sections, and these results can together help in choosing a suitable individual puppy," Tiira says.

Problem-solving tests linked to the speed of learning

The logical reasoning test was associated with the speed of learning assessed by the owners—dogs that successfully completed the task were assessed to be faster learners. There were also indications that dogs who learn faster in everyday life may solve a spatial problem-solving task more quickly and make fewer mistakes in the cylinder test.

"This is the first test package available to all dog owners in which a connection to the dog's trainability and also to the rate of learning has been observed. Thanks to the smartDOG test already being available, Finnish dog owners can directly make use of the research findings. This research dataset of more than 6,000 dogs is continuously growing, and next we will investigate how early these traits can be seen in puppies, as well as their heritability," Tiira sums up.

More information: Saara Junttila et al, Do cognitive traits associate with everyday behaviour in the domestic dog, Canis familiaris?, Animal Behaviour (2024). DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2024.04.012

Provided by University of Helsinki

Toffee trying to solve the cylinder task. Credit: Mainossatama Oy

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