Hey Leader: How to Understand the Obvious

The “obvious” can often be the least understood. Especially when it comes to problem-solving.

So, as a leader, are you oblivious to the obvious in problem-solving?

Let’s Check and See

We all have to make decisions.  But as a leader, in any type of organization, you can often get saddled with the moniker of Chief Problem-Solver. Meaning, you are expected to be the one who unties organizational knots, cleans up teamwork messes, and figures out  how to stop the leaks and calm the storms. You are considered the “problem solver” of the department, region, or maybe even the company.

All you need to do is come up the right technique to solve your problem.  Easy, you say?  Well then lets’ take a look at just what types of techniques there are.  Here are just a few:

  • Abstraction: Solving the problem in a model of the system before applying it to the real system
  • Analogy: Using a solution that solved an analogous problem
  • Brainstorming: Suggesting a large number of solutions or ideas and combining and developing them until the best is found
  • Divide and conquer: Breaking down a large, complex problem into smaller, solvable problems
  • Hypothesis testing: Assuming a possible explanation to the problem and trying to prove the assumption
  • Lateral thinking: Approaching solutions indirectly and creatively
  • Means-ends analysis: Choosing an action at each step to move closer to the goal
  • Method of focal objects: Synthesizing seemingly non-matching characteristics of different objects into something new
  • Morphological analysis: Assessing the output and interactions of an entire system
  • Reduction: Transforming the problem into another problem for which solutions exist
  • Research: Employing existing ideas or adapting existing solutions to similar problems
  • Root cause analysis: Eliminating the cause of the problem
  • Trial-and-error: Testing possible solutions until the right one is found

UGH – and that’s just 13 of umpteen problem-solving techniques.

“OMG, which one is right for me?”.

Ask Uncle Walt

Whether the issue is big or small, we all set goals for ourselves, face challenges, and strive to overcome them.  But what you might not know is that there’s an easier way to arrive at effective and rewarding solutions.  And chances are you’ve never been shown how.  It doesn’t have to come from a book.

This is where I take a “lead” from the leadership of Walt Disney.

One of Walt Disney’s abilities was to come at a problem from different mental perspectives.  He developed three distinct mental methods and named them:

  • The Dreamer
  • The Realist
  • The Spoiler
  • Sounds a lot easier than “morphological analysis” or “method of focal objects” doesn’t it?  These are three types of thoughts that revolve around simple questions.

    The Dreamer

    Walt saw this as the starting point.  The dreamer represents unrestrained creativity.  Ask the questions, “If we had no constraints, what would we love to do next?”  “Why do we want to achieve it?” Kinda sounds like brainstorming, the way it should be done – unrestrained.

    The Realist

    Walt was very aware of change.  He knew that technology was constantly changing and was ready to evolve right along with it.  The realist is hard-headed and practical and asks, “How, in practice, could we make this work?”  “What limitations are there?”

    The Spoiler

    The spoiler critically evaluates the work of the realist and dreamer.  He’s the QA guy.  He assumes right off the bat that “There’s something wrong with this,” and asks what it is.  “What would be the cost if it didn’t work?” Walt was a critical thinker because he knew his audience would see errors, and he couldn’t have that.

    Notice that most of the questions have the word we in them.  There’s a reason for that.  One person can never come up with the same number of options as a team can.  Whenever you can, use the power of a team.  “Use the force Luke!” (sorry, it just seemed to fit).  Teams can offer the perfect breeding ground for creative, breakthrough results.  Use your leadership to ensure that teams are set up with the right mix of members with sufficient expertise and motivation to tackle each creative challenge.

    Always think “CREATIVELY”.

    It’s important to realize that being a problem solver isn’t just an ability; it’s a whole mind-set, one that drives people to bring out the best in themselves and others and to shape the organization in a positive way.  Rather than accepting the status quo, true problem solving leaders constantly try to proactively shape their environment.  They’re always questioning things.  You can’t just come upon the first “solution” and say, “Problem solved”.  It just doesn’t work that way my friends.

    It’s common for people to take problem-solving for granted.  Leaders do it so much that they believe it becomes second nature.  It’s this familiarity with problem-solving that leads up to taking it for granted. This mental stance allows for atrophy with their creative disciplines and positions the leader to become lax with their creative problem-solving.

    Henry Ford said, Most people spend more time and energy going around problems than in trying to solve them.”

    Taking problem solving for granted can make you a lazy problem solver (…And if you’re lazy here, I’d be willing to bet you’re probably lazy elsewhere).  You may not spend time trying to solve a problem but instead go right to a solution you’ve used before.  That solution is actually only ONE option for solving the current problem.

    Where’s your team Einstein?

    Instead, think about the three mental perspectives and engross yourself and your problem-solving team.  Problem-solving is easy – when you know how to approach it productively. It’s often quite obvious.

    One just cannot be oblivious to the obvious in order to be an effective leader.

    What type of leader would Uncle Walt characterize you as? Would you be found guilty of being lax or lazy in your problem-solving? Or have you kept your creative skills sharp and continued to look for new ways to solve problems? Are you effectively using the creative talent of your teams to help you?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

    Bookmark Hey Leader: How to Understand the Obvious

    Andy Uskavitch is Leadership Development at Florida Blood Services
    He develops and facilitates Leadership, Motivation & Teambuilding Seminars
    Email | LinkedIn | Facebook | Twitter | Blog | (727) 568-5433

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    3 responses to “Hey Leader: How to Understand the Obvious

    1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Hey Leader: How to Understand the Obvious « Linked 2 Leadership -- Topsy.com·

    2. Andy, enjoyed reading your blog. I loved learning about Walt Disney’s perspective on decision making. I think he was a man considerably ahead of his times. I don’t think many business people were talking much about teams back in the ’60s. Thanks for sharing.

      Mark Fryer


    3. Pingback: Leadership Follies – Blamestorming « Linked 2 Leadership·

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