Due to a quality problem with a weekly shipment, a large financial publishing firm was facing a very unhappy $50 million customer.
This was obviously a very big deal. The managers were scrambling for a solution and feeling stuck. So they reached out to someone in the organization who knew about our Whole Brain® Model and asked for help.
This person pointed out that the managers had done some things very well. They’d done the analysis. They’d crunched the numbers. They’d focused on the fact-based and implementation-oriented thinking aspects of the problem by discovering what the symptoms were and how they were playing out. Yet there was something missing—a new way of looking at the problem, a shift in mindset.
Agreeing with this assessment, the managers called in two more people to round out their problem-solving process. One was a person known for his emotional intelligence and people skills. The other was someone with a reputation for “outside of the box,” big-picture thinking. This was a smart move. In addition to considering what and how, they were now dealing with the who and why aspects of the problem.
See the Whole Problem to Solve it Faster
Eventually this team of diverse thinkers turned its attention to a person on the production line who was in charge of getting shipments out the door. Overall, this employee’s performance ratings had been pretty good. However, he had a weekly poker date with friends that would go late into the night, and on the following day, he tended to show up for work in less-than-top shape. This just happened to be the day that the weekly shipment to the big customer would go out.
Here was the source of the problem—and a fast path to the solution. It had been invisible for a simple reason: no one thought about why this employee’s performance (a who factor) might vary on a particular day of the week.
There are countless problem-solving approaches, but a useful shortcut that will allow you to stretch your thinking is as simple as taking a minute to ask four questions.
Try this Problem-Solving Shortcut
Each of us has natural inclination to focus our attention on certain facets of a problem. These inclinations tend to be more “left brain” (what and how) or “right brain” (who and why). But you’re not limited to your preferences. By intentionally managing your attention, you can cover more thinking bases.
Just remember to ask all four questions:
- What is going on—that is, what are the relevant facts about the problem?
- How is the problem happening—in other words, what processes and procedures are involved?
- Who is involved in implementing those processes and procedures?
- Why is the problem happening—and what would happen if we were to define the problem in a new way?
In essence, this problem-solving shortcut enables you to draw on the full thinking diversity you have within you to see all aspects of the problem.
This can be even easier when you’re working in a group because you’re more likely to have that diversity of thinking already represented. The key here is making sure you’re encouraging, listening to, and taking into account the differences in thinking that you have in your group.
Problem Solving Is Easier When You Think First
No matter what kind of problem your group is faced with, it’s worth the small investment of time upfront to think about your problem-solving process and ask about all four aspects of the situation. You’ll be able to manage your attention more effectively to get to a resolution much faster in the long run
And if you get stuck, take a page from the financial publishing firm and involve people with a greater variety of thinking preferences. They can help you redirect your attention, point out what you’re overlooking, and discover a solution—one that may be hidden in plain sight.