Why Problem Solving Starts with Problem Definition

Why Problem Solving Starts with Defining Problems

Charles Kettering, the celebrated inventor and head of research at General Motors, once said that a problem well stated is a problem half solved. Most people today would probably agree. And yet, it’s not what most people usually do.

Typically, they jump right in to brainstorming solutions before understanding what they really want to accomplish.

You can dramatically increase your problem-solving effectiveness by taking a few minutes to define the problem up front. In fact, you might be surprised at how often this step leads directly to a solution.

Take the elevator makers’ dilemma, for example.

You can imagine what it was like when elevators were introduced. People were understandably nervous about getting on them. They fidgeted and pushed buttons, impatient and waiting for the elevator to arrive at its destination. And there was a widespread perception that elevators were unbelievably slow. This led to complaints.

So, elevator makers had a problem on their hands: Can we make our product move faster? Read more

Why Being Right Can Be So Wrong

You're wrong, right?

Have you ever noticed that you’re always right?

You probably don’t believe that everything you think and say is the final, capital-T TRUTH—not at a conscious level, anyway. But like me, you probably tend to act that way.

That’s because each of us defines for ourselves what’s true and what’s untrue. We grow attached to a body of beliefs, which means that we resist new ideas. We tolerate other people’s opinions to the extent that they match our own. Beyond that, we unconsciously tune out.

When choosing friends, we gravitate toward people who agree with us. When encountering a new idea, we argue against it. We look for ways to make people wrong. When seeking feedback or solving a problem, we search out the people who reinforce us. We’d rather get validated than get challenged.

In other words, we’re always “right.” Read more

How to Get Value from a Team’s Thinking Diversity

Trying to navigate a thorny issue? Need an innovative solution? Looking for a way to help your team dig deeper and really flex their thinking muscles?

Bring in diversity—of all kinds.

Our research, and the experience of companies like Harrahs Entertainment and Brown- Forman, has shown what a difference difference makes on a team, whether you’re trying to solve a complex problem or come up with more creative ideas. A recent Scientific-American article echoes this point with the particularly eye-catching title, “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter.”

The article points out that not only do people with different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives benefit from the diverse information they bring to the group, the diversity itself provokes different thinking, “jolting us into cognitive action in ways that homogeneity simply does not.”

So difference in a group can lead to better problem solving and decision making as well as more innovative ideas—but it’s not just as simple as putting diverse people on a team and seeing what comes out of it.

From a thinking preference standpoint, we know that when a team has representation from across the thinking spectrum, each person will approach problems quite differently. This is a huge benefit to the team, but only if the team recognizes each others’ preferences and how they each add value.

Honoring different thinking approaches will allow every member to share their thinking and ideas openly. Once that openness occurs, the team’s creativity begins to emerge as they’re motivated to take advantage of the different thinking styles rather than viewing them as obstacles. And as a foundation for a discussion about diversity, thinking gives people a non-judgmental starting point. It’s not about behaviors, personalities or other attributes; this is just how someone prefers to process information.

Here’s what we’ve learned about setting up a diverse team for success:

  1. The more heterogeneous (mentally diverse) a group is, the more they need a multi-dominant facilitator/leader. Agile team leaders are critical for managing and leveraging difference on the team.
  2. Heterogeneous groups can be extremely creative and successful OR they can “crash,” unless they take the steps and time necessary to find synergy.
  3. Stereotyping of others is a major impediment to team development (he’s a “this” or she’s a “that”).
  4. Because cultural differences can make working as a team even more challenging, more process time and consistent communication are even more important.
  5. Virtual teams need a common language even more than co-located teams to increase the speed of relationship building and decrease miscommunication.

Remember: Successful teams practice “creative contention.” Any team that does not disagree is not doing effective work or leveraging their differences. The art is in knowing how to do it productively.

Are you bringing together diverse thinking to get more innovative? How do you encourage and manage creative contention?

In Preparing for the Olympics, Coca-Cola Exercises its Brainpower

conference room

Seventy days, 8,000-plus miles, 1,000 towns, and one momentous flame.

Preparing for what was dubbed the “logistical minefield” of the 2012 Olympic Torch Relay wasn’t so much a physical test as a mental one for the organizers and sponsors of the London Games.

As a Worldwide Partner, Coca-Cola knew it would need to unleash its full brainpower to execute with flawless communication, stay agile in the face of enormous complexity, and generate world-class teamwork from a diverse group of people who, for the most part, had never worked together before.

We recently spoke with David Barker, Strategic HR Business Partner for Coca-Cola’s London 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games project teams, about the company’s decision to bring in the Whole Brain® methodology, training and tools to help prepare its Olympic teams for success.

As we discovered, while the Games would soon become a part of history, the framework and collaborative benefits of Whole Brain® Thinking were just getting started as a foundation for the culture going forward at Coca-Cola Great Britain.

Download the full story here for a glimpse behind the scenes of Coca-Cola’s innovative approach to preparing for the 2012 Summer Olympics.


Q & A on Whole Brain® Thinking

conference room

The Whole Brain® Model (shown above), based on 30 years of research, is a validated metaphor for how we think, providing a useful framework to diagnose and describe the different types of thinking involved in any organization. It divides thinking into four quadrants, two on the “left brain” side and two on the “right brain” side. All four of the different thinking modes are in use and available to all of us, but we tend to prefer certain types over others.

 In what kinds of situations can Whole Brain® Thinking be used?

 Any situation that requires thinking that goes beyond a given quadrant’s specialized mode can benefit from Whole Brain® Thinking. To insure that each quadrant has been explored in a given process, an approach called a Walk-Around™ is used. (The Walk-Around™ pad is a great tool for facilitating this.)

Here are four examples of frequently used applications of Whole Brain® Thinking:

Decision Making

Most decisions benefit from a thought process that includes the review of multiple options and perspectives. A typical example is the purchase of a car. Quadrant A thinkers look at information on the actual performance of the vehicle. Quadrant B thinkers read a consumer report to gather research on the reliability and practical features (trunk size, safety records, etc.) of the vehicle. Quadrant C thinkers test drive the car to see if it “feels” right. And Quadrant D focuses on the aesthetics, color, styling and innovations of each model.

Using Whole Brain® Thinking—the thinking of all quadrants—contributes to a better choice and avoids unpleasant surprises. Overlooking even one quadrant can result in a less than ideal outcome.

Problem Solving

Every problem situation can benefit from a Quadrant A review of the data and facts, as well as an analysis of the real problem at hand; the Quadrant D “big-picture” context and possible creative ideas; Quadrant C viewpoint of the “customer” of the problem and how the problem affects others; and Quadrant B step-by-step process to solve the problem and implement the solution.

Improving team interactions and performance

Most teams are formed to make the most of the differences among team members. But very often those differences stand in the way of the team living up to its potential. Whole Brain® Thinking can help a team to acknowledge the differences among team members and then use those differences to make the most of the ideas of each team member. In addition, once a team knows its preferences it can use that knowledge to enhance its communication with other teams and work groups which may have thinking preferences that are quite different.


The objective of most communication is to convey an idea, transfer information or persuade someone. How many times have you experienced the frustration of delivering a message only to realize that the other person “just didn’t get it.” In order to communicate effectively, it’s important to understand the “language” and mindset of the person(s) you are communicating with. A diagnosis of the thinking preferences of the audience can provide the critical planning information you need to tailor your language and presentation to the audience. When the audience’s preferences are in doubt, taking a Whole Brain® approach to communication ensures that you’ve covered all the “languages.” This reduces the possibility of miscommunication and improves the chance that your message will be successfully received by the audience.

This guest post was contributed by Herrmann International Asia.

In addition to the thinking preferences of people, we can also use the Whole Brain® Model to diagnose processes, organizational cultures, vision and value statements, and a host of other systems we engage with on a daily basis. How are you applying Whole Brain® Thinking to get better results?