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6 Mindset Traits of Great Problem Solvers

Problem Solving is a fundamental life skill indispensable for survival of an individual.  It is honed in every person to varying degrees.  It is especially a useful skill to embody Leadership Development.

Problem Solving skill can be taught and learnt.

MIT defines Problem Solving as:

The process of identifying a problem, developing possible solution paths, and taking the appropriate course of action.

Problem Solving is a process that can be approached using various strategies but each Strategy usually follows the same theme, consisting of:

  • Identifying the Root Cause of the Problem.
  • Logically Analyzing all the Details of the Problem.
  • Formulating a Solution.
  • Effectively Communicating and taking Action.

Problem Solving Strategies consist of steps that help identify the Problem and choose the best solution.  There are 2 basic types of Strategies:

  1. Algorithmic Strategies – customary step-by-step instructions to solving Problems. For example, in algebra: multiply and divide before adding or subtracting.
  2. Heuristic Strategies – general guides used to identify possible solutions.  An example would be IDEAL—Identify Problem, Define Context, Explore Strategies, Act on solution, and Learn.

A certain Mindset is required to be developed for becoming a great Problem Solver.  There are 6 traits experts have identified that shape the Mindset of a great Problem Solver.  A great Problem Solver will always:

  1. Be Constantly Curious.
  2. Be an Imperfectionist.
  3. Adopt a Dragonfly-eye View.
  4. Pursue Occurrent Behavior.
  5. Leverage Collective Intelligence.
  6. Practice Show and Tell.

Problem Solving Mindset is valuable for any person especially professionals, particularly an entrepreneur, manager, or someone in the leadership role in an organization.  A team of skillful problem solvers can become a notable source of Competitive Advantage for an organization.

Let us delve a little deeper into some of the Mindsets that make great Problem Solvers.

Be Constantly Curious

Innate human partialities frequently blind us to a range of solutions too early in the Problem Solving Process.  Superior and increasingly creative solutions arise from being Curious about the wide-ranging possible answers.  Very young children embody this trait.  They are resolute in figuring things out hence their never-ending and high-energy inquisitiveness.

Improved results are generated by accepting uncertainty, constantly asking questions like why is this solution better, or why not the other one?

Be an Imperfectionist

Absolute knowledge is virtually non-existent, especially for Complex Business and Societal Problems.  Accepting that our knowledge is Imperfect can bring about more effective Problem Solving.  Constant revision based on new evidence is key to good Problem Solving.  This is possible when we begin by confronting solutions that imply certainty.  And, this brings out tacit assumptions about probabilities and makes it easier to assess alternatives.

Most Problem Solving involves a great deal of trial and error.  We form hypotheses, dive into data for validation, and either refine our premise or discard it.

Adopt a Dragonfly-eye view

The purpose is to gaze beyond the usual arrangement into which our pattern-recognizing brains want to gather perceptions.  This facilitates identification of obscured opportunities and threats.

A good example of this is the approach experts took to tackle a major public health threat.  They framed the Problem in larger social context—taking the Dragonfly-eye view—garnering wider support and success.  Confronted with a complex social map and a ballooning infection rate, the Problem was tackled by widening its definition.  The frame was shifted from a traditional epidemiological transmission model at known hotspots to one where, another affliction of a particular sub-set of the impacted population was targeted because it was more relatable.  The major public health threat was made into a sub-set of the larger issue.  The solution was implemented in 600 communities and was eventually ascribed with preventing more than 600,000 infections.

Interested in learning more about Problem Solving Mindsets? You can download an editable PowerPoint on Problem Solving Mindsets here on the Flevy documents marketplace.

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About Mark Bridges

Mark Bridges is a Senior Director of Strategy at Flevy. Flevy is your go-to resource for best practices in business management, covering management topics from Strategic Planning to Operational Excellence to Digital Transformation (view full list here). Learn how the Fortune 100 and global consulting firms do it. Improve the growth and efficiency of your organization by leveraging Flevy's library of best practice methodologies and templates. Prior to Flevy, Mark worked as an Associate at McKinsey & Co. and holds an MBA from the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago. You can connect with Mark on LinkedIn here.

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