Doesn’t it frustrate you when you are talking to someone and he cuts you off, saying, “I know what you’re thinking”? It gets more vexing when he’s wrong.
Similarly, beware that when you are given a problem, you have an idea of what’s wrong and what needs to be done. But you can be wrong, even expensive wrong.
That’s why my second “no” for problem solving is: no bias.
Bias is tricky because you may not even be aware you have them. Just recently, I was discussing a pesky problem with my production head. There were certain raw materials that kept jamming up a machine, costing us recurring downtime.
I couldn’t understand the head’s explanation until I realized something: I was visualizing the jamming to be happening at the start of the production process, whereas it was really towards the end. Correcting that bias freed me to move forward towards an action plan.
Beware of confirmation bias which can lead you cherry-pick data that supports your suspicions or opinions. Conversely, it can make you blind to data that challenges your beliefs and may very well lead to the true solution.
A simple example is to think of a politician and a newspaper that contains both positive and negative reports about him. If you believe he is a good leader, you will devour the positive reports and disdain the negative ones, perhaps even branding them as fake news. If you believe he is a bad leader, you will relish the negative reports and view the positive ones with incredulity.
In counselling, there is a useful concept called “not knowing.” It’s a mental discipline, almost Zen-like, when a counselor pretends he knows absolutely nothing about a patient whom he is meeting for the first time. That way, he suspends judgment and advice until he draws enough information from the patient himself. Approach the problem with an attitude of "not knowing."
Another tip is to write down every assumption you can think of, which may surface those that you had in your subconscious. Call me a college nerd, but my favorite part of engineering exams was writing down “data and assumptions” before I went on with my calculations. If my professor saw that I made even one wrong assumption from the very start, he didn’t need to read the rest of my paper before giving me an “F”.
When you expose your biases, you are free to park them, examine the problem from fresh perspectives, and come up with innovative solutions. Another safeguard is to explain your problem-solving analysis with a neutral party and ask for his critique. He may spot an assumption you had left unspoken.
If you practice no bias, you will be able to identify the right problems and arrive at the best solutions possible. I don't have to spell out how it will advance your career, because I know what you're thinking... oops!
Note: This article is excerpted from my signature module Creating a Problem-Solving Culture, which seeks to empower both leaders and followers tap their reservoir of creativity and wisdom. For queries, please feel free to message me.
Photo by Markus Winkler. from Unsplash
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