The problem with solutions is that answers stop thinking, as Chuck Frey says in a good post today.
When trying to solve a problem, often the best thing to do is to leave the question open for a while. This is tough, because most people have a natural tendency to want to solve the problem as quickly as possible.
I’ve noticed this tendency again working with our MBA teams on the Wharton Global Consulting Practicum (which I mentioned earlier here).
We’ve moved into the problem-solving part of these projects now that we have our scopes defined. However, now that the problem is defined, it has been difficult to battle this tendency to jump straight to finding answers.
I’ve been stressing with the teams the need to keep our options open for a while. Chuck has some good suggestions for doing this in his post. Another way to do this is to use the divergence/convergence strategy discussed in Gamestorming, which I outlined in more detail previously.
That first figure outlines the general process. Of course, the actual path that you take in problem-solving ends up looking more like this:
The problem with jumping straight to answers is that you reduce the amount of effort put into the first step, idea generation, and you put no time at all into the second step – experimenting, thinking and prototyping.
When these two steps aren’t fully explored, you end up putting all of your effort into developing conclusions and planning actions for only one answer. You may do this extremely well, but the problem is that it might not be the best answer.
People like jumping to answers because it reduces uncertainty. When you are expanding the range of options to consider, and then test out these ideas, you are increasing ambiguity. This makes many people uncomfortable.
But if you’re disciplined enough to be able to live with that ambiguity for a while, you usually end up with a better answer to your problem.
It’s natural to want to have an answer to a problem as quickly as possible – this is the way you make the problem go away. However, if you are able to hold off for a while, and make sure that you generate and test out a wide variety of possible answers, the odds of finding a good one improve.
So the best way to solve a problem is to not solve it. At least for a little while.