Create logic maps to take big problems, break them into component parts, and understand what could really be driving the issue you're trying to solve
- One of the first steps in any good critical thinking process is taking a very big problem and breaking it down into smaller ones that you can actually solve. The time you invest thinking through what the components of the problem are is going to pay dividends on the backend when you look at the possible solutions, because you'll have a better sense for what recommendations and solutions to pursue, and how those solutions help you solve the bigger problem.
Let me illustrate. Let's imagine we have a problem where our profits are down. That's a huge issue to solve. We can't solve that in and of itself. We have to look at smaller components of it, so if we have a profit problem, we have two components. Either our revenues are down, or our costs are up, or some combination of the two. But those are still very big problems to try to solve, so let's break down revenues, and what could be causing our revenue shortfall.
Well, that's either volumes are down, or prices are down. On volumes, that's still a big issue. We may have a smaller issue of current customers are buying less, or we're selling less to prospective customers. Now on the cost side, the reason that costs could be up are either prices are up, or we're buying more stuff. If prices are up in terms of the stuff we're buying, well that could be a function of base prices are up, or we're getting less of a discount.
When I take these big problems and I spend the time to think about breaking them into smaller and smaller ones, those smaller problems are much easier to solve. There's this whole notion of, the path of a thousand miles begins with one step. This applies to your problem solving as well. Having that bias to action. Spending the critical thinking time breaking the big problem down into smaller and smaller ones is going to enable you to take those first smaller steps at solving the big problem.
What I'd encourage you to do is take a big problem you're currently facing. Go find a whiteboard somewhere, and ask yourself, what's that big problem composed of? What are the smaller issues that are driving the big problem? Once you have those smaller issues, break them down again, and continue breaking those big problems down into smaller and smaller ones until you say, "Oh, I know how I might solve that component of it." When you can start seeing the solutions emerge, you're moving from that problem identification stage to a problem solving stage, and the time you invest in dimensionalizing this problem solving space is going to help you solve problems more quickly and more effectively.
- Breaking big problems into small ones
- Defining the problem statement
- Asking focusing questions
- Finding root causes
- Using critical thinking tools
- Teaching others to think critically