Once you have an answer, pressure test it with analysis and further questioning. See if there are additional causes you've missed. Ask what the implications and consequences are for your answer and consider any new problems you might create
- When you're trying to solve a problem, getting an answer isn't good enough. Think critically about the results of your analyses and what's coming back as far as your recommendations go. You should be looking for similarities or differences between the idea and the analytical answers that come out, and other situations that you've been in. Are there common themes that you're seeing across multiple problems that you're trying to solve? Are some elements similar to other problems you've solved in the past? You should be asking about the relative size of the recommendation.
Once you've completed your analysis, does this even matter? If we solve this problem, will it have a big enough impact on the business for us to even care? If not, even though it's a great idea, we should push it off to the side and focus on things that are more meaningful. You should also explore connections to other problems that you've had or other situations you've been in, because that connection between two things that are seemingly unrelated may unlock a tremendous insight and give you an opportunity to take learnings from the past and apply them to a situation that seems very different, but is actually quite similar.
Let me offer an example. At one point, I did some corporate strategy work, and we were trying to figure out, where should we take the business for the next 10 years? We were looking at things like, what new products should we launch? What new businesses should we enter? Which new market segments should we pursue? Are there acquisitions we should be going after? What we were able to do through all of that analysis was come up with not just an answer to how we decided to prioritize our efforts, but we also generated a process for thinking about how we were going to prioritize our resources, and how we were going to think about entering markets, launching products, conducting acquisitions.
Now several years later, I was working with a technology team, and that technology team had the challenge of a lot of projects that were all really great, but they didn't have the time or the resources to pursue all of them. When we dug into the problem, and we did the analysis, and we found out they had 37 different projects that were rated high, and 54 that were medium, and 200 enhancements that they were supposed to be doing, and when we really understood that the analysis was telling us that we weren't good at prioritizing, a little light bulb went off and said, wait, this is a prioritization problem.
That strategy work I did in the past was also about prioritization of scarce resources. Are there things that these problems have in common that I can take from the strategy work and apply to the technology prioritization? What was great was, I was able to just dust off my strategy process, think about how it could apply to the technology portfolio, and then we not only prioritized the portfolio, but we put a new process in place to prioritize future projects.
By understanding the linkages between seemingly unrelated problems, we were able to come up with a solution that we were able to apply very quickly based upon those past learnings. When you look at your answers that are coming out of your problem solving processes, think critically about those answers. What connections can you make to other situations? What can you learn from other problems you've solved, and how can you apply those learnings to the problem you're trying to solve now? By thinking critically, you may unlock some great opportunities you never would have considered before.
That extra time to go one more step beyond the easy answer the analysis gives you, and ask, what does this mean for the broader problem, may help you create one of the best opportunities out there that you get to very efficiently and very 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