Change point of view (CEO vs. front line, 10000 foot view vs. 50 ft), Change context (reimagine the problem in new ways), and Change reality (remove constraints and ask "what if?")
- Another set of critical thinking tools for defining your problem is looking at the problem through new lenses. Can you change the point of view? Can you change context? Can you change reality? Let's look at what those mean. Changing point of view. How is the problem defined from the perspective of the CEO? Of the frontline staff? Of customers, of adjacent groups? They're all going to look at the problem different ways, and they'll define it differently depending upon their point of view.
The problem will look very different from 10,000 feet versus 50 feet. In terms of changing context, can you reimagine the problem in new ways? We tend to come at the problem from our own functional perspective. If I work in finance, it's going to be a finance problem. If somebody works in IT, they'll look at the same thing and say, "No it's an IT problem," so can you change the context in terms of how you're defining the problem? Can you change reality? Ask yourself, what if? What if I removed some of these constraints? What if I had some of these resources? What if I was able to do this instead of that? By changing reality, you may find a different way to define the problem that enables you to pursue different opportunities.
By looking at the problem in new ways, you're going to get a clear sense of direction around what the real issue is, such that you can generate some innovative and insightful solutions. Let me tie back to a collections example, where we were solving the problem, and we saw it as an agency management issue. It was about relationship management with our collections agencies, and that's how we were going to improve their performance. Other people saw it as a strategy problem.
Should we be outsourcing or insourcing those activities? Other people saw the performance issue as a commission or pricing problem. Were the commissions and incentives we were giving these agencies correct, or should we change them to improve performance? Other people saw it as a training issue in terms of the frontline staff. Were we giving them the tools and techniques and training that was required for them to perform effectively? So, looking at the problem from very different points of view led us to other possible solutions.
We also try to remove some of our built-in constraints. We had our technology platform, and it really worked well, and then the agencies had a different technology platform, and it was older. We just assumed with the initial problem solving that, well, their platform is their platform. What if we remove that constraint? What is somehow we were able to let our agencies use our technology platform? Wow, there are a whole bunch of new solutions that came up. So, by looking at the problem through different lenses, we were able to think critically about a different point of view, a different context, and different realities, and by doing so, we opened up new opportunities for solving the problem.
I want you to take a problem you're looking at, and ask, "Can I change my point of view?" If you struggle with this, if you're so tied into your functional area, go find somebody from another group. Explain the problem to them, ask them how they would define the problem. Use their perspective to generate that different point of view. Ask about the context and the reality and what constraints can you remove? What are the assumptions that you can change that will lead you to look at the problem differently? Spending this critical thought around looking at the problem from different angles and understanding what aspects of it can change may help you uncover that one really big solution that you never would have seen with your very limited scope, so spend the time in this critical thought, stepping back from the problem, and really asking, is there a different way to define it?
- 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