Archive for the ‘HITS’ Category

Problem Solving Skills: Identifying Core Issues

December 18, 2012

In a prior post Effective problem-solving … the five key skills, we isolated 5 key problem solving skills.

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Let’s drill down on #1 …

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(1) Identify core issues quickly

One of my observations was drawn for the Center for Creative Leadership which has found that : “Managers faced with a complex problem typically end up solving the wrong problem.”

How can that be?  What explains the misses?

Based on my experiences, there are 4 at least 4 frequently encountered stumbling blocks that managers often encounter.

  1. Wandering in a foreign land: Often, managers just don’t have the perspective – drawn from experience or education or whatever – to fully understand the nuances of a problem or recognize the tell-tale patterns.
  2. Trees obscure the forest: The initial observation related to complex problems, which – by definition — come laden with extraneous or equivocal information that sometimes clouds the picture and causes cognitive solution.
  3. Unconscious biases take over: For example. how about cutting the Federal deficit?  If you present the problem to a fiscal conservative, they’ll immediately start probing for spending cuts.  If you ask a liberal, they’ll start figuring how to raise taxes.  Same problem.  Different perspectives drive by in-going biases.
  4. (Preference for simpler problems: In his book “Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow”, Adam Tversky argues that most mortals – when confronted by a hard, complicated problem exhibit a burning urge to to solve a simpler problem … one they’ve seen before, or one that seems simpler and more solvable.

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So, how to jump over these stumbling blocks?

Here are some suggestions …

  • Start generic, then get specific: If you’re unfamiliar with a particular industry or situation, take it up a level of abstraction.  That is, conceptualize it with relevant elements that are more familiar.  Then, adjust to the specifics of the situation.
  • Clear clutter, structure problem: Get down to the absolute essentials. Purge the problem of the distracters that aren’t germane or the factors that aren’t  likely to influence the answer.  Don’t be lured to information that may be interesting but not determining.  Once the canvas is cleaner, patterns should be easier to discern.
  • Stay focused and be objective: This hard because many biases are sub-conscious.  Ask yourself if a person with a different slant would come to the same conclusion.
  • Refrain: “What’s the question?” … Keep pushing yourself to test “is this the central problem … or, just a symptom?”

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HITS: Pascal’s Wager … perhaps, we should be more righteous.

November 29, 2012

HITS: HomaFile’s Idea To Share

One of the few things I remember from Philosophy 101 is Pascal’s Wager.

In a nutshell, it says that God may or may not exist … and we all have the choice to live righteously or sinfully.

Naturally, that creates a 2 X 2 matrix …

If you choose to live on the wild side and God exists … uh oh.

If you choose to live a clean life, you score big if God exists … and don’t have much downside if she doesn’t.

I often find Pascal’s Wager to be a practical decision-making prop.

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Problem Solving Skills: Identifying Core Issues … the PAR framework

November 16, 2012

One key problem solving skill is identifying core issues quickly.

In a prior post, we explored why “Managers faced with a complex problem typically end up solving the wrong problem” …. and suggested some remedies.

Continuing that discussion …

Recognize that the number of core business problems is not infinite … though variants abound.

More specifically, in my opinion, the defining conceptual structure of most business problems is the same … and is captured in the PAR Framework.

PAR stands for Potential – Action – Results … companies take action against identified market potential to secure results … which, in most cases, are measured as profits.

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A business problem – or case interview question — usually centers on one of the PAR components … with the other 2 providing a basis for resolution.

For example, if profits (the “R”) are down, the question is whether it’s due to market conditions (the “P”) or the company’s actions (the (“A”).

Or, the question may be how to respond (the “A”) to a change in market or competitive conditions (the “P”) … and what results to expect for alternative responses.

Or, the question may be what markets to enter (the “P”) in what way (the “A”) … to achieve what results.

The takeaway point: the PAR Framework provides a ready structure for getting your arms around common business problems.

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HITS: Effective problem-solving … the five key skills.

September 28, 2012

HITS: HomaFiles’ Ideas To Share

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to kick-off the MSB Consulting Club’s pioneering extracurricular series on problem-solving.

My overall message was that there are 5 key problem-solving skills that consulting firms are looking for …

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Here are some of  the Homa Quotes that set-up each of the skills …

(1) Identify core issues quickly

  • “Managers faced with a complex problem typically end up solving the wrong problem.”
  • “The number of core business problems is not infinite … though variants abound.”
  • “Answer the question that was asked, not the question that you want to answer.”
  • “Some people go for the the jugular, others go for the capillaries.”

(2) Generate testable hypotheses

  • “For analytical efficiency, it’s always best to try to validate (or refute) a hypothesis.”

(3) Gather and analyze facts efficiently

  • “There are two types of people in the world: simplifiers and complicators”
  • “Do analyses … not just calculations”

(4) Craft creative, practical solutions 

  • “More people seem able to identify problems than to solve them.”
  • “Better an imperfect solution that can be implemented than a perfect solution that can’t.”

(5) Syndicate support and mobilize

  • “Getting the answer is the easy part. The hard part is convincing people to do it.”
  • “In baseball, pitching is 80% of the game … the percentage is higher in business.”

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In subsequent posts, we’ll dig a little deeper into each of the 5 essential skills.

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