To address a problem, you must first accurately frame it. If you do that, the solution will become obvious. Some people can solve problems intuitively without breaking a sweat, but you don’t have to be a genius to do it. In fact, once you understand the fundamentals, they are quite straightforward. And that’s exactly what Charles Conn and Robert McLean’s book, Bulletproof Problem Solving, is all about.
When you’re faced with an issue, it’s natural to begin thinking about how you’ll solve it right away. You dash off to acquire information, consult specialists, and examine your findings. You’ll be able to come up with responses in no time. There’s only one problem: you’ve skipped a crucial step.
Problem-solving is only effective if the proper questions are asked. Your work will be worthless if you don’t accomplish that. Worse, it could even work against you. That’s why it’s critical to begin the problem-solving process by carefully considering the issue you’re attempting to answer.
To identify useful solutions, you must first clearly define the issues. Failure to identify a problem correctly can have severe repercussions. Take, for example, the newspaper industry. Until the mid-1990s, newspapers dominated local news. Then, almost out of nowhere, a new rival appeared: the internet.
The industry’s top executives were initially alarmed by online publications such as blogs, but as they learned more about the issue, they became more relaxed. Why should the internet be any different than newspapers, which have weathered the emergence of new technology such as radio and television? In any case, no blog could compete with the quality of information created by huge, experienced editorial staff in newsrooms.
Of course, things didn’t turn out that way. How did they make such a blunder? They hadn’t described their problem correctly, to be sure. Online platforms didn’t need to recruit readers; all they required were those who placed advertisements in newspapers. To put it another way, executives were concerned about the quality of their content, but the main issue was the amount of advertising income generated. Hundreds of newspapers went out of business as advertisers shifted to the internet.
What is the key to avoiding this snare? Taking the time to ask yourself the proper questions. Who are the main decision-makers who will decide whether or not my suggestions are implemented? How will I know when I’ve reached success and what will it look like? More importantly, how will key decision makers know whether my strategy is successful or not? What is my timetable? Do I need a solution this month or ten years from now? Finally, are there any conceivable solutions that are off-limits?
These questions will not only assist you in better defining your problem, but they will also save you time by preventing you from wasting time coming up with fantastic answers to the wrong questions!
Author Robert McLean began thinking about installing solar panels on his home a few years ago in order to lessen his carbon footprint. Going solar seemed like a no-brainer to me because I live in sunny Australia.
But did it make financial sense? This was a more difficult question to answer. Government incentives for renewable energy were being phased away at the time. However, the cost of solar panels was decreasing, and there were “feed-in” tariffs to consider — the price at which electric providers purchase extra energy supplied by individual homes.
McLean needed a tool to help him disentangle this tangled mess. It’s easier to address difficulties when they’re broken down into smaller chunks. McLean learnt to solve problems using logic trees at McKinsey, a leading management consulting firm. This is how it works.
Forming a hypothesis is the first step. This took the shape of a simple statement in McLean’s case: “I should install solar panels.” Next, consider what evidence you have to back up your hypothesis. McLean devised two standards. Installing solar panels was a smart option if they could cut his carbon footprint by 10% and he could recoup his investment within ten years. The criteria you specify tell you what kind of data you’ll need to collect.
So, let’s look at that 10% CO2 reduction. You’ll need to know how much CO2 you emit to calculate a possible reduction in your carbon footprint. For the sake of simplicity, McLean calculated how much the average Australian emits each year and used it as a baseline. He then calculated how much carbon he could save by switching to solar panels using online calculators. He discovered that he could cut his carbon footprint by more than 20%.
What about the remuneration? McLean totaled the panel and installation costs. Then, using online calculators given by solar installers, he calculated how much money he’d save each year by consuming less external electricity and selling excess power. He might recoup his initial investment in less than a decade, according to the findings. McLean had addressed his problem with a little web research — he should install solar panels.
This is where logic trees shine. When you establish your hypothesis and the criteria you’ll need to back it up, you’ll be able to figure out what kind of data you’ll need to solve your problem.
Although Atlantic salmon are not now endangered, wild salmon stocks have been decimated due to pollution, overfishing, and poor management. Author Charles Conn was recently employed by a non-profit dedicated to preventing this from happening to wild Pacific salmon. The North Pacific rainforest environment relies heavily on these fish. They were outperforming their Atlantic competitors, but the long-term outlook was bleak.
The charity’s purpose was to raise the number of wild Pacific salmon, but there were a lot of options and questions about how to best use the limited resources available. That’s when Conn stepped in. He’d come to deal with one of the most crucial components of problem-solving: prioritization. Assessing your influence and the possible impact of solutions is at the heart of prioritization.
How can wild fish stocks be increased? There are numerous options. You might be able to enhance ocean conditions or restore habitat that has been destroyed. Reducing fishing quotas or strengthening sports fishing laws could assist. The actual question is which method will provide you the best return on your investment.
Looking at the combination of two factors: the extent of their impact and your power to affect outcomes is the best way to prioritize solutions. Let’s start with solutions having a strong impact but minimal influence. Improving ocean conditions would be beneficial to salmon stocks, but it would necessitate a collaborative effort from several nations and international organizations. To put it another way, it’s extremely effective, but it’s beyond your control.
Low-impact, low-influence options are also available. Unless a charity spends decades lobbying politicians, it will not be able to restrict the number of sports fishing permits given. Even if it did, the research suggests that this method isn’t very effective at increasing wild salmon stocks.
Consider the case where the charity’s president was also a government minister in charge of awarding fishing licenses. Even though you’d have a lot of power, you’d still be looking for a low-impact option. This leads us to solutions with a high impact and influence.
Pacific salmon do not just live in the ocean; they also spawn in freshwater rivers in Alaska, British Columbia, and the Kamchatka Peninsula. Conn’s team came up with an idea: go straight to the source of the problem and focus on improving the most significant breeding waterways. What’s the end result? A modest project with three or four rivers where the charity’s limited resources might be used to their full potential.
Check out my related post: How could you be better at solving problems?