Six Mindsets for Solving Problems


It is well accepted that having an open mind creates more options. And deciding from a range of options rather than a single choice will always lead to a better outcome. A mindset is a way of gathering facts, analyzing them, and aligning them to priorities before choosing a path of action. Like my previous article on Thinking Hats by Edward De Bono, a set of varying mindsets can assist in creating different options for action.

Recently, I came across an interesting article on the ‘Six problem-solving mindsets for very uncertain times’ by Charles Conn and Robert McLean. I share with you this interesting piece published by McKinsey to get you thinking about how we can improve solving problems in our professional and personal lives.

Using a structured approach in problem-solving will help us identify and resolve the underlying cause of the issue. Here are the six approaches we can adopt to solve problems effectively:

1. Be ever curious

During times of uncertainty, awaken the curious child within you and relentlessly ask, “Why is this so?” This simple technique, to pause and reflect, helps you identify the root of the problem.

Involve teams in problem-solving to brainstorm and encourage multiple solution paths. Be on a mission of discovery to figure out creative solutions and arrive at potential answers.

2. Tolerate ambiguity — and stay humble

There is no ready manual for problem-solving, and the process involves a lot of trial-and-error methods. We need to estimate probabilities and make imperfect guesses to arrive at decisions. They key to operate in uncertain environments is epistemic humility, with the realization that our knowledge is provisional and incomplete — and may require revision in light of new evidence.

There is a dearth of perfect knowledge for complex problems. Embracing imperfection can lead to more effective problem-solving during times of emergency.

3. Take a dragonfly-eye view

Great problem solvers have a dragonfly-eye view — an ability to analyze problems through multiple lenses.

By widening the aperture on viewing a problem, we can identify threats or opportunities beyond the periphery of vision. The secret is to “anchor outside” the broader ecosystem and communicate with customers, suppliers, or people from a related industry to get a 360-degree view of a problem.

However, when decisions need to be taken within constraints of time or resources, you may have to narrow the scope for a quick and conventional answer.

4. Pursue occurrent behavior

Occurrent behavior is what happens in a time and place, not what was potential or predicted behavior. Complex problems do not give up their secrets easily, as they do not follow a pattern or a recipe — but that should not deter problem solvers from exploring.

The mindset requires us to be a restless experimenter — this allows us to generate our own data, which are not available to competitors and gives us insights that others do not have.

5. Tap into collective intelligence: the wisdom of the crowd

It is a fallacy to believe that your team has the smartest people. In an ever-changing world, it is fine to solicit expert advice to gain more insight into the problem. The broader the circles of information you access, the more likely it is that your solutions will be novel and creative.

Crowdsourcing invites the smartest people outside your circle for debate and discussions. This process takes time and can be more expensive as you sieve through huge volumes of suggestions to find the rare ‘gem of a solution’.

6. Show and tell to drive action

The phrase “show and tell” begets actions by making the solution obvious. Get your audience hands on the task and use the power of persuasion to propel people into action.

Begin by being clear about the course of action from your findings: the governing idea for change. Iterate why the preferred action must be adopted and the attractive rewards it offers.

Having the right mindset to solve a problem is just as important as the methods we employ. The six approaches give way to radical new possibilities during uncertain times. It is essential to adopt a curious mindset and adhere to a systematic process for cracking the most abstruse problems.

I hope to hear your comments on this, and know interesting methods you have employed in the past to solve the most perplexing problems.