In an era of accelerating social, economic, and technological changes, organizations are continuously challenged to make increasingly complex decisions in the face of an uncertain future. This is why the value of creative and strategic thinkers capable of solving complex problems has never been higher.

Problems are often opportunities in disguise and are almost always portals for learning. A methodical approach based on business problem-solving steps increases the odds of developing long-term solutions that can satisfy management, employees, and customers. A comprehensive approach to problem-solving can be applied to almost every kind of problem— from personal decisions through to business strategies and on to some of the most complex challenges facing society today.

Following a set of clearly delineated problem-solving strategies are essential to avoiding the temptation of acting rashly and making decisions that aren't in the best interests of the organization, customers, and investors. Taking a systematic approach to business management problems and solutions are not ultimate solutions to eliminate problems in the future, but remain long-standing important tools to keep future situations from turning chaotic.

The Skill of Problem Solving Becoming an Industrial Skill in Demand

In a world more complex and uncertain, The World Economic Forum has made an outstanding revelation that lists complex problem solving as the number-one skill for 2020. Work by McKinsey's leadership group also shows that organizations that have the problem-solving capability in the top quartile earn about 3.5 times higher total return to shareholders than those in the bottom quartile. Thus, underpinning the fact that problem solving is not just an individual skill but also becoming an accelerating institutional skill in demand.

Good problem solvers are made and not born! An effective method of understanding problem solving is realizing that problem-solving does not require necessarily dealing with problems that only involve good knowledge of accounting or business.  Becoming an outstanding problem solver is within an individual’s grasp of a range of problems that are typically addressable in day-to-day living; including the factors that underpin individual, business, and societal problems.

Establishing the Essentials of Clever Problem-Solving

Rob McLean, director emeritus of McKinsey’s Strategy and Corporate Finance Practice, eluded in an interview with Chris Bradley on his new book; Bulletproof Problem Solving: The One Skill That Changes Everything that, “Bulletproof problem solving is an expression we used at McKinsey that meant that what you came up with to present to the client was ironclad. It really was a test of just how rigorously you’d gone about defining the problem, breaking it down, and doing the analysis”.

A careful investigation of the aforementioned statement by Rob McLean reveals three unparalleled factors that encompass the elements of substantial problem-solving. These are, with emphasis on the word “rigor” as hammered in his submission, defining the problem; breaking down the problem and doing the analysis.

 The Systematic Processes of Dealing with a Relatively Unstructured Problem

Defining and Breaking Down the Problem

Throughout a number of problem-solving techniques or strategies found in books and other reliable sources, one important yet overlooked feature is evident; That is, a lack of systematic approach in dealing with a relatively unstructured problem, which results, in another problem of failing to ascertain the full length of the unpleasant situation. A real gap in the world’s educational system, Ghana inclusive, is a growing trend of churning out into the job market graduates who are undeniably clueless about the efficacious processes of solving complex organizational problems and; are not challenged to identify new and innovative ways of resolving emerging difficulties in the workplace. A good step taken by Google in recent times is prioritizing to hire creative problem-solving talents above all else; a phenomenon that is progressively gaining attention from more and more organizations worldwide.

The ability to define the problem, particularly in terms of what decision-makers are looking for or the ability to disaggregate the problem are missing ingredients in even the most preached about resolution game plan.

Recognizing that very few problems can ever be solved at the highest level, cutting edge resolution methods appreciate: the ability to define the challenges faced in organizations that demand a successful break down into addressable parts, an incorruptible outline of priorities, a well-thought-out and cautiously drawn work plan analysis and recommendations that lead to action. For instance, defining a business problem on competitive strategy goes beyond stating just the problem– What are the Competitive weaknesses? It encapsulates a break down into the difficulties of cost leadership that targets a broad market that offers the lowest possible price, inability to differentiate the high demand for the features that sets a product or service apart and; lack of direction to the factors that accentuate targeting a clear niche market and understanding the dynamics of the market.

Undertaking Careful Analysis of the Named Issues

Examining the problem is the process of investigating the causes of the incident, issue or failure which is done to uncover the improvements to systems, processes, procedures, design, and culture. Some problems are considered “wicked problems” because they often are unintended consequences of initial resolution procedures that rather aggravate matters. In effect, grasping the full knowledge of the problem is championed by investigating the cause and effect analysis of the error.

Though popularly seen as a difficult approach, it looks at for instance, whether the mistake emerged from merely an unintended human error or from the poor performance of a task due to negligence. Root-cause analysis is the sub-analysis that highlights failures that can be traced back to the very beginning of a project. An example is the loss of data that is overlooked at the initial stages of a project but builds a rippling effect over time, leading to an embarrassing failure of the project that hitherto would have been successful. The root-cause concept is the mother of the final step known as the fishbone, where a problem can be visualized into multiple root-causes that are further categorized. This process leads to the making of recommendations that fix the various aspects of a problem.

Making Recommendations and Setting Priorities

The last but not the least step that paves the way for implementation in exceptional problem solving is making the necessary recommendations. This starts with transforming the hypothesis into clearly worded suggestions that incorporate the core analysis required to prove a case. A well-defined recommendation puts into a story-line the methods of correcting the errors and how they ease the situation. Instances where there are uncertainties, strategic problem-solvers try to calibrate what the level of uncertainty is and whether that is going to impact the range of choices available. This is what is referred to as “higher levels of uncertainty.” The solution to this is to build capability by considering low-cost options that can be pursued. A good trick is to allow team structures that have diversity and allow different viewpoints to be brought together.

Instances Where Problem Solving Can Go Wrong

Rob McLean, once again in the interview with Chris Bradley on “Want better strategies? become a Bulletproof problem solver”, connects instances where problem-solving goes wrong to what he calls “missed opportunity”. He cites an example in his book where in the 1980s, IBM paid 20 percent to buy Intel, and it had another 10 percent of warrants in the company. It sold it for $625 million in 1986–87, and that was worth $25 billion a decade later. Similarly, it had the opportunity to buy 30 percent of Microsoft for $300 million in 1986. Ten years later, that was worth $33 billion. With IBM being a significant player in the business at the time, their understanding of the rules and depth of the market led to the creation of a staggering amount of wealth for the company.

The measures that can be taken to prevent problem resolution from taking the wrong path are: understanding the market dynamics and its evolving nature, identifying social and environmental factors that can pose as potential threats, and the need to encourage leaders who are prepared to look at quite-radical choices and real alternatives.

The Impact of Today’s Blend of Mental Muscle & Machine Muscle in Problem Solving

Strategists today have more analytical tools at their disposal than ever before. Without an attempt to replace the human way of doing problem-solving, these new analytical techniques allow for deeper and faster ways to effectively subdue problems from reaching the point of escalation. Machine learning or major regression analysis pushes for attention to be paid to the; mean, median, and mode to facilitate the setting of the hypothesis for the major piece of regression analysis or machine learning.

In an increasingly technological world, society can boast of a functional combination of mental muscle, which is the cognitive problem solving, and machine muscle that distinguishes between advantageous and less advantageous strategies.

From the extensive discussion on result-oriented problem solving, there is a course to appreciate the unique characteristics that adequately define and differentiate calculated problem solvers from the rest of the world. Their preeminent ability to anatomize a complication into bits that can be practically addressed in all aspects, thereby giving varying angles for step-by-step investigation and; a coherent plan of action towards firm-grounded resolution and constructive implementation. These are the qualities that persons seeking to become exceptional problem-solvers should aspire to possess.

Bryan Elliott, host of Behind the Brand talks to Viki Dallas of Rutan and Tucker at OC Metro's 25 Hottest in Orange County event.