21ST CENTURY JOB SKILLS BLOG


Complex Problem-Solving: How Do You Think About Problems?


Jan 24, 2021






Complex Problem-Solving: How Do You “A Dress” Your Problems?

 

If you study psychology for any length of time, the first thing you’ll realize is that life overflows with problems. 

 

The second thing you’ll realize is that the way we deal with those problems depends on who we are -- and at the same time, it is those problems and how we approach them that makes us who we are. 

 

This is true in any aspect of life -- including in the workplace. It’s easy to fall into patterns and expect that people all think the same way we do. But they don’t.

 

Case in Point: Remember “The Dress?”

 

In 2015, a meme went around the internet that blew people’s minds. It was a photo of a simple party dress with lace. To some people, the dress was clearly deep blue with black lace. To others, the dress was white with gold lace. Two people could be looking at the same computer screen at the same time and see a different dress. “The Dress” went viral all over the world. 

 

“How could you not see this dress is blue and black?”

“It’s obviously white and gold. I don’t get how you see blue.”

 

The above conversation occurred around office water coolers, in cafes, and over dinner tables around the world. While we can’t find data on whether more people visited their optometrists, over 300,000 tested their vision online using X-Rite.com’s online vision test. 

 

 

Research on this phenomenon shows there are individual factors that shape whether a person first sees the dress as blue/black (which it really is) or white/gold, including if they’re a morning person or a night owl. Something as simple as how much natural light we get throughout the day can change how our brains interpret data.

 

Blue or white -- we think of those as objective facts. But if something as simple as whether we prefer night or day can change a dress from blue to white, what else are we seeing differently (literally and figuratively)? 

 

When you’re leading a team that’s responsible for creating solutions (because isn’t that what we create products and services?), it’s good to know where some of these differences are.

 

Complex Problem-Solving and the 8 Thinking Frameworks

 

There are eight thinking styles people use when approaching a problem. We all have our comfort zones -- frameworks that we easily fall into, but that doesn’t mean we can’t use another style or collaborate with someone else for new perspectives and possibilities.

 

What framework applies to your approach?

 

Creative or Analytical Thinking Style?

 

Creative thinkers are “out of the box” thinkers. They don’t follow a clear process (at least one that’s clear to an outsider), and they reinvent the procedures to fit the situation. They put things together in new and imaginative ways.

 

Analytical thinkers, however, follow a logical process. They follow a step-by-step pattern to get from point A to point B to point C.

 

Think of the syllogism defined by Aristotle:

 

Socrates is a man.

All men are mortal.

Therefore Socrates is mortal.

 

We assume A is true.

We also assume B is true.

Therefore B would also apply to a specific example of A.

 

Convergent or Divergent -- How Do You Gather Your Information?

 

You’re at the grocery store, standing in front of a selection of snacks. There are four types -- chips, nuts, cookies, and dried fruit. You’re buying for a brainstorming meeting later in the afternoon. How do you figure out which to buy?

 

  • Mary has a gluten allergy, so you rule out cookies.
  • You’ve got a budget, and nuts and dried fruit are expensive. Nobody will get enough (especially Ron), and the meeting will break up sooner because people are hungry.
  • Chips are cheap, they don’t have gluten, but they are kind of bland on their own. They are way under budget so you can also get some dip and baby carrots, too.

 

This would be an example of how a convergent thinker would solve a complex problem. They analyze a limited set of options (what’s in the snack aisle) to get to their single solution (chips meet everyone’s needs, including the budget’s).

 

A divergent thinker does not limit their options as much and considers alternatives from different sources and then plugs in one that will work for the problem at hand. To take the grocery analogy further, they would consider the snack aisle, the fresh produce, but also what about calling the bagel shop and catering in? 

 

Divergent thinkers don’t arrive at THE answer, they collect or create answers and plug them in to see if they’ll work. The answer that they come to isn’t THE answer, but one of many possible answers.

 

Concrete vs. Abstract Thinking

 

A concrete thinker operates in the realm of hard facts -- data, statistics, proof.

 

They prefer literal meanings, and want to know where their information is coming from. If it’s solid, they can rely upon it and make a decision from there.

 

An abstract thinker will take events and relate them to other events, turning them into concepts that they can understand. They like analogies and relationships.

 

Sequential vs. Holistic

 

Sequential thinkers work best with a narrative that outlines the process:

 

  • A recipe for salmon piccata or Mom’s brownies
  • Directions to Grandma’s house
  • Day planners/diaries
  • Systems and standard operating procedures (S.O.P.s)

 

They like to know what comes next and are most comfortable when there’s a procedure in place. 

 

People who think holistically want to know the overall goals and how things are related, and then they’ll figure out how to get to the finish line. They tend to see overall patterns and the place an event or product has in the whole system. They value the relationships in the workplace -- either between projects or between people -- more than the process itself.

 

How Each Type Would Approach “The Dress” 

 

Creative: “Can we make an exhibit using The Mona Lisa wearing both colors of the dress as an intriguing new ad for a trendy new nightclub?”

 

Analytical: “What factors would’ve made so many people see this dress so differently... and how do we prevent that in the future?”

 

Convergent: “I’m looking for a blue dress for the party” (If it’s blue, it’s one of the options. If it’s white, it’s not).

 

Divergent: “We’re looking for a fabulous dress. Would this work? Which do you like, blue or white? Would a pantsuit be more comfy?”

 

Concrete: “What color is the dress, actually?”

Abstract: “This thing with ‘The Dress’ is just like what they say about crime witnesses. Every witness is going to tell you something different.”

 

Sequential: “Once Marissa decides if this is the blue dress she wants for the wedding party, we’ll send an email out to the bridesmaids along with the link for ordering. Then we’ll ask them to reply once they’ve ordered it and we’ll send out another email in 10 days to see if they’ve received the dress yet and if they’ve found matching shoes.”

 

Holistic: “Either way, this is a great dress that can be used in a lot of different situations, which is what you want from a dress like this. Who wants to wear a dress just once?”

 

People Approach Complex Problem-Solving Differently. How Do You Use That as a Team Strength?

 

As a leader, your job is to bring together a team that can solve problems for your company and your clients. Individuals will see things differently for various reasons. They’ll also approach challenges differently. You can guide things the way you prefer or you could work with your team to make the most out of each member’s strengths. That means making it possible to view problems and solutions in entirely new ways.

 

Team members need to feel respected for these assets, not sidelined. Each member is a complex problem-solving hero. Just like The Avengers or The Justice League, they’re unstoppable because they not only combine their strengths together, they also balance each other’s weaknesses. 

 

As leader, if you guide that process, you have access to all of those strengths, and that puts you in an enviable position. 

Complex Problem-Solving: How Do You “A Dress” Your Problems?

 

If you study psychology for any length of time, the first thing you’ll realize is that life overflows with problems. 

 

The second thing you’ll realize is that the way we deal with those problems depends on who we are -- and at the same time, it is those problems and how we approach them that makes us who we are. 

 

This is true in any aspect of life -- including in the workplace. It’s easy to fall into patterns and expect that people all think the same way we do. But they don’t.

 

Case in Point: Remember “The Dress?”

 

In 2015, a meme went around the internet that blew people’s minds. It was a photo of a simple party dress with lace. To some people, the dress was clearly deep blue with black lace. To others, the dress was white with gold lace. Two people could be looking at the same computer screen at the same time and see a different dress. “The Dress” went viral all over the world. 

 

“How could you not see this dress is blue and black?”

“It’s obviously white and gold. I don’t get how you see blue.”

 

The above conversation occurred around office water coolers, in cafes, and over dinner tables around the world. While we can’t find data on whether more people visited their optometrists, over 300,000 tested their vision online using X-Rite.com’s online vision test. 

 

 

Research on this phenomenon shows there are individual factors that shape whether a person first sees the dress as blue/black (which it really is) or white/gold, including if they’re a morning person or a night owl. Something as simple as how much natural light we get throughout the day can change how our brains interpret data.

 

Blue or white -- we think of those as objective facts. But if something as simple as whether we prefer night or day can change a dress from blue to white, what else are we seeing differently (literally and figuratively)? 

 

When you’re leading a team that’s responsible for creating solutions (because isn’t that what we create products and services?), it’s good to know where some of these differences are.

 

Complex Problem-Solving and the 8 Thinking Frameworks

 

There are eight thinking styles people use when approaching a problem. We all have our comfort zones -- frameworks that we easily fall into, but that doesn’t mean we can’t use another style or collaborate with someone else for new perspectives and possibilities.

 

What framework applies to your approach?

 

Creative or Analytical Thinking Style?

 

Creative thinkers are “out of the box” thinkers. They don’t follow a clear process (at least one that’s clear to an outsider), and they reinvent the procedures to fit the situation. They put things together in new and imaginative ways.

 

Analytical thinkers, however, follow a logical process. They follow a step-by-step pattern to get from point A to point B to point C.

 

Think of the syllogism defined by Aristotle:

 

Socrates is a man.

All men are mortal.

Therefore Socrates is mortal.

 

We assume A is true.

We also assume B is true.

Therefore B would also apply to a specific example of A.

 

Convergent or Divergent -- How Do You Gather Your Information?

 

You’re at the grocery store, standing in front of a selection of snacks. There are four types -- chips, nuts, cookies, and dried fruit. You’re buying for a brainstorming meeting later in the afternoon. How do you figure out which to buy?

 

  • Mary has a gluten allergy, so you rule out cookies.
  • You’ve got a budget, and nuts and dried fruit are expensive. Nobody will get enough (especially Ron), and the meeting will break up sooner because people are hungry.
  • Chips are cheap, they don’t have gluten, but they are kind of bland on their own. They are way under budget so you can also get some dip and baby carrots, too.

 

This would be an example of how a convergent thinker would solve a complex problem. They analyze a limited set of options (what’s in the snack aisle) to get to their single solution (chips meet everyone’s needs, including the budget’s).

 

A divergent thinker does not limit their options as much and considers alternatives from different sources and then plugs in one that will work for the problem at hand. To take the grocery analogy further, they would consider the snack aisle, the fresh produce, but also what about calling the bagel shop and catering in? 

 

Divergent thinkers don’t arrive at THE answer, they collect or create answers and plug them in to see if they’ll work. The answer that they come to isn’t THE answer, but one of many possible answers.

 

Concrete vs. Abstract Thinking

 

A concrete thinker operates in the realm of hard facts -- data, statistics, proof.

 

They prefer literal meanings, and want to know where their information is coming from. If it’s solid, they can rely upon it and make a decision from there.

 

An abstract thinker will take events and relate them to other events, turning them into concepts that they can understand. They like analogies and relationships.

 

Sequential vs. Holistic

 

Sequential thinkers work best with a narrative that outlines the process:

 

  • A recipe for salmon piccata or Mom’s brownies
  • Directions to Grandma’s house
  • Day planners/diaries
  • Systems and standard operating procedures (S.O.P.s)

 

They like to know what comes next and are most comfortable when there’s a procedure in place. 

 

People who think holistically want to know the overall goals and how things are related, and then they’ll figure out how to get to the finish line. They tend to see overall patterns and the place an event or product has in the whole system. They value the relationships in the workplace -- either between projects or between people -- more than the process itself.

 

How Each Type Would Approach “The Dress” 

 

Creative: “Can we make an exhibit using The Mona Lisa wearing both colors of the dress as an intriguing new ad for a trendy new nightclub?”

 

Analytical: “What factors would’ve made so many people see this dress so differently... and how do we prevent that in the future?”

 

Convergent: “I’m looking for a blue dress for the party” (If it’s blue, it’s one of the options. If it’s white, it’s not).

 

Divergent: “We’re looking for a fabulous dress. Would this work? Which do you like, blue or white? Would a pantsuit be more comfy?”

 

Concrete: “What color is the dress, actually?”

Abstract: “This thing with ‘The Dress’ is just like what they say about crime witnesses. Every witness is going to tell you something different.”

 

Sequential: “Once Marissa decides if this is the blue dress she wants for the wedding party, we’ll send an email out to the bridesmaids along with the link for ordering. Then we’ll ask them to reply once they’ve ordered it and we’ll send out another email in 10 days to see if they’ve received the dress yet and if they’ve found matching shoes.”

 

Holistic: “Either way, this is a great dress that can be used in a lot of different situations, which is what you want from a dress like this. Who wants to wear a dress just once?”

 

People Approach Complex Problem-Solving Differently. How Do You Use That as a Team Strength?

 

As a leader, your job is to bring together a team that can solve problems for your company and your clients. Individuals will see things differently for various reasons. They’ll also approach challenges differently. You can guide things the way you prefer or you could work with your team to make the most out of each member’s strengths. That means making it possible to view problems and solutions in entirely new ways.

 

Team members need to feel respected for these assets, not sidelined. Each member is a complex problem-solving hero. Just like The Avengers or The Justice League, they’re unstoppable because they not only combine their strengths together, they also balance each other’s weaknesses. 

 

As leader, if you guide that process, you have access to all of those strengths, and that puts you in an enviable position. 



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