Smaller sets are manageable – whether they are people, projects or things. We’re able to see them in their entirety. We understand the dynamics, processes, resources and forces involved. And we have a greater and more intimate control over the smaller sets.

A trip is seemingly shorter and manageable when frequent stops are part of the journey.

When problems arise, they often present themselves as a complex cacophony of stuff that must be timely addressed and resolved. To navigate through a problem, we need to first understand the territory that makes up a problem, then begin to look at the individual characteristics of the problem to generate solutions.

When problems arise, any of the following characteristics are creating the problem:

1. Situational Disconnect -An unclear understanding of the situation or context. This is often caused by a lack of information available on the situation either by an unclear and incomplete briefing, or an ineffective communicator. Questions to ask:

  • Did I fully understand the requirements for this situation or solution requested?
  • Was the best solution created?
  • Did we overlook anything in the original strategy?

2. Multiple Variables – Complex sets of items are at play, resulting in a greater probability of having a variable overlooked. This could be components within the problem itself, or the forces at play such as people and decisions. We often hear “There’s too many cooks in the kitchen” when too many decision-makers have their hands in a project. Questions to ask:

  • What variables are connected to this problem?
  • What variables are at play in this situation?
  • What is the level of accountability and quality control over each variable?
  • Which variable can we eliminate?

3. Non-Relational – Connectivity and relational tensions are being created. The variables are not relating in a desired fashion. Sometimes this is caused by different departments or individuals implementing their part of the solution without considering the task as a whole. Questions to ask:

  • What are the relationships between the variables at question?
  • Was there a specific relationships that lead to this problem?
  • Can the relationships be improved?
  • Who was involved?
  • How was communication handled?

4. Fluid – Time dependent, whether it is an actual time, a phase, a season, or a step. A problem cannot be solved at the same location in time that it was created. Problems are extremely dynamic, often solutions are outdated if not immediately implemented. Questions to ask:

  • Is this problem a result of irrelevance?
  • Are we taking into account time as we look for a solution?
  • Are we taking too long to implement our solutions?
  • Are the variables, such as technology, outdated when the solution is implemented?

5. Multiple Goals – The presence of several goals. When the Ideal Final Result (IFR) is not clearly defined, by default and assumption multiple goals are created whether intended or not. The goals may be in contrast to one another, creating a pull in direction.  Questions to ask:

  • Did the attempt to reach several goals lead to this problem?
  • Did we clearly define all the goals?
  • Are we attempting to reach too many goals at once?
  • Will creating a separate solution for the different goals eliminate the problem?

Takeaway: By pulling apart the different components that make up a problem, you’re able to devote a greater level of focus and attention on each aspect of the problem.

Application: For the Entrepreneur – by exposing and understanding the problem areas of a product or service, a better solution can be developed that leverages the faults of the previous generation of the product/service as a Unique Selling Point (USP) or Differentiating factor.

Ref: Adapted from the work of Dietrich Dörner, which was later built upon by Joachim Funke.

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