6 Tips for Better Problem Solving

Problem-solving is a natural and important part of business. We say we start with facts, but we don’t. We start with opinions, and the opinions influence what facts we discover.

Effective problem-solving uses two kinds of thinking. Divergent thinking seeks out as many options as possible. Convergent thinking selects one option to pursue. Here are six tips for better problem-solving.

Get The Story of The Problem

Take notes as someone offers the story of the problem. Allow interruptions for other people to add things. Mark key events on a timeline.

This process usually surfaces different viewpoints that you should investigate. It brings out facts that a standard problem definition process would miss.

No More Binary Choices

Go beyond binary choices. A binary choice is one where you consider only two options. One example might be whether to introduce a new product or not. Another might be whether to promote John or Jane. In both of those illustrations, you’re not considering any other options.

Always ask, “What are all our options?”

Don’t Stop with One Right Answer

In the US at least, we want to move too quickly. We don’t want to “waste” time on problem-solving when we can get right to fixing the problem. The urge to get right to implementation makes us take the first decent solution we get and run with it. But the first, “obvious” solution is not always the best solution.

Make it a rule to go for as many possible answers or solutions as you can come up with.

Have Robust Discussions

You’re more likely to come up with a good solution if you have a robust discussion of the possibilities. There are two requirements for productive, robust discussions.

Your team must operate in an environment of psychological safety. This must be a characteristic of your team culture. You won’t be able to throw a switch and magically have psychological safety for a problem-solving discussion. Make it safe for people to make mistakes, voice opinions, and disagree with each other and you.

You’ll have more-robust discussions if you have diversity of opinion and viewpoint in the room.

Evaluate All Your Options

Consider how each option will work out in practice. What do you have to do first? What should you do next? A decision tree is an excellent tool to map out how each solution might work.

Remember that the universe and the competition both get a vote. So, think about how the competition might react to your actions. Consider different ways changes in the environment could affect your proposed solution.

There are several tools you can use to select the best option. Compare each idea with every other idea to decide which is better. Another technique that works well is multi-voting. That’s when each team member gets several votes and can distribute them in any way he or she chooses across the solutions

Once you have a solution, use a premortem to stress test it. With a premortem, you take a viewpoint from sometime in the future and assume that your solution has failed. Analyze the reasons for the failure.

Using decision trees to map out solution processes and premortems to stress test them give you the best likelihood of success.


Implementation is part of the decision process. The harsh truth is that no plan survives the first contact with reality.

Build review points into the plan. The purpose of a review point is to assess how your solution is working and how it should be modified to be more effective.

Be clear about how you will know if you’re succeeding. Be clear about what things will force you to make changes.


Consider as many options as possible.

Get the story of the problem.

Consider more than one right answer.

Have robust discussions.

Evaluate all your options before you choose one.

Implementation is part of the decision process.

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