Volume 58, January 2006: Solving Problems

Keyzine: An E-zine for Leaders about the People Side of Business

This is a monthly electronic magazine for anyone who wants to be a better leader, coach, facilitator, or simply, to tune up their people skills. It is a complimentary publication, devoted to the next evolution of Quality Thinking.

Publisher: © Key Associates, LLC, 2006 ISSN # 1545-8873

“The problems that exist in the world today cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them.” — Albert Einstein

“When I’m working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I think only how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.” — Richard Buckminster Fuller

“Keeping an open mind is a virtue – but as space engineer James Oberg once said, not so open that your brains fall out.” — Carl Sagan

“The best way to escape from a problem is to solve it.” — Alan Saporta


  • What’s Hot in Leadership
  • Maintaining Yourself as a Leader
  • Frequently Asked Questions from Leaders
  • Educational Opportunities
  • Useful Websites & Newsletters
  • Articles/Publications

What’s Hot in Leadership

  • Learning to use divergent thinking before converging on a solution.
  • Being clear on the decision-making process – leader or team.
  • Looking to the source of problems and placing their solution there.
  • Cultivating diverse points of view that have bearing on any problem.

Maintaining Yourself as a Leader

Do you ever feel that you are pelted by bullets named “solve me”? Leaders are confronted with a myriad of problems to solve every day. Some are uncomplicated, but most are complex and require thought and analysis. Many could have been prevented by understanding the cause. If you find yourself in a state of “crisis management,” complete this exercise:

  • Over the next few weeks, keep a list of unforeseen problems that require your attention;
  • Examine the list for themes;
  • Analyze for each: a) the cause; b) could it have been prevented and how?; c) who could have prevented the problem?
  • Give the problem back to its source, and assist with a development plan if needed.

Frequently Asked Questions

“Sometimes I want to solve the problem myself, but I would like input from others. Do I give the problem to a team?”
There is a continuum of decision-making that we use in our consultation, which has these anchor points:
  • Leader makes the decision (Command Decision)
  • Leader has an idea and wants a reaction (Consultative)
  • Leader wants ideas, but will make the decision (Consultative)
  • Leaders wants to decide, but with the team (Collaborative)
    • Voting by majority
    • Consensus
  • The team will make the decision (Delegation)

Where leaders get into trouble is first, not being clear which model of decision-making they are using; but worse, changing the model and not informing anyone. Use the entire range, but do so explicitly.

“There are too many problems to solve. How do I organize them?”
Emergency room physicians have developed the skill of triage, which is assessing the urgency of the health problem of each of the current patients. In problem solving, it is wise to consider during triage which problem has (1) the most important outcome, (2) the greatest chance for solution, and (3) the nearest deadline. When facing more than one problem, to the extent possible, focus on solving one at a time. And again, ask are they in the right department? Do you need to be the solver of this problem?
“When do I know I have enough information/data to solve a problem?”
You will probably never have all the information you need to solve a problem. "Chance" is a good decider at 50-50, go this way or that way. The question is how to improve upon chance. The more data you can get, in the time you have to make the decision, the more you will improve your odds. See the use of Appreciation to extract the maximum information from facts. Drill Down also helps you gain a deeper understanding of a complex problem. But beware of “Analysis Paralysis.” Set a deadline for the decision, and announce your decision with conviction.


Edward deBono on lateral thinking, the six thinking hats, innovation and creativity: DeBono Consulting.

Problem-solving techniques through MindTools.

Key Associates offers courseware in Creative Tools and Methods for Innovation.

Keyzines on related topics: Innovation and Creative Expression.

Useful Websites & Newsletters

Fifty problem-solving strategies: Over Fifty Problem Solving Strategies Explained.

Lots of library links and guidelines: Problem Solving and Decision Making.

Myriads of models for problem-solving: Problem Solving Techniques.

Different ways of thinking: Problem Solving Terminology.

Simple process for problem-solving/decision-making: Problem-solving and Decision-making.



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