Want to Be a Better Problem Solver? You Should Brainstorm Questions, Not Solutions

Want to Be a Better Problem Solver? You Should Brainstorm Questions, Not Solutions
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In 2012, Jakob Nielsen, principal of the Nielsen Research Group, wrote a compelling piece titled “Tunnel Vision and Selective Attention”, to delved into the problems caused by tunnel vision. Nielsen argued that tunnel vision is a natural response that impedes solving abilities.

To break tunnel vision, you need to focus on brainstorming new , rather than ideas.

Brainstorming Questions Helps You Better Understand the Problems You Have to Deal With

Several years ago, I was a member of a business incubator in the town I lived in. The executive director was asked to resign. During one of our mixers, the chairman alluded to the reason.

“Sometimes people don’t do things wrong, but they focus on the wrong things,” he said without mentioning the executive director by name.

Even the brightest decision-makers fall victim to certain decision-making heuristics. Their are based on flawed assumptions about the nature of the problem.

The best way to avoid this trap is to being the problem-solving process by brainstorming questions, rather than ideas to solve the perceived problem. Warren Berger, a journalist and the editor of the website “A More Beautiful Question”, states that coming up with new questions is the best way to improve the quality of decisions:[1]

“While it may seem counterintuitive (Who needs questions? We need answers!), encouraging people to formulate lots of questions around an issue or problem can lead to deeper analysis and a understanding of that problem–which, eventually, can yield smarter ideas on how to tackle it.”

Kristi Schaffner, a Microsoft executive, states that they use the QFT model for problem solving, which focuses on formulating new questions to better understand the nature of the problem. Other executives follow similar processes.

Before We Struggle to Find the Solution, We Need to Identify the Problem Accurately First

The problem with traditional decision-making models is that decision-makers often formulate solutions to problems that don’t exist. Dwayne Spradlin, CEO of Buzz Points and a contributor for Harvard Business Review writes that the quality of his firm’s solutions improved by 59% in 2011, due to a new problem-solving approach that focused on finding the brainstorming questions:[2]

“Since our launch, more than 10 years ago, we have managed more than 2,000 problems and solved more than half of them—a much higher proportion than most organizations achieve on their own. Indeed, our success rates have improved dramatically over the years (34% in 2006, 39% in 2009, and 57% in 2011), which is a function of the increasing quality of the questions we pose and of our community.”

Don’t Let the Questions You Ask Get You Distracted

Breaking the groupthink model is important. However, it is easy to get too focused on playing devil’s advocate at the expense of developing a richer understanding of the problem.

Unfortunately, many questions that are asked don’t help decision-makers better understand the problem they are trying to tackle. You need to make sure that you are asking questions that can actually be solved. You need to ask questions that help you understand the problem better.

new questions to understand the nature of the problem, but don’t raise new questions for their own sake.

Reference

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