What is Problem Solving?

My blog is now a few months old. This weekend, as I scanned the entries I’ve posted so far, I realized I’d yet to write on the meaning and importance of the very concept that led me to walk away from a well paying job in 2005 and start my own training and consulting business: Problem Solving.

At the time, I was convinced that in the Age of Information, in an increasingly global, hyper competitive world, success would come only to those who regularly discovered fresh insight – about their customers, their operations, their competition, their employees – and applied that insight to advance the performance of their businesses. What worked? What didn’t? Why? And most important: What should I do about it?

I was motivated, interestingly enough, by a few non-commercial examples – like Bill James in Baseball and Steven Leavitt in Behavioral Economics (see the books “Moneyball” and “Freakonomics,” respectively) – whose fascinating discoveries had a profound impact on their fields. And I wondered: Why don’t more businesses behave similarly? Sure, businesses gather data – lots of data – but is it the right data? How do they USE it? What difference is it making?

From my perspective, most businesses were too set in their ways. They didn’t challenge conventional wisdom. They didn’t ask the penetrating questions needed to truly understand the cause-and-effect relationships central to their success. I saw an opportunity. And, naively or not, I thought I could make a difference. I yearned to contribute. I dreamed of creating mini-Jameses and -Leavitts in the workplace, who would shed new light on the dynamics of their businesses, bring new knowledge to decisions about how and where to compete, and propel their businesses to new heights. I dreamed of all this. And thus my business was born.

But what do you call this? Is this a skill set? Is it a process? It was more than analytical skills – we can analyze without creativity; we can analyze without action or impact. It was more than critical thinking – critical thinking doesn’t require we be proactive. And it was more than informed decision making. I thought of it as all this and more. A skill set, a process, and most important, an attitude. A spirit.

For better or worse, I called it Problem Solving.

Six years later, I’ve learned a lot – about the activities involved in Problem Solving, about companies who share my vision, and others that don’t. While building a small training business has proved plenty frustrating at times, my belief in the importance of Problem Solving, if anything, has only grown stronger.

In my next several entries I’ll expand upon the skills central to Problem Solving, the characteristics of great Problem Solvers, the process of Problem Solving, and why all of this is so difficult.

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One Response to What is Problem Solving?

  1. devi Mohanty says:

    Like it Gary. I emphasize this more than anything in recruting, training, etc….looking forward to seeing how you talk about it. i tell people that if tehy can gain this skill, a way to think about things, a way to attack issues, a way to tackle complicated problems, the apth forward in anything they do whether personal or professional will be clearer…

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