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Problem Solving Using Critical Thinking

  • July 13, 2022
  • Written by Community Futures Meridian

We all run into challenges and issues from time to time in our businesses; it comes with the territory. The way we deal with these situations determines whether we come out the other side stronger or exacerbate the problem. Critical thinking comes into its own on these occasions.

Critical thinking involves analyzing and developing possibilities, comparing and contrasting several solutions, improving and refining ideas, making effective decisions and judgments, and providing a sound foundation for effective action.

The first step, therefore, is to understand your challenge. Look at the situation from every angle, and break it down into its component parts. What mess are you in? Identify external factors that will impact the trials you face or will be facing. Become familiar with every aspect. Recognize any potential spinoff issues. Think about the law of unintended consequences.

Collect information. Take a step back and look at the big picture. Talk to everyone involved and get their take on the “mess.” What don’t you know that would help you find a solution? Make a list. What or who caused the situation?

Write down a description of your problem. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you know exactly what the issue is; that leads to tunnel vision. Look at the situation from an outsider’s perspective. Are there multiple parts to the problem? Think of yourself as an outside consultant and write a short report identifying and analyzing the situation.

Seek solutions or strategies that might solve the problem or mitigate its damaging effects. Bring a team of people together to brainstorm ideas that might tackle the issue. Initially, avoid evaluating ideas; focus on quantity, not quality. Do a deep dive into each solution once you have identified several ways to extricate yourself from the situation. Before you meet, ask someone to play devil’s advocate. Their job is to challenge ideas and assumptions and make people see beyond easy solutions. If the situation is complex and wide-ranging, triage it and deal with the most urgent fallout first.

Identify a potential solution quickly and then dig deeper. Actively listen to what every team member is saying before contributing your ideas. Generate a variety of criteria and select the most important for your problem. Is it cost, practicality, time involvement, human resources, expertise, or other factors? Consider its pros and cons. Don’t get attached to any specific solution at this stage. Focus on disapproving it, not proving it. Do this for multiple potential solutions if necessary. In this way, you'll be able to identify and evaluate the relative strengths and weaknesses of various possible solutions. Don’t rush decision-making. Always sleep on any decision—let the idea percolate.

Once you have a solution, identify what skills and expertise you need to execute your plan. Determine what kind of help you'll need, what obstacles or difficulties might get in the way, and what specific short and long-term steps you will take to get yourself out of that original mess.

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