PM Essence

The Way We Solve Problems – Creative vs Methodological

                                                                                          – Navneet Bhushan

How do we solve problems?

First, we acknowledge something to be a problem only when it becomes a pain in the, well, neck. Unless, it becomes a monster hitting us where it really hurts – we don’t look at it at all. May be because we have been told to “Stop Worrying Be Happy”, we forget about any active problem hunting. Here in lies the first danger – Stop Worrying doesn’t imply Stop Thinking.


How can we be proactive in hunting problems?


• Be there to observe how and what our customers need – don’t ask – all Feedback systems fail to get to the essence of what is needed.


• Spend time in observing, getting inputs, looking at how our customers do their work and then think some more – well our Top Managers must be saying – you can’t keep on thinking. Do – Act – Execute. Well, execution without thinking or what the Japanese call Hansei, is a recipe for disaster.


We invariably or 99% of time design the solutions for wrong problems. This is for the simple reason that we have not spent time in developing the understanding of the problem, describing it from multiple perspectives, looking at it from inside and outside.


After we have developed a solution for the wrong problem which also by the way will be a sub-optimal solution, we find the actual problem to be different because in our cause-effect mind the solution that we proposed haven’t triggered the desired results. Then we say – oh, the real problem is not what we solved but THIS. Now comes the fantastic ingenuity of human mind and lethargy in letting go of partial success. We say – “any ways we have a solution that we designed for what we thought is the problem. Now how can we use the solution to solve the newly identified problem?” We work on tweaking the solution, refining it by adding more components to achieve new functionality needed.

This leads to the solution becoming more complex than the original problem. In fact, the monsters that we created need to be managed now – we will create infrastructure to manage it. We will not let it go at all! After all that has given us past success. Anybody knows how many Enterprise IT systems have become these monsters?


This is a problem fission reaction that keeps on building bigger and bigger complexity rather than Value needed by the end customers. Had we spent more time in thinking about existing and future needs of the users, we would have solved problems that are really need to be solved.


Think! Think deeply! However, “Observe” and “Learn” are two very strong, unfortunately highly neglected, ACTION verbs in solving problems.


This is not about too much analysis leading to paralysis (that’s where may be the Post-Fact Data Analysts get into – Six Sigma Experts (The pseudo ones) are you listening!) – it’s about active processing of experiences.


It has to be beyond Politics, beyond specific persons, beyond specific relationships, beyond petty personal gains. It has to be at a higher selfish goal. As my selfish goal is that I win if my customers create more- everyday!


Creative Vs Methodological problem solving


There is a considerable debate and explanation of whether there can be a process for creative problem solving in contrast to methodological problem solvin. Many believe creative problem solving is too creative to be reduced to a process. TRIZ enthusiasts differ here of course!


 A reported study in 2007 provides an interesting verification of the difference between creative thinking and methodological problem solving. The right brain is active more for creative thinking and also the diffused visual attention rather than the focused attention on visual triggers.


Very interesting indeed – if you are a good traffic navigator and knows how to find a place in a crowded city you may be more methodical, while if you work on diffused visual inputs to imbibe a geography and use these for constructing or imagining your world – you may be more of a creative thinker.


The study however discovers another point – before the ideation process – what was the state of your mind. Whether it was more right brained excited or left brain excited will impact how you solve the problem.



Well this confirms to a large extent the psychological inertia of core competence – we have been solving problems in a particular way throughout our life. We use the same particular thinking whatever be the problem. The engineering mind will always reduce the problem into smaller more manageable problems while an artist will always try to construct patterns from observation.


Before the actual problem solving, I have found in my workshops as well, we need to prime the minds of the participants into different methods by playing games or solving problems by different methods. Then the output of the workshop increases – better quantity and quality.