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Six problem-solving mindsets for very uncertain times

Did you know that great problem solvers are made and not born? These leaders learn to adopt an open and curious mindset and adhere to a system for cracking even the most difficult problems.

Here are six approaches underlying that success:

  • Being ever curious about every element of a problem

  • Being imperfectionists with high level for ambiguity

  • Having a “dragonfly” view of the world to see through multiple lenses

  • Pursuing occurrent behaviour and experimenting relentlessly

  • Tapping into the collective intelligence, acknowledging that the smartest people are not in the room.

  • Practising “show and tell” because story-telling begets action

How they do it?

1. Be ever-curious

Think of the never-ending “why's” that make children so delightful and relentless. When you face radical uncertainty channel the four-year-old within you. Unfortunately, somewhere between pre-school and the boardroom, we stop asking. So our brains impose patterns and natural human biases in decision-making including confirmation, availability and anchoring biases.

2. Tolerate ambiguity and stay humble

When we think of problem solvers, we think of highly composed and intelligent people like engineers. The reality though is that good problem-solving has a lot of trial and error. We must embrace imperfections, lack of precision and a gambler’s sense of probabilities.

The real world is uncertain. COVID-19 comes to mind. We address the health and economic effects with no prior experience or knowledge. Perfect knowledge is in short supply, particularly for complex business and societal problems.

3. Take a dragon-fly view

Dragonfly perception is common to great problem-solvers. The objective is to see beyond familiar tropes which our pattern recognizing brains want to assemble perceptions. By widening the aperture on a problem we can identify threats and opportunities beyond the periphery of vision.

The secret to developing this view is to anchor outside rather than inside when it comes to problems of uncertainty and opportunity. Take the broader eco-system as a starting point. This will encourage you to speak with customers, suppliers or better yet, players in a different but related industry to get a 360-degree view of a problem.

4. Pursue occurrent behaviour

Occurrent behaviour is what actually happens in a time or place. Not what was potential or predicted behaviour. Complex problems don’t give up their secrets easily. For companies that are ambitious to win, good problem-solving typically involves designing experiments to reduce key uncertainties and not just relying on existing data.

Statisticians use the abbreviation EVPI - Expected Value of Perfect Information to show the value of gaining additional information that typically comes from samples and experiments. A/B Testing is a powerful tool for experimenting with prices, promotions and other features.

5. Tap into collective Intelligence and wisdom of the crowd

“It’s a mistake to think that you have the smartest people on your team” Chris Bradley, author of Strategy Beyond The Hockey Stick.

They aren’t there, they’re somewhere else. In this ever-changing world, crowdsourcing invites the smartest people in the world to work with you. For example, in seeking a machine-learning algorithm to identify fish catch species, TNC offered a $150,000 price for the best algorithm. This offer attracted 2,293 teams from all over the world.

Crowdsourcing can be useful but it takes time and can be expensive.

6. Show and tell to drive action

We started our lists of mind-sets with a reference to children. Do you remember show and tell in elementary school? This approach is actually critical to problem-solving. Show and tell is how you connected with your audience with the problem and then use logic and persuasion to get action.

Rookie problem-solvers show you their analytical process and mathematics to show that they’re clever but seasoned problem solvers show you differently. The most elegant problem-solving makes solutions obvious. Find a way to present your logic visually so that the path to the answer can be debated and embraced.


The mindsets of great problem solvers are just as important as the methods they employ. A mindset that encourages curiosity embraces imperfection, rewards a dragonfly-eye view of the problem, creates new data from experiments and collective intelligence, and drives action through compelling show-and-tell storytelling creates radical new possibilities under high levels of unpredictability.

Read the original article here


Are you facing an impossible mission in the fields of leadership, marketing, communications and/or politics?

Or are you currently struggling with the Corona crisis?

Then it is now the time to contact Mr. Campaigning. Since 1998 he has been supporting startups, global companies, organizations, and individuals. His clients range from "A" like ABB to "W" like the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Impossible is just a word for change.

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