Today I want to show you my process for fixing naive problem solving perspectives.
When I say “problem solving perspective,” I’m talking about how changemakers conceptualize, or see the issue at hand.
So often, our own biases and preconceived notions act as a distorted lens through which we view problems.
We may believe we’re seeing clearly, but the lens introduces significant distortions.
Without a clear view of the problem, we make poor decisions and choose ineffective solutions.
Goodbye positive impact.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
To get started, let’s examine 2 well-intentioned but misguided changemaker lenses.
For each, I’ll introduce you to an enlightened alternative.
Then I’ll give you a 6-step process for fine-tuning your problem solving perspective.
Let’s dive in.
Well-intentioned but misguided changemaker lenses
#1. Defining the Perfect System
Imagine you’re a chef striving to create the perfect recipe.
You’re convinced that unless every ingredient and step aligns perfectly, the dish won’t be worth serving.
So, you obsessively search for that one, flawless recipe, believing it’s the only way to create a masterpiece.
This misguided perspective is akin to changemakers fixating on the elusive perfect system.
I hear this misguided lens being proudly declared all the time:
“We envisioned the perfect criminal justice system!”
“Our group designed – on paper – a 21st century system to address homelessness. It’s totally different from what happens now.”
In the real world, such a pursuit often leads to disappointment and missed opportunities for progress.
Much like the chef’s quest for culinary perfection, seeking the ideal system can be an unattainable goal.
It sets unrealistic expectations that can leave you paralyzed, endlessly seeking the unachievable, and missing out on the chance to find pragmatic improvements.
Perhaps most importantly, abstractly envisioning the future distracts people from rigorously studying the problem and how it could be influenced right now.
They’re totally consumed by gazing at a made-up future on the horizon, but missing all of the immediately-surrounding terrain.
Now, let’s consider a different approach.
Instead of chasing perfection by searching for a perfect recipe that must be out there somewhere, imagine the chef continuously experimenting with their current recipe, tweaking ingredients, and adapting to feedback.
As they make incremental changes, they create dishes that evolve and delight their customers.
Similarly, in the realm of changemaking, the enlightened alternative is to let go of the notion of “envisioning a perfect system” and instead focus on embedding processes for ongoing improvement into the current system.
This approach recognizes that change often occurs in small steps and adaptations.
And, it allows you to make progress while remaining flexible and responsive to evolving circumstances.
So instead of trying to conjure an imagined future, open your eyes to opportunities that exist right here, right now.
#2: Centralizing Power
Imagine you’re on a treasure hunt, and you believe that only a select group of top explorers can decipher the map and find the hidden treasure.
This perspective embodies the common social sector lens that “only a representative group of top leaders can solve the problem.”
Just like the utopian future lens puts imagined conditions on problem improvement (e.g. “we need a perfect system before we can solve this problem”), this lens sees the solution as being dependent upon centralized power.
In other words, it sees experts empowered to act on others’ behalf as the only way to solve the problem.
It might seem efficient, as these leaders are presumed to have the expertise needed for the task.
However, this tendency to centralize power comes with significant risks.
In this scenario, centralizing power within a small, elite group of leaders can be likened to granting them exclusive access to the treasure map.
While they may make some progress, it risks excluding diverse perspectives and talents among the broader group of treasure hunters.
Just as different treasure hunters may have unique skills and insights about the terrain and clues, a decentralized approach recognizes that a wider range of voices can contribute to solving the puzzle.
Moreover, this concentration of power can create an environment ripe for potential abuse, much like the elite explorers might use their exclusive access to the map for personal gain.
Now, let’s imagine that the treasure hunt – or problem solving process – adopts a decentralized approach.
The treasure map (or information about the problem) is shared among all the treasure hunters, and each individual is encouraged to contribute their insights and expertise.
Information transparency helps each actor make informed choices within their own role.
Sure, experts can contribute, but they don’t run the show.
That’s because large groups of people are collectively smarter than individual experts when it comes to problem solving complex issues. (This is colloquially known as the wisdom of crowds).
Decentralization empowers a wider range of voices, allowing all treasure hunters to actively participate in the hunt, share their unique perspectives, and contribute to unraveling the mystery.
Just as each treasure hunter plays a vital role in solving the puzzle, decentralization recognizes that many voices and perspectives are essential for effective problem solving.
6-Step Process for Fine-Tuning Your Problem Solving Perspective
The best way to get started is to rigorously examine your own lenses, and examine how your sight corresponds to reality.
Step 1: Self-Reflection
Take a moment to acknowledge your own biases and preconceived notions. Understand how they might be distorting your view of the problem.
Step 2: Challenge Assumptions
Question the assumptions you’ve made about the problem. Are they based on evidence, or are they simply beliefs? Be open to revising your perspective.
Step 3: Seek Diverse Input
Engage with individuals from different backgrounds and viewpoints. Their insights can help you see blind spots and broaden your understanding of the problem.
Step 4: Gather Data
Collect relevant data and information to support your perspective. Evidence-based decision-making is a powerful way to fine-tune your approach.
Step 5: Embrace Uncertainty
Accept that no perspective is entirely free of distortion. Embrace the ambiguity of complex problems and be willing to adapt as new information emerges.
Step 6: Test and Learn
Put your refined perspective into action. Experiment with solutions, learn from your experiences, and adjust your approach as needed. Problem-solving is an ongoing process.
It’s time to say goodbye to distorted lenses and hello to a clearer path towards impactful solutions.
See you next week.
Whenever you’re ready, there are two ways I can help you:
→ I’m a strategic advisor for the toughest societal problems like poverty, crime and homelessness. People come to me when they want to stop spinning their wheels and get transformative, systems-level change.
→ I’m a coach for emerging and executive leaders in the social and public sectors who want to make progress on their biggest goals and challenges.
Let’s find out how I can help you become transformational.