“(Traditional) Education often biases us towards immediately trying to solve well-framed problems. Real world problems are much more ambiguous — it may not even be clear that there is a problem to be solved”.
This was a cracking perspective from Martin Reeves and Annelies O’Dea, on problem-solving in strategy.
We are in the phase of the economic cycle where some organisations are not recognising there is a problem (the numbers are just holding up) or are avoiding getting to the nut of the real problem they should be solving.
This is a highly recommended read. Here are the key snippets:
It is important that strategy makers postpone the urge to immediately start analysing and deciding and instead begin by asking two basic questions:
1) Is there a problem to solve?
Many companies get started on strategy-making too late because of a lack of awareness or sense of urgency that there is a challenge to be addressed.
This happens for several reasons. If there is no obvious threat to current performance, it may appear that there is no challenge to be solved.
It takes active work to break the mirage and see reality as it is.
The antidote is to be aware of and continually challenge the hidden assumptions underpinning past success.
Strategy processes can become rote and ritualized — in some cases little more than exercises in financial planning or negotiation of performance targets.
The freshness and essence of the strategy process can be restored by involving outsiders, by deliberately exploring alternative viewpoints.
2) What sort of problem is it?
Business problems in their initial conception are almost always ill-framed and strategy can be seen as a process of iterative reframing.
Therefore, the initial problem’s framing should not be the same as the eventual problem’s framing.
Most businesses under-invest in framing. Attempting to solve an unsolvable problem or deftly solving the wrong problem will only result in frustration and wasted effort.
Framing is a uniquely human capability — today’s machine learning algorithms cannot create either causal or counterfactual models, being instead grounded in correlations.
The highest value-added for a human strategist is in this framing step.
Reflecting on the nature of the problem before addressing it, will result in more economical, relevant, and robust solutions.
Read the full article: Two Questions to Ask Before Setting Your Strategy