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Six problem-solving mindsets for very uncertain times

By Charles Conn and Robert McLean

· Problem Solving

Great problem solvers are made, not born. That’s what we’ve found after decades of problem solving with leaders across business, nonprofit, and policy sectors. These leaders learn to adopt a particularly open and curious mindset, and adhere to a systematic process for cracking even the most inscrutable problems. They’re terrific problem solvers under any conditions. And when conditions of uncertainty are at their peak, they’re at their brilliant best.

Six mutually reinforcing approaches underly their success:

(1) being ever-curious about every element of a problem;

(2) being imperfectionists, with a high tolerance for ambiguity;

(3) having a “dragonfly eye” view of the world, to see through multiple lenses;

(4)pursuing occurrent behavior and experimenting relentlessly;

(5) tapping into the collective intelligence, acknowledging that the smartest people are not in the room; and

(6) practicing “show and tell” because storytelling begets action (exhibit).

"Good problem solving typically involves designing experiments to reduce key uncertainties. Each move provides additional information and builds capabilities."

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. Of course, these approaches can be helpful in a broad range of circumstances, but in times of massive uncertainty, they are essential.

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