Why Problem Solving Skills are not Enough

There are a number of important skills required of every problem solver. These include understanding the fundamental principles and “language” of problem solving and the various individual steps that constitute a robust problem solving process. Then there is all of the detail that goes into each individual step in the problem solving process and the understanding of how those individual steps fit together. All of the above knowledge areas are what Learn2SolveProblems.com was established to teach. So, does the acquisition of these problem solving skills mean that the learners on our site would automatically become expert problem solvers?

Well, one thing we do know is that practice makes perfect when it comes to building your problem solving capability. We have trained a huge number of candidates in problem solving techniques. The training tends to go smoothly, but when we combine the training with a coaching element, and these learners are asked to apply the techniques to real business problems, they often fall flat at the first hurdle. It is only with some fairly intensive coaching that learners start to connect the dots between the individual elements of the overall problem solving process. Many learners also tend to have trouble with applying the individual tools and techniques we use to facilitate each step. It is only after a few iterations that they become more comfortable, and in general, the more problems they tackle and ultimately solve, the sharper their skills become. The key breakthroughs tend to come when they make the transition from following a series of steps to implementing an integrated problem solving process. This is particularly true when they come to view problem solving as a living, breathing process that is open to being continuously modified as problem solving proceeds and new information becomes available. When problem solvers reach this level of competence, their effectiveness skyrockets. The good news is that this is not rocket science, but all based on common sense and logic. 

We cannot however expect to be able to solve problems armed only with a knowledge of problem solving. We need to have subject matter expertise too. A plant operator will not be able to solve problems if he/she does not know the location and function of each piece of equipment and how the manufacturing process works, in intimate detail. This is not knowledge gained in a control room, but out in the plant itself. A mechanic would not be able to repair an engine without a deep understanding of how it is put together and the function of each component. A bookkeeper would not be able to balance the books without a fundamental understanding of accounting entries, assets, liabilities and the like. I am not a doctor, and if you came to me with a health problem, my chances of diagnosing it correctly are virtually nil, despite my years of experience as a problem solver. 

And so it is, that when we coach individuals and teams on problem solving at factories or in businesses, we often see them struggle, not because they do not understand the problem solving concepts we have taught them, but because they lack deep technical knowledge about their own operations.  They fail to define the problem in precise, concrete terms. They fail to identify the performance measures they should use to appropriately quantify the problem. Finding the root cause becomes exceptionally difficult, as they cannot identify all possible causes. Some have difficulty formulating appropriate solutions once the root cause has been found, and choosing between solutions based on their characteristics. Implementing solutions effectively is a challenge for some learners. And many have trouble evaluating implemented solutions, and then making appropriate decisions as to what to do with the results.

What it comes down to, is that technical skills and problem solving skills complement each other. One skill without the other makes for a weakened problem solving effort. Those who lack subject matter expertise often mistakenly conclude that “problem solving doesn’t work”, and ultimately become disillusioned with problem solving. For problem solving teams this can be less of a hindrance, as a skilled facilitator can work with subject matter experts and together, they can carry out problem solving reasonably effectively. Individual problem solvers do however need to possess both skill sets. 

It is critical that organisations invest in problem solving skills. At Learn2SolveProblems.com, our goal is to make such investments readily accessible in terms of solutions that are available around the clock on desktop and mobile platforms, and at far lower costs than for equivalent classroom training. But just as you need to make investments in problem solving skills, it is equally important that you invest in the technical knowledge relevant to your operations. Develop organisational pride as regards technical expertise at every level, from the shop floor to the boardroom. Ensure that all employees know that subject matter expertise and industry-specific knowledge are deeply valued. Apply your mind to what that technical expertise looks like for your organisation, and develop workplace-specific technical training solutions for every employee. If you are an employee, make it one of your primary goals to attain deep subject matter expertise relevant to your job role. You will definitely be a stronger problem solver for it. 

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