Monthly Archives: August 2020

Problem Solving – There is NO Magic Pill

Problem Solving – There is no magic pill

Humans Naturally wired to solve problems:

As long as humans have been in existence we have always attempted and usually succeeded in identifying and most times solving issues that have plagued us. On average, humans are one of the physically least suited to defend ourselves with just our physical tools. We do not have sharp teeth, or claws of a lion, the eyesight of an eagle, the hearing of a dog nor the ability to fly like an eagle. Humans have however, overcome many of these challenges and have made ourselves the ruler of our planet because of our brains.

Decision Making and Problem Solving Flaws:

For all of the prowess of our mental abilities, we humans still make a lot of errors in our decision making and problem solving process. We tend to rely on things that we recall have “worked the last time on this issue”, or would solve an issue based on our education, skill set, or experience.

Often times our brains start working on a solution without having the necessary information. We rely on a number of mental shortcuts known as mental biases or heuristics. I am no psychologist but I have heard, read and experienced firsthand, that there are over 200 different decision-making biases that exist. Going back to the days of our ancestors, we faced life or death every day. This may be from trying to feed our families, or just to prevent being the dinner of another creature. We were forced to make snap decisions based on the facts about a situation that we had instantaneously. This is referred to as fight or flight sometimes.

Though life has gotten much easier for most of our species, our brains are still wired to take in information that is available and make a decision. We rely on the biases or heuristics that I referred to above. Some of the more relevant ones as they pertain to my topic of interest are listed below: (Note – I will get more into these in a later post)

  • Anchoring bias
  • Availability bias
  • Bandwagon effect
  • Representative heuristic
  • Affect heuristic
  • Confirmation bias
  • Expectation bias
  • Blind-spot bias
  • Selective perspective
  • Escalation of commitment
  • Risk aversion

Systems 1 & Systems 2 Thinking:

Our brains also use what is called systems 1 and systems 2 type thinking. Systems 1 thinking can be described as the fast, intuitive thinking that relies on fast, low focus, almost automatic thinking based on our intuition, past experiences, biases and heuristics.

Systems 2 thinking is more focused, in-depth thinking processes. For example, if we are trying to solve a very complex math problem or word problem and we must process and think through the data and facts. I have heard or read that at least 95% of our decisions take pace in the systems 1 thinking realm.

The Role of Managers and Quality Professionals:

The question is, what are managers, and quality professionals to do in trying to overcome these shortcomings in our decision making and problem solving processes?

It is my opinion that we must “slow down” the initial rush to judgement to allow the gathering of necessary information, resources (additional brains, inputs, opinions, experience and knowledge). We must also provide series of different decision making, problem solving tools and processes to our employees. This means training them, and reinforcing the use of them as well as what we measure and reward.

Some steps that I have found useful that we can use to improve our problem solving efforts and overcome some of these hard-wired habits that we have are as follows:

  • Take the emotion out of the discussion/ issue
  • Use, train and reinforce the use of a structured problem solving process to take guessing and jumping to conclusions out of the process
  • As management, reinforce the successes of no repeat root causes to problems experienced
  • Make sure cross-functional problem solving teams are used
  • Use available tools such as 5-why, time-line (when did the issue first become known and what changed), common corrective action templates such as 8D, 5 Principles, etc…
  • Don’t look to determine “who did it”, focus on the problem solving process and facts
  • Ask as many questions as possible about the situation/ issue and prove and disprove the possible causes with facts and data


My next post will delve into more detail on the more common biases and heuristics that are run into as well as details and examples on systems 1 and 2 thinking.

Best of luck.