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Problem Solving and Decision-Making Skills

Problem Solving Diagram

Problem Solving Diagram

Effective problem-solving is an active process – one that is highly dependent upon asking questions, being curious, and being willing to admit you don’t know something.  Effective problem-solving therefore involves stepping out of your comfort zone and actively pursuing answers and information.  Henry Ford said:  Most people spend more time and energy going around problems than in trying to solve them.  This reinforces the same point – problem-solving is an active, rather than a passive or even avoidant activity.  Rarely will you experience someone coming to you with the answer you are looking for – you have to go after it yourself, asking good questions wherever you can.

We encounter simple problems every day in our personal lives: finding seemingly lost keys, deciding what to do when our car won’t start, even improvising a meal from leftovers. But there are also larger and more significant “ill-defined” problems, such as getting an education, becoming a successful person, and finding happiness. Indeed, the most important kinds of human activities involve accomplishing goals without a script. In this ever-changing, dynamic world we now live in, we might justly say that problem-solving ability is the cognitive passport to the future.

One useful approach that we can potentially use in the future is to use the problem solving diagram shown here. It offers 6 steps around the edge of the diagram starting at the top right and moving clockwise.  These are Specify, Separate, Segment, Select, Seek and Solve.

In the center of the template is a Problem Identification Matrix that can be useful to look at Problem Layers using the “Multiple why” question, Problem Graph or Flowchart, and Fishbone Diagram – all tools for planning and working through your problem-solving efforts.

“Multiple why” techniques are used to trace a problem back to its root causes (simply by asking why one event to action led to another as often as possible).

“Flowcharts” are diagrams that chart the steps in a work process or activity.  This can be useful to illustrate and then analyze the overall flow of activities, as in producing a product or service, for example.

“Fishbone diagrams”, or cause and effect diagrams (also called Ishikawa diagrams) can reveal key relationships among different variables and possible causes provide additional insight into process behavior.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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