Problem solving and decision making are two vital skills needed in every organization. These core skills can be taught to almost any individual in nearly any career. It is essential for all managers to master problem solving and decision making. Organizations with effective leaders exhibit good decision making and problem solving skills in their everyday operations. Organizations that have high levels of productivity, operational effectiveness, and financial performance also demonstrate good problem solving and decision making skills.
Problem solving is the process of discovering a solution to a recurring, temporary, or one-time failure of a system or process to do so at a satisfactory level or function properly. Decision making entails selecting among several viable courses of action when weighed against each other based on some set of requirements. These requirements usually include budget, time, resources, quality, and safety. All of these factors are important because each decision has a direct bearing on the resources available and the possible consequences of making an error in judgment. Therefore, these skills are extremely important in all areas of management.
Problem solving often requires the use of multiple decision making tools. A common tool used in problem solving is rational thinking. Rational thinking is a process by which individuals examine all possible outcomes that could occur under specified circumstances. They then form a model for how such an event might occur and how it might affect variables involved. In doing so, the model gives rise to a range of possible outcomes and the best alternative course of action. Problem solvers often use a combination of modeling techniques, including a rational approach, an ad hoc approach, and a combination of a rational approach and ad hoc approaches.
The most powerful tool used in problem solving processes is systems thinking. Systems thinking is not so much a tool as it is a theory. It is the means by which you arrive at the appropriate solution to any given problem. A system for problem solving will be the skeleton of the solution, drawing all the decision parts together under one framework. One of the purposes of systems thinking is to provide an environment in which decisions can be made quickly and effectively. In short, it aims to make the problem solving process easier.
Decision-making without systems thinking becomes problematic when people do not take into account the full range of possible outcomes, and do not appropriately adjust their decision making processes for the different decision outcomes. These decisions can have devastating consequences. For instance, if a company manufactures a product, there are two possible outcomes: the company can either build a profitable product or sell a product that will have negative consequences for the company. A decision made without using systems thinking can result in the company making a decision based on pure emotion, or on the basis of false information, and therefore the opposite of what the company wants to do.
The main problem with most decisions is that they are often used to address narrow issues. In other words, decisions are rarely made on the basis of the full range of possible outcomes. Therefore, the decision-making process becomes compromised. Problems arise because of the way in which decision-makers (who are not involved in the problem formulation) make use of limited information to make decisions. In addition, the decision-maker may make decisions without considering the possible consequences for his organization.
The problem solving approach is therefore not very different from decision making. Both involve the process of making use of information to solve problems. However, problem solving involves more than information. In fact, information is only one important part of the problem solving process. Decision makers must also consider the effect of their decisions on other aspects of their organization and must plan for the negative consequences of their decisions.
This planning process is necessary because problem solving cannot be done by a single-minded individual. Organizational leaders need to work with all members of an organization to assess the effect of their decisions. They need to know what will happen in the long run if they go ahead with a particular decision. It is also necessary for them to know what will happen if they go wrong. In other words, the problem solving approach in decision making and problem solving differs because the two processes require an analysis of multiple factors and an assessment of the likely effect of the decisions on the organization as a whole.